Pardon my dumb-foundedness, but I just don’t understand why the McCain/Palin campaign and other Republicans keep on pushing the “he associates with former terrorist William Ayers” attack line against Barack Obama. Okay, that’s not quite true; I understand why they’re pushing this line of attack — they’re out of any good ideas for America’s future, and it does work on their rather ignorant base — but what I don’t understand is how they think this line of attack will be successful in the greater scheme of bringing more undecided voters into the fold and win the election. Let’s look at the charge objectively, okay?
William Ayers committed his terrorist attacks when Obama was eight years old and living in Indonesia. Obama hadn’t even heard of him at that point, let alone supported his philosophies. They wouldn’t go on to meet for another twenty-seven years, by which point William Ayers had long since stopped being a terrorist and had become a respected university professor. The two met when they served on the board of a non-profit education-focused community group. And as a potentially mitigating factor in defense of Ayers, the US government wasn’t exactly on a hot streak during the Vietnam War; the Weather Underground has to be understood in the context of the larger anti-war movement that rose up to oppose it. Yes, the Weather Underground used tactics that are never acceptable — but so did the government at the time. No ones hands are clean in this.
The American public overall isn’t being persuaded by this line of attack. Calling Obama a terrorist sympathizer as an attempt to paint him as un-American (how McCarthyist!) is too sleazy for all but the most rabid conservative. It simply isn’t gaining any traction; when McCain started pushing this narrative, Obama started gaining in the polls. But the silliest part of this line of attack is that, if it actually held any merit, it could just as easily be used against me, to disqualify me from ever holding any elected office. What’s that? I’m connected with a former terrorist? You betcha!
I went to Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, a notoriously liberal area. One of my best and most memorable teachers was my eleventh grade history teacher. She would frequently get distracted during lessons and start recounting stories of her anti-war activities during the Vietnam era, and we all loved her for it. We learned more from her than from any textbook. And her life story was amazing, leaving her with a wealth of personal stories that never left us bored: after her anti-war activism, she became a Catholic nun, then ended up leaving religion altogether, married a black man in a time when that was very uncommon and looked down upon, had a mixed-race child, ended up getting divorced, then ultimately became a teacher. We all respected her greatly because, unlike most other teachers, she treated us like adults and told us the unfiltered truth. At one point when she was telling us a story of how her, her husband, and their child were racially discriminated against, she and half the class were crying. But it was her activities during the Vietnam War that I’d like to focus on now.
My teacher was involved in a radical anti-war group. The very pinnacle of her activism occurred when she, along with a group of college students, broke into an Agent Orange munitions factory at night and destroyed a lot of the manufacturing equipment. Attacking the machineries of war during wartime? That easily qualifies as terrorism, probably even treason. They were caught on their way out and spent awhile in jail. Finally, thanks to an amazing bout of luck and a sympathetic judge, my teacher got off with a misdemeanor charge instead of a felony (her co-conspirators weren’t so lucky), which was very fortuitous because a felony would’ve precluded her from ever becoming a teacher.
So, yes, I personally knew a “terrorist”, and what’s worse, unlike Obama with Ayers, I don’t even disagree with her actions. Unlike the Weather Underground, which targeted and killed people, my teacher targeted the equipment involved in making a chemical of war that was used in extremely unethical ways by our military against a civilian population. I can’t really fault her for that. So you can excuse me for not feeling sympathetic for McCain’s line of attack on Obama, not even by one whit.