October 11, 2008


Radical Chic Resurgent (Timothy Noah, Aug. 22, 2001, Slate)

The astonishing luck of Bill Ayers, unrepentant former Weather Underground revolutionary, continues unabated. Today the state of New York refused to grant parole to Kathy Boudin, another Weather Underground radical, convicted 20 years ago of second degree murder for participating in a Brink's truck robbery in which two policemen and a security guard were killed. That's bad news for Boudin, who by all accounts has been a model prisoner. But it's great news for Ayers--who, with his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, jointly raised Boudin's son--because it's bound to help Ayers sell his new memoir, Fugitive Days.

Chatterbox isn't sure he's ever read a memoir quite so self-indulgent and morally clueless as Fugitive Days. [...]

Ayers periodically expresses mild regret for his crimes, in tones reminiscent of a middle-aged insurance executive who wishes he hadn't gotten drunk quite so often at his college fraternity. "We took ourselves so seriously--OK, a little too seriously, we were too earnest by half and way too insistent," he writes at one point. "[F]rom the edges, we were entirely inflexible, maybe even a bit goofy." But in the process of describing such youthful indiscretions, Ayers invariably winds himself up into a self-exculpating frenzy. Here he is talking about the Pentagon bombing:

The operation cost just under $500, and no one was killed, or even hurt. In that same time the Pentagon spent tens of millions of dollars and dropped tens of thousands of pounds of explosives on Viet Nam, killing or wounding thousands of human beings, causing hundreds of millions of dollars of damage. Because nothing justified their actions in our calculus, nothing could contradict the merit of ours. ... I can't quite imagine putting a bomb in a building today--all of that seems so distinctly a part of then. But I can't imagine entirely dismissing the possibility, either.

In one truly flabbergasting moment, Ayers dares to compare Hugh Thompson, Lawrence Colburn, and Glen Andreotta--the heroic GIs who pointed their guns at fellow U.S. soldiers in order to halt the My Lai massacre--to his former girlfriend, Diana Oughton. Oughton was killed when explosives that she and other Weatherpeople were hoarding in a Greenwich Village townhouse unexpectedly detonated in 1970. They'd been planning to blow up Fort Dix.

Much of what Ayers self-interestedly leaves out of his book is more personally embarrassing than illegal. Ayers takes care not to dwell on his own Establishment credentials. (His father was chairman of the energy company Commonwealth Edison, a fact Ayers conveys only by writing, "My dad worked for Edison.") Ayers omits any discussion of his famous 1970 statement, "Kill all the rich people. Break up their cars and apartments. Bring the revolution home, kill your parents, that's where it's really at." He also omits any discussion of his wife Bernardine Dohrn's famous reaction to the Manson killings, as conveyed by journalist Peter Collier: "Dig it. First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them, then they even shoved a fork into a victim's stomach! Wild!" (In a 1993 Chicago Magazine profile, Dohrn claimed, implausibly, that she'd been trying to convey that "Americans love to read about violence.") Nor does he address fellow radical Jane Alpert's charge that Ayers was "notorious for his callous treatment and abandonment of Diana Oughton before her death and for his generally fickle and high-handed treatment of women" (though Ayers does manage to get across the message, to those few who haven't heard it, that the late 1960s and early 1970s were a golden age for getting laid). [...]

Ayers is similarly dismissive of terrorists, a group to which he claims not to belong:

Terrorists terrorize, they kill innocent civilians, while we organized and agitated. Terrorists destroy randomly, while our actions bore, we hoped, the precise stamp of a cut diamond. Terrorists intimidate, while we aimed only to educate.

And, indeed, Ayers today is a distinguished professor of education at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Take it away, Dinesh D'Souza.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at October 11, 2008 11:21 AM
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