This is all so you can answer those attacks come the general election campaign.
Hillary Clinton hurled Bill Ayers' name at Barack Obama during that lousy debate on Wednesday. She hurled it as if it were tar and feathers. Shame on her. Absolute shame. Bill Ayers was a member of the Weather Underground during the Viet Nam War. He operated on the more extreme edge of Viet Nam protests, but anyone who lived through that era, who had any clue about the devastation the war was causing, can certainly understand how he came to his positions while feeling intense dismay and great disapproval at his intention to protest violence with violence.
According to Wikipedia,
Ayers joined the Weatherman group in 1969, but went underground with several associates after the Greenwich Village townhouse explosion in 1970, in which three members (Ted Gold, Terry Robbins, and Diana Oughton, who was Ayers' girlfriend at the time) were killed while constructing a nail bomb. While underground, he and fellow member Bernardine Dohrn married and had two children, Zayd and Malik. They were purged from the group in the mid-1970s, and turned themselves in to the authorities in 1981. All charges against him were dropped because of prosecutorial misconduct during the long search for the fugitives. They later became legal guardians of Chesa Boudin, the biological son of former Weathermen David Gilbert and Kathy Boudin, after his parents were arrested for their part in the Brinks Robbery of 1981.
To condemn Ayers' aborted resort to violence in the 1960's is to say that two wrongs don't make a right. They don't. And in the face of the absolute horror that was our participation in the Vietnam War, countering violence with violence did nothing to bring about change. Although his tactics weren't even close to justifiable, his fury at Vietnam was.
And fortunately, Ayers became a peaceful man, of utmost use to society, rather like the doctor McCain cited as what he thought was a counterexample.
Ayers has devoted the past twenty five or so years of his life to working on education, particularly trying to shape curricula that might produce a kinder and more just society. He has served on boards, held honorary positions, and has won honors. He is highly respected within the field of education. Currently he is Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Education.
I'm not sure he should be repentant, but I'm not sure he shouldn't be. Surely he has not continued to live his life as a violent man, and that speaks well of him. I think nonviolent protest works in the end much more effectively -- MUCH more. But nonviolent protest IS action, and in the face of so much INACTION, one can understand how young people, well-educated young people could become so enthralled with the possibility of wreaking what they imagine will be idealistic change. Che Guevara is in this mode; and so were many, many revolutionaries throughout the world. They started with the best intentions.
In fact, it has been said that only well-off people can afford to address injustices.
Ayers has a blog. You can read here his own declarations of what he believes. You can also link to his very impressive resume.
Shame on Hillary Clinton for thinking it was okay to try to smear Obama with the name of this honorable man.
Shame on people who voted for yet another hideously destructive national act of war for sitting in judgment on him.
And shame on Barack for not standing up for his association with Ayers, however slight it is
Here is a link to a Truthout article which deals with the broader issue of "baiting," as well as with Bill Ayers.
Update: Here is a review of Ayers's memoir of his revolutionary days that appeared in Slate in 2001. It's quite negative, as is Cathy Wilkerson's, though apparently other people see it differently. In fact, a glance at Amazon reveals blurbs (at least) that certainly look like more than carefully selected quotes from the Chicago Tribune, Studs Terkel, Edward Said and the New York Observer. Here is a nuanced, middle of the road look at it. Maybe Ayers will have an author's windfall as a result of this review (and perhaps others) resurfacing following Hillary's and John's use of his name as a weapon. Wow. Such stereotypical irony.
Here's a post by the ever-articulate Stanley fish writing in the New York Times. You go, Stanley Fish!
Third Update: George Packer's post on his New Yorker blog