Tuesday, October 7, 2008

More Bill Ayers w/ update

The lead prosecuter in the case against the Weathermen has spoken about this issue in an editorial to the New York Times. Again, digest and decide for yourself.

As the lead federal prosecutor of the Weathermen in the 1970s (I was then chief of the criminal division in the Eastern District of Michigan and took over the Weathermen prosecution in 1972), I am amazed and outraged that Senator Barack Obama is being linked to William Ayers’s terrorist activities 40 years ago when Mr. Obama was, as he has noted, just a child.

Full editorial is here.

NPR addressed this issue today and has a quote from a Chicago area Republican suggesting Ayers has a bi-party following. Listen and make your own judgment.


This week the McCain campaign has resurrected an old attack on Barack Obama: his supposed relationship with Bill Ayers. I don’t want to debate the merits of the attack. This is politics and I guess we have to expect it. Instead I want to consider who Bill Ayers is today and also consider if it should reflect poorly on anyone who might interact with him.

First, some background. Bill Ayers was a member of the Weather Underground, a radical group of the 70’s. As part of a broader protest against the Vietnam War and other perceived injustices, his group set off some small bombs targeting facilities like The Pentagon. In the attacks that involved Ayers, no one was killed or injured. In fact, their attacks typically included a warning ahead of time. Ayers disappeared underground for a number of years and later he turned himself in to authorities. A member of the Weather underground group was killed by an accidental explosion.

This is an intentionally brief summary and more can be found through a quick Google search.

Clearly these acts were despicable. No one really debates that. The question, is, can a person redeem themselves from such acts? I believe they can.

Since his time as a radical, Ayers has become a noted scholar working at one of the preeminent learning institutions in the world. He is a noted expert on urban educational reform and social justice issues. Here is what the Washington Post says about Ayers:
Whatever his past, Ayers is now a respected member of the Chicago intelligentsia, and still a member of the Woods Fund Board. The president of the Woods Fund, Deborah Harrington, said he had been selected for the board because of his solid academic credentials and "passion for social justice.

It is this board where Obama first met Ayers. Ayers later made a small donation to one of Obama’s early political campaigns and hosted a small event for Obama as well.

In this country, is it possible for someone to commit a crime and, through later acts, redeem themselves? I have my opinion. You can form your own.

Next, regardless of your answer to this question, consider the context in which Obama met Ayers – on the board of a respected non-profit. In this context, can you really fault someone for also agreeing to serve on that board? Again, form your own opinion.

Finally, Ayers has been criticized for not expressing regret at his past actions. He has addressed this (here and here). His regret is that he wasn’t able to stop the Vietnam War. In retrospect, given the deaths to both American and Vietnamese, and the awful legacy of that war, I think most would agree stopping the war would have been good. While his methods were questionable, his motives, perhaps, were not.

Whatever your personal view, I hope you take away from this a far more complicated view of the situation than what the McCain campaign seems to be pushing.

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