Friday, April 25, 2008

Him again?

“[I]f the Weatherman is correct…that the basic struggle in the world today is the struggle of the oppressed people against U.S. imperialism, then it is the case that nothing we could do in the mother country could be adventurist…because there is a war going on already, and the terms of the war are set.”
Bill Ayers, quoted in Todd Gitlin, Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage

What a memory-lane gasp when Bill (William) Ayers popped up again like a bad penny to cause Obama grief by tenuous association, even though Barack only shared a foundation board with him and apparently thought he was a professor of english, not education.

Bill has no doubt earned some forgiveness for all his work with children, schools, and social justice. For me, though, he’s become the stuff of symbolism, not real meat and bones: he helped cripple the left and unleash decades of political backlash. Moreover, Ayers shows little remorse or self consciousness of what went wrong with the american left. He reminds me of one of Kurt Vonnegut’s characters who mindlessly repeats, “Man makes no mistakes. Man makes no mistakes.”

Fugitive Days: A Memoir sent chills up my back. Bill’s stilted reflection on adolescent boyhood in Glen Ellyn, Illinois brought back in full force the warp of the times. He desperately tries to find a credible anchor, an antecedent cause, for his revolutionary militancy in the crushing shackles of white, suburban upper-middle-class alienation, ennui, and pseudo juvenile delinquency.

Yeah, being a teenager sometimes sucks and the suburbs left a lot to be desired in the 1960s. One feels the psychology of Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed in comic book form.

So, why all the fuss? Let it go. That was all forty years ago. And many of us were right on the big issues. I guess for me it comes back to confronting one’s own ghosts, sharing the responsibility, and being willing to admit mistakes and missteps. Leadership and moral sanity requires confronting our inner Bill Ayers, or whoever, and getting beyond self-absorbed anger and historical blinders.

Saying all that, aren’t there still lots of reasons for us to be very pissed off given what’s happening in the world?

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