Monday, October 6, 2008

When did Bill Ayers turn dangerous?

Bill Ayers, mugshot from 1968.


The current red-baiting of Senator Barack Obama, using the figure of (EXCUSE ME!?) Bill Ayers, is patently hilarious.

Palin Turns to NYT, Citing Article on Ayers:

At a fundraiser this morning in Englewood, Colo., Palin cited an article in today's New York Times as evidence that Obama "sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists who targeted their own country." The Alaska governor was referring to William Ayers, one of the founding members of the Weathermen and someone who once served on a charitable board with Obama in Chicago. The group conducted bombings in the 1960s in protest of the Vietnam War; Obama has denounced Ayers' involvement in the group.

"Well, I was reading my copy of today's New York Times and I was really interested to read about Barack's friends from Chicago," Palin told the crowd. "Turns out, one of his earliest supporters is a man who, according to The New York Times was a domestic terrorist and part of a group that, quote, 'launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol.' These are the same guys who think patriotism is paying higher taxes. This is not a man who sees America as you and I do -- as the greatest force for good in the world. This is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists who targeted their own country. This, ladies and gentlemen, has nothing to do with the kind of change anyone can believe in -- not my kids and not your kids."
OMG! Bill AYERS! I suddenly feel like an insider, all in-the-know as an ex-hard-lefty.

The Yippies used to talk about Bill Ayers.

Back then, Bill was hardly known as the dangerous man he is today, hosting scary coffees for black men who might be president. No sir, back then, he was usually being roasted as the boring and besotted-with-Mao author of the interminable Prairie Fire Manifesto (1974), publicly credited to the nebulous and shadowy "Prairie Fire Organizing Committee"--Weatherman operating underground throughout the 70s.[1]

"A single spark can start a Prairie Fire!" the first page of the bright red (and what color did you expect?) book reminded us. And boring it was, with lots of programmes and Dr Feelgood socialist ideas, all tediously written in committee-vetted gibberish. Telltale sloganeering sentences would appear seemingly out of nowhere, and (as a survivor of many ideological slug-fests over the written word) I could see that this one bizarre sentence/non sequitur was probably the result of some torturous meeting in which copious bloodletting had occurred; accusations of bourgeois childhoods and summer homes flying left and right. (Even now, I shudder to think.)

Bill Ayers was mostly known as a boring writer, and such a dork he almost got himself blown up with the rest of the kids-playing-with-matches (see below).

Bernadine Dohrn, from the film
Weather Underground (2003)

Bill was widely regarded as hapless and devoted follower (Linus of the Left, they called him) of beautiful Bernadine Dohrn [2] love of his life, center of his world, the Queen of his Revolutionary Universe. Bill took heavy hits all through the 70s among people I knew in radical-left circles who called him a pussy-whipped, lovesick fool. They shook their heads and hooted in derision when his name came up. Bill AYERS??!!

And so, I find myself doing the same thing: That Bill Ayers?

In fact, no less than David Horowitz and Peter Collier, in their landmark sellout book Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the Sixties (1989), quoted some Weatherman groupie as saying "All of the power in Weatherman flowed out of Bernadine's cunt," which is one of those lines you simply never forget.[3]

I find it interesting to see interpretations of historic events, once again changing to fit the times. Bill Ayers was once perceived as an ideological lefty theory-nerd all romantically hung up on wild Bernadine, who then got all mixed up trying to light a fuse (KAPOW!--Marxism by the Marx brothers!)... and NOW...what? huh!? ...he is this big dangerous "terrorist" in a Sarah Palin speech ... while his wife Bernadine, the one always running the joint, isn't mentioned at all, is she?

And the pump don't work cause the vandals took the handle.


[1] This PFOC claims to date from 1975, and so apparently is connected to Ayers, Dohrn, et. al. Good luck finding the connection on the website, though!

[2] Best fiction about Bernadine Dohrn is Marge Piercy's novel VIDA (1979), which is a fabulous feminist soap opera about the Weather Underground, highly recommended. Also, I believe this novel captures the melodramatic, passionate personality of Dohrn very well. (The Bill-character doesn't rate too well, as might be expected, and the Diana Oughton-character emerges as a vicious little android-bomber.)

[3] This would have been after the death of his first girlfriend, Diana Oughton, in the infamous Greenwich Village Townhouse Explosion. Pop culture freaks will appreciate the excellent TV-movie based on Oughton, titled KATHERINE (1975), featuring the amazingly talented Sissy Spacek, looking exactly like Oughton. Hapless-Bill is played by none other than Henry Winkler, a dangerous radical if there ever was one.

What was especially creepy about this movie title: At the time it was made, the remaining Weather Underground members who escaped the explosion were still at large, among them Katherine Boudin. Also at large was radical Katherine Ann Power. The title of the movie must have scared them both to death.

Also see Underground (1976), a documentary directed by Emile de Antonio, Haskell Wexler and Mary Lampson, later subpoenaed by the FBI in an attempt to confiscate film footage for information on the Weather Underground, then still in hiding.

[4] The 80s movie inspired by Ayers/Dohrn, adding some kids and domestic problems, was Running on Empty (1988).

EDITED TO ADD: Ayers script hopes to gain from Obama (Politico)


La Lubu said...

Brilliant, brilliant post! I'm a little younger, but I remember those lefty arguments quite well. Sad thing is, I'd give anything to hear some of those old tedious Marxists lay down that by-the-book thing now. It'd be a welcome contrast to the fuck-it-all groove that permeates the atmosphere now.

But yeah....Bill Ayers. He doesn't get too much press here in Illinois, even as a "terrorist".

Annie said...

what a great post and wow you sparked some memories! really a great job of laying it out like only you do, daisy! bernadette dorn. wow.

YogaforCynics said...

Palin don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows...but maybe she could use one to fill her in on names of magazines or newspapers or Supreme Court Cases....

John Powers said...

You truly are a treasure Daisy! Last night I left a note on the St. Francis thread. Like an idiot I didn't press publish or something. But in that comment I left an OT crumb, a link toDave Winer's post on the topic because I was dying to hear what you had to say. Great post!

mikeb302000 said...

I lost some of those years to the drugs. Now I'm getting them back reading Daisy. Thanks.

JoJo said...

Wow, thanks for the primer on Bill Ayers. I confess that, for all my 60's knowledge, it's pretty lacking in this particular area.

Did you know that my former boss, Malcolm Burnstein, was the attorney for the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley? Fresh out of Boalt Hall, he represented the Oakland 8. He's still very active in "The People's Republic of Berkeley".

Anonymous said...

Terrorists are always pretty funny and cuddly.

Until they kill someone.

shadocat said...

memories, memories...I remember when the Republican convention was here in '76,the Yipees came to town and ahad a big protest/camp-in in Penn Valley Park. Me an' my lil sis drove down to check it out, and ended up in an old renovated school bus smokin' hash with a group of scruffy but cute Yipees. We discussed going to the Alameda Plaza Hotel where Reagan was staying, and tearing it down, but since we were too baked to stand up, it never happened. So much for my revolutionary career.

Daisy said...

Anon, the only people the Weathermen killed were Weathermen themselves.

Jojo, we used to call it "Berserkley"--sigh.

queen emily said...

Heh awesome.

I mean, Distinguished Professor of Education, he's a real threat to the nation.

Did you see this story?

Roseanne said...

Thanks for your article, pretty useful piece of writing.