In Defense of Bill Ayers, Part 2: Repentance Is Not an Option:
Perhaps a man who killed children by bombing civilian villages in the Vietnam War ought not call others "terrorists." Just sayin'.
Several people have written in to the Rude Pundit to praise Bill Ayers, the University of Illinois, Chicago professor of education who was once a member of the radical 60s and 70s group the Weather Underground and whose vague association with Barack Obama has become the last all-in of the McCain campaign. McCain is now talking openly about the Ayers/Obama connection and has put out an ad that questions the judgment of Obama because of Ayers.
Probably one should question Robert McNeil and Jim Lehrer, who featured Ayers as an expert on education in Chicago on their PBS news show in 1995 without mentioning the Weathermen. So when Barack Obama was first meeting him, it was as that expert on education. Far from being a "washed-up terrorist," as McCain called him, Ayers is actually a beloved and important teacher, one who has probably done more positive things for more people on balance than the aforementioned child bomber and his sportscaster running mate.
But don't take it from the Rude Pundit. Here's what people who know Bill Ayers said:
Sharon H. writes, "I pal around with terrorists. I consider Bill Ayers a friend. This thing on Bill has been blown way, way out of proportion. It is not relevant to America today...I first met Bill Ayers when I was completing a degree in education in Chicago. I was not a student at UIC but really wanted to sit in on Bill's classes. I had read practically everything he had written and found that our philosophy of education in the lives of children were pretty much the same.
"So I sat in on his class. After class I told Bill that I wanted to continue to sit in and he invited me to sit in on both of his classes that semester. His lectures were brilliant and thought-provoking. Moreover, he not only encouraged everyone to engage in the dialogue, he found value in what you, as his student had to say...
"Later, in 2005 when I managed a summer recruitment program for pre-service teachers at Chicago Public Schools, I called upon Bill to talk to 200 soon-to-be teachers. He did so willingly and asked for nothing in return. He spoke for over ninety minutes and answered questions. too. The students were mesmerized by his intelligence, depth of knowledge and passion for education and his wit. Yes, they were very impressed with Bill Ayers and indicated so on their program exit surveys. Nowadays, our paths cross at the various educational and volunteer functions around the city. As far as arrogance, I've never seen it. When we see each other around town, I'm always greeted by him with a hug and a kiss. Then he talks lovingly amount his grandchild and his growing older, and then asks about mine."
John K. says, "I'm a former student of Bill Ayers. In 2003, I was returning to teaching after 25 years in advertising and had to take a couple courses to bring my certificate up to date. One of the courses I took at UIC was called 'Improving Learning Environments,' taught by Ayers.
"I remember his comments in class as being a little more political than your friend does, but that could be explained by the fact that I took this class 5 years ago, rather than the 10 or so of your friend. Bush had started to fuck things up, we invaded Iraq that semester, and – perhaps – I was a tad more attuned to Ayers' history...
"You see, I had met Ayers back in the day. He and a bunch of SDS-ers had come to Northern Illinois University in the late '60s to talk about a recent trip to Cuba. While I don't remember too much of the talk, I do remember that – even though I was in the SDS back then, too – they all struck me as being just a little bit too far gone on the 'true-believer' spectrum for my comfort...
"[Ayers] is an excellent teacher, dedicated to what he does, and comes across as
spectacularly sincere (there's that true believer stuff again) about making schools more responsive to the needs of students, especially those in impoverished, urban areas. He didn't talk too much about the 'old days,' but he did apply the same world view that led him to the Weathermen to events going on that semester."
As far as that past, here's Ayers himself in an August 1996 interview on the PBS Newshour: "I'm sure there are people who think that the opposition to the war was wrong and would like to re-write that history, but the opposition to the war was right, and the opposition came from all quarters, and those who opposed it should be proud of that and should say they're proud of that. To apologize for that opposition would be, I think, a perversion. To apologize for militantly opposing racism, which I think is needed now more than ever, to me is a perversion. On a personal level, are there things that I did wrong like every human being? There are thousands of things that you might do differently, you might re-think after the fact. But in terms of throwing oneself against the war in the 1960's and 70's, that was the right thing to do."
Finally, Ayers' wife, Bernadine Dohrn, herself a professor, told a reporter from the Toronto Star in October 2003 when a film on the Weathermen was opening, "I think the substance of what we stood for was absolutely right...The tactics, and some of our rhetoric, those are different questions."
For any reasonable member of the media who took, say, five minutes to look at who Bill Ayers is, Obama's association with him would not only make sense, but, considering how active the two of them were in the same issues in Chicago, unavoidable.
Ayers' story is a powerful one - from activist revolting against the system to activist learning to use the system so he can cause change. What pisses off conservatives is that he's unrepentant. He hasn't begged forgiveness from the public. He hasn't admitted regret for his actions. He has simply decided that bombs weren't the way to create revolution. That it can happen by teaching teachers to show their students, especially kids in poverty, how to be active, engaged citizens, which in these days of sheep-like complacency is revolutionary indeed. And terrifying to those currently holding power.
Correction: Dohrn's first name is Bernadine, not Bernadette, as first posted.