Sunday, October 5, 2008

Palin Channels Joseph McCarthy

Having passed her Demagoguery 101 midterm with flying colors, Sarah Palin is now going boldly into territory once staked out with horrendous consequences by the late Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy could bring down entire careers in the Fifties by simply suggesting (without even a hint of substantiation) that an individual had consorted with "known Communists." Palin has discovered that there is campaigning gold in substituting "terrorists" for "Communists;" and, as reported on the BBC NEWS Web site, yesterday she started flexing her new-found muscle:

Speaking to supporters in Colorado and later in a Los Angeles suburb, Alaska Governor Palin said the time had come to take the gloves off.

Quoting a New York Times article, she attacked Senator Obama over his link to Bill Ayers, a founder of the Weather Underground, which waged a violent campaign against the Vietnam War.

The group was blamed for a number of bombings in the US in the 1960s.

Mrs Palin described Mr Obama as someone who saw the US "as being so imperfect... he is palling around with terrorists who would target their own country".

Mr Obama served on a charity board several years ago with Mr Ayers, who is now a professor at the University of Illinois.

Having passed by a Summer of Love anniversary celebration yesterday in San Francisco, which seemed to be attended primarily by those not yet born at the time of the event being celebrated, I have to assume that many in Palin's audience (and perhaps many readers of this blog) have no idea who Ayers is. So, in the (probably vain) interest of trying to stop this particular mud before any more of it gets thrown, I figured it would be a good idea to provide a bit of background.

This is probably a case where the Wikipedia entry is as good a place to begin as any. It provides the necessary background on what the Weather Underground was, how Ayers become involved with the movement, and the bombings for which they took responsibility. Ayers put much of this information into the public record when he published his memoir, Fugitive Days in 2001. In terms of addressing Palin's accusation, the following two paragraphs from Wikipedia may be the most relevant:

Much of the controversy about Ayers during the decade since the year 2000 stems from an interview he gave to the New York Times on the occasion of the memoir's publication.[18] The reporter quoted him as saying "I don't regret setting bombs" and "I feel we didn't do enough", and, when asked if he would "do it all again" as saying "I don't want to discount the possibility."[14] Ayers has not denied the quotes, but he protested the interviewer's characterizations in a Letter to the Editor published September 15, 2001: "This is not a question of being misunderstood or 'taken out of context', but of deliberate distortion."[19] In the ensuing years, Ayers has repeatedly avowed that when he said he had "no regrets" and that "we didn't do enough" he was speaking only in reference to his efforts to stop the United States from waging the Vietnam War, efforts which he has described as ". . . inadequate [as] the war dragged on for a decade."[20] Ayers has maintained that the two statements were not intended to imply a wish they had set more bombs.[20][21] The interviewer also quoted some of Ayers' own criticism of Weatherman in the foreword to the memoir, whereby Ayers reacts to having watched Emile de Antonio's 1976 documentary film about Weatherman, Underground: "[Ayers] was 'embarrassed by the arrogance, the solipsism, the absolute certainty that we and we alone knew the way. The rigidity and the narcissism.' "[14]

"We weren't terrorists," Ayers told an interviewer for the Chicago Tribune in 2001. "The reason we weren't terrorists is because we did not commit random acts of terror against people. Terrorism was what was being practiced in the countryside of Vietnam by the United States."[2] In a letter to the editor in the Chicago Tribune, Ayers wrote, "I condemn all forms of terrorism — individual, group and official". He also condemned the September 11 terrorist attacks in that letter. "Today we are witnessing crimes against humanity on our own shores on an unthinkable scale, and I fear that we may soon see more innocent people in other parts of the world dying in response."[22]

As to Ayers current academic status and credentials, Wikipedia provides a useful straightforward summary:

Ayers is currently a Distinguished Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, College of Education. His interests include teaching for social justice, urban educational reform, narrative and interpretive research, children in trouble with the law, and related issues.[33]

He began his career in primary education while an undergraduate, teaching at the Children’s Community School (CCS), a project founded by a group of students and based on the Summerhill method of education. After leaving the underground, he earned an M.Ed from Bank Street College in Early Childhood Education (1984), an M.Ed from Teachers College, Columbia University in Early Childhood Education (1987) and an Ed.D from Columbia University in Curriculum and Instruction (1987).

He has edited and written many books and articles on education theory, policy and practice, and has appeared on many panels and symposia.

Finally, the entry also clarifies the connection with Obama:

Ayers worked with Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley in shaping the city's school reform program,[34] and was one of three co-authors of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge grant proposal that in 1995 won $49.2 million over five years for public school reform.[35] Since 1999 he has served on the nine-member a board [36] board of directors of the Woods Fund of Chicago, an anti-poverty, philanthropic foundation established in 1941, a board that Barack Obama also served on starting in 2001.

According to Ayers, his radical past occasionally affects him, as when, by his account, he was asked not to attend a progressive educators' conference in the fall of 2006 on the basis that the organizers did not want to risk an association with his past.[37]

Following up on the hyperlink for the Woods Fund, I discovered that Palin's mud was actually a hand-me-down from George Stephanopoulos. The Wikipedia entry for the Woods Fund included a link to a News Update for the Chronicle of Philanthropy, dated April 17, 2008. Presumably, this is where the campaign staffers mined the mud for Palin's attack; so it is worth examining:

The Woods Fund of Chicago has been thrust into the middle of the latest controversy in the heated Democratic primary battle between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton.

As a result, the staff at the private foundation is now attempting to handle a swarm of attention from journalists, which is centered on a longtime Woods Fund board member and his relationship with Mr. Obama, who had been a member of the Fund’s board from 1998 to 2001.

The controversy stems from an exchange during Wednesday’s nationally televised debate in Philadelphia, where Mr. Obama was questioned about his relationship with William C. Ayers, a Woods Fund board member who had been part of the Vietnam-era Weather Underground.

The Weather Underground used terroristic methods, such as setting bombs, to protest the war. Mr. Ayers had later written that he did not regret setting the bombs.

During Wednesday’s debate, Mr. Obama was questioned about his ties to Mr. Ayers through the Woods Fund — a private foundation with more than $58-million in assets that works to alleviate poverty.

According to the Woods Fund’s filings with the Internal Revenue Service, Mr. Ayers, now a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has been a member of the Woods Fund’s board of directors since at least 1998. He has received $6,000 annually for his work on the board.

Mr. Obama, meanwhile, had been a board member from 1998 through 2001.

The foundation’s Form 990-PF tax filings show Mr. Obama received similar $6,000 payments in 1998, 1999, and 2000. He did not receive any compensation in 2001, the tax records show.

George Stephanopoulos, one of the ABC News moderators of the debate, asked Mr. Obama about his relationship with Mr. Ayers.

“An early organizing meeting for your state senate campaign was held at his house, and your campaign has said you are friendly,” Mr. Stephanopoulos said. “Can you explain that relationship for the voters, and explain to Democrats why it won’t be a problem?”

Ms. Clinton then brought up the fact that both men had been members of the Woods Fund board — a connection Mr. Obama said is not relevant to his White House aspirations.

“President Clinton pardoned or commuted the sentences of two members of the Weather Underground, which I think is a slightly more significant act than me serving on a board with somebody for actions that he did 40 years ago,” Mr. Obama said.

I feel sorry for the Woods Fund. Any philanthropic organization that is trying so hard to direct resources as a defense measure in the War Against the Poor should not have to put up with press harassment that bears little relevance to their activities. What seems more relevant is that Ayers is now in a place where he is fighting the good fight in that War Against the Poor without recourse to bombs. As the Wikipedia entry makes clear, this man will never escape his past; but he seems to be doing a damned good job of making the best of his present. One cannot say the same of any of the parties involved in the Republican campaign for the White House!

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