It has been painful to sit through countless verbal lashings of Bill Ayers by the likes of Sarah Palin and John McCain, the tarring he gets with labels such as “domestic terrorist” and “washed up old terrorist” (a rich one, coming from the likes of McCain) to then find out that William Ayers is in fact an established and well regarded professor in his field — a Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who received a Citizen of the Year award (1997) from the city of Chicago for his work on education reform. Imagine as a professor that you show up in class and face students who the previous night heard one of the leading presidential candidates slam your reputation, nationwide, without the media ever seeking your response, while some delusional, money-grubbing, right wing floater like “Joe the Plumber” is venerated. I was wondering if the latest game of hunt-the-academic-witch, following from the grotesquely laboured persecution of Ward Churchill, would be allowed to pass by academics. Happily, it is not.
SUPPORT BILL AYERS is a website that has already collected almost 4,000 signatures in defense of Ayers. The opening lines of the site state:
It seems that the character assassination and slander of Bill Ayers and other people who have known Obama is not about to let up. While an important concern is the dishonesty of this campaign and the slanderous McCarthyism they are using to attack Obama, we also feel an obligation to support our friend and colleague Bill Ayers. Many, many educators have reached out, asking what they could do, seeking a way to weigh in against fear and intimidation. Many of us have been talking and we agree that this one gesture, a joint statement signed by hundreds of hard-working educators, would be a great first step.
I warmly encourage anyone who supports the fight for academic freedom and honest politics against demonization and authoritarianism to visit the site and add your signature.
What sort of political operative sits behind a desk, weighing options, decides, “Ok, let’s go with this Ayers thing?” The sort of operative who imagines that the base can best be energized by a frontal attack on the ’60s. The sort of Rovian manipulator who calculates that the ideal simple-minded voter seeing Atta in Ayers will see Osama in Obama. If one can exploit Islamophobia to conflate al-Qaeda with Iraq with Yassir Arafat with Hizbollah, one can exploit the lingering Republican bitterness at the ’60s and revolutionary possibilities that era represents to confer an aura of radicalism around the Democratic presidential candidate.
One of the problems, as argued in greater detail and depth in that article, is that John McCain is still fighting a 1960s war, at least in his mind. In the meantime, his Alaskan mannequin proclaims that such people as Ayers do not see America like she and her supporters do, as a beacon of freedom and democracy and a hope for others around the world — this, the most uniquely despised nation on earth in countless opinion polls conducted worldwide over the past several years.
While John McCain cannot forgive the many Ayers who protested the war in Vietnam as a crime and an act of terror (especially since McCain still relives bombing runs on civilian centres in his mind), what I can forgive and yet not understand is why the Vietnamese who captured him let him live. Their humane generosity did no one any favours in the end.