Monday, October 27, 2008

Witch Hunt

Pioneers in the Settlement of AmericaImage via WikipediaOur recent discussions about the Salem witch hunt and the broader notion of Communist witch hunts in The Crucible has put me in mind of the recent charges that Senator Obama has been "pal-ing around with terrorists." This allegation is a thinly veiled attempt to link Obama to the Weather Underground, a radical group from the 1960’s, through the person of William Ayers.

The McCarthy comparison seems apt here since the media used the mere suggestion of an alliance between Mr. Ayers and Senator Obama in one context to imply one in another: That Senator Obama was willing to sit on the same charitable board with Mr. Ayers somehow showed he was in agreement with Mr. Ayers’ politics of 40 years ago. The media felt no need to consider the tenuousness of the connection they hoped to establish.

The alliance between Ayers and Obama is slight and New York Times reporters concede that “since 2002 there is little public evidence of their relationship.” But the fact they ever spoke at all is being used to imply Obama's nefarious intentions. Remember, Obama has already told us he’s willing to talk to any world leader. Imagine the ilk of his speed dial list – Hugo Chavez, Kim-Jong Il …Raul Castro, perhaps? The logic would be hilarious if the stakes weren’t so high. And, in this case, the matter is personal for me.
I know Bill Ayers. I know him to be an extra-ordinary teacher, a generous mentor, and a deeply principled human being who has worked tirelessly in the pursuit of social justice. The Bill Ayers I know is a far cry from the cartoon the media are currently drawing of him.

For political purposes, or perhaps to sell papers, human beings are rarely seen as three dimensional – complicated and sometimes contradictory.
It’s hard to get a clear picture of who people are beyond the stereotype shorthand. 
This is literally true of Ayers, whose name is often accompanied by decades-old mug shots and provocative quotes presented without context. This, perhaps, most of all recalls the McCarthy Era “Us vs. Them” mentality. It’s all black and white with no room for nuance in the pursuit of complicated truths. And as Oscar Wilde reminded us, “The simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.” 

How would your understanding of Ayers be different if you only only saw one of the above pictures?


Max Rice said...

I think John McCain went a little overboard on attacking Obama for alledgedly palling around with Bill Ayers. Though I do think if Obama actually was or is continued to be influenced by radicals, voters deserve to know. I dont see the connection between the Bill Ayers situation and the communist witch hunt. As the communist witch hunt was more extreme, dangerous, and down right false. Politicians over exagerating the impact of other politicians beliefs has gone on forever, just look at the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Yet I dont get how a member of the Weathermen, a terrorist organization, can be "deeply principled". Bill Ayers may be driven but deeply principled seems like a stretch.

Gutty The Great said...

It's easy to judge a man like Bill Ayers. His mug shot makes him look like the terrorist that the Mccain administration is making him out to be. These days, it seems everyone has their own different opinion on Ayers. I've heard from those who praise and look up to him, like Doc Oc. I have also heard from people who still think he is a terrorist. After hearing all of these opinions, I am still having trouble coming up with my own opinion on Bill Ayers. I recently learned about his past work as a leader of the Weatherman. I know he never actually was involved in a killing (exception being the Greenich Village mishap in which his girlfriend and two others died). Though I also know that he was involved in several other bombings and protests. When I look back at the mug shot, I think of the passionte and radical young man who was involved with the weatherman. His past may be questionable, though there is no question that he has become a model citizen 40 years later. He has done great things for this city and continues to. People need to look past Republican accusations and focus on the Bill Ayers of the 21st century.

Kelly said...

I didn’t know of Bill Ayers before the connection with Barack Obama came up. During the height of the political season almost everything it blown out of proportion. Based on your (Mr. O’Connor) knowledge of him, the encounters between Barack Obama and Bill Ayers would seem to be a stretch. It does come from both sides of politics though, many things that the candidates have said or done seem to be altered to make it seem worse than it was or change the context. Based on the information and pictures within this blog Bill Ayers could be seen as two different people. One side is a terrorist and criminal and another as an average man just getting through life. It does seem to be undisputed that Ayers engaged in criminal activities earlier in his life and Barack Obama does know him. The question is if Obama agrees with Ayers’ politics and is it ok if he does. It is unfortunate that the negative sides of people have to be placed in the spotlight before the positive in politics.

walt said...

I think that Bill Ayers has done some things in his life that he is not proud of, and he might regret them, but that still does not excuse the fact that he did them. I think that Bill Ayers has done things worthy of jail time I also believe that Barack Obama does not have very strong connections with him and therefore we should not focus on this. I am a McCain supporter and I still say that we should not focus on Bill Ayers. The one thing that I disagree with on this topic is what Obama said on Ayers. The words "has worked tirelessly in the pursuit of social justice" just dont seem to fit when I think of Ayers. If you dont like something you protest like MLK, you dont blow up statues dedicated to policemen. I just think that in my concious I can not completely forgive a man like this.

Kimber said...

I think that during every election, the media blows things way out of proportion for sensationalism. In Bill Ayers case, the media and Governor Palin have gone so far to say that Obama agrees with Ayers past political positions and also that Obama is a terrorist for being associated with Ayers (having lunch once). At the time that Ayers was actively involved with the Weathermen, Obama was only eight years old. Since that time, Ayers has become a professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago and has worked to promote school reform.
If I only saw the first photo of Ayers, a “mug shot”, I would be more inclined to believe the media’s depiction of him as a radical terrorist. The second photo shows a happy, relaxed “professor” like man in a garden. There is no evil in this photo. This photo does not support the media’s attempt to portray him as a terrorist.
I know that the media is attempting and is successful in portraying Bill Ayers as a bad person involved with bombings and protests. When looking back at his past, he was involved in these activities, but since the misguided behaviors of his youth, Ayers has changed. He has become a great professor and supporter of education.

Boris P said...

If I had seen the black and white arrest photo , my opinion would be that he is a criminal and probably not such a great person. If I had seen the bottom picture my opinion wouldn't necessarily be that he is a great guy ,but he certainly would seem like a better person.