The nuances of Bill Ayers

Sol Stern has been on the case of Bill Ayers for the past few years, not for his work as a terrorist in the Weather Underground but for his work as an educator at the University of Illinois-Chicago. In 2006, Stern devoted a long City Journal essay to Ayers in “The Ed Schools’ Latest — and Worst — Humbug.” Now Stern returns with an online column on “Obama’s real Bill Ayers problem.” Stern holds the work performed by Ayers in his day job against him:

Ayers’s politics have hardly changed since his Weatherman days. He still boasts about working full-time to bring down American capitalism and imperialism. This time, however, he does it from his tenured perch as Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Instead of planting bombs in public buildings, Ayers now works to indoctrinate America’s future teachers in the revolutionary cause, urging them to pass on the lessons to their public school students.

The Chicago Tribune reviews Ayers’s take on his terrorist past. Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future:

Ayers was born to wealth in Glen Ellyn, and, like thousands of other young people, was moved to political action by the Vietnam War. He and Dohrn were founding members of the Weathermen, a splinter group that claimed responsibility for about a dozen bombings and the 1969 protests in Chicago known as the Days of Rage.

Ayers and Dohrn have since become a respected part of the city’s establishment. Mayor Richard Daley was among those who came to Ayers’ defense after the debate.

But, Ayers writes on his blog, he has never escaped his past. Nor has he ever explicitly apologized, saying the times and his actions need a more nuanced rendering.

“I hear the demand for a general apology in the context of the media chorus as a howling mob with an impossibly broad demand, and on top of that I’m not sure what exactly I’m supposed to apologize for,” he wrote. “The ’68 Convention? The Days of Rage? The Pentagon? Every one of these can be unpacked and found to be a complicated mix of good and bad choices, noble and low motives.”

“Some read my failure to apologize as arrogance, stupidity and recalcitrance, or worse,” he wrote, “but I think, or I hope, that I’m holding on to a more complex, a truer read and memory of that history.”

At the same time, Ayers wonders if his account of those years will really be heard. He writes in a passage that may also hit home with the Obama campaign: “It’s all part of the endlessly-repeating official account, the echo that grows and grows as it bounces off the walls. How can it ever be effectively denied?”

You didn’t know Bill Ayers had his own blog? He does, and he’s still singing from the same songbook in time present: “I’ve never advocated terrorism, never participated in it, never defended it. The U.S. government, by contrast, does it routinely and defends the use of it in its own cause consistently.”

UPDATE: Andrew McCarthy responds to an element of Stern’s column that I ignored in the post above.


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