Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Joel Connelly: Like "That One" I palled around with Ayers

Joel Connelly (Seattle P-I):
AFTER HEARING THE unleashed Sarah Palin accuse Sen. Barack Obama of "pallin' around with terrorists" -- and Sen. John McCain's brother call northern Virginia "communist country" -- this scribe is moved to a confession.
One-time Weathermen leader William Ayers, the target in Palin's day of rage, was once a guest in my kitchen. Not only that, but I brewed him a pot of tea and heated up a bagel.

Ayers consorted with our family's standard poodle, S'Murphy Brown, after she extended a paw to the top of his knee.

Circumstances don't matter in wing nuts' land of guilt-by-association, but I had no choice.

The Hi Spot Cafe, notorious liberal hangout in Madrona -- Seattle's equivalent to Chicago's Hyde Park -- had just closed. We needed to do an interview about Ayers' memoir "Fugitive Days," a timely topic, since the terrorist atrocity of 9/11 had taken place just 16 days earlier.

The 2008 presidential campaign has taken an ugly turn. In tones reminiscent of Joe McCarthy in the 1950s, McCain's campaign seeks to tie Obama to Ayers. (The two men are Hyde Park neighbors.) Media have been targeted: An African-American journalist at a Palin rally was reportedly told by someone in the crowd, "Sit down, boy."

It represents an incredible turnaround for a candidate who denounced guilt-by-association just last March.

Asked about Obama's pastor Jeremiah Wright, McCain said: "I think that when people support you, it doesn't mean that you support everything they say. I know that, for example, I've had endorsements of some people that I didn't share their views, but they endorsed mine. And so I think we've got to be very careful about that."

McCain has since put his soul in blind trust.

Breathlessly, Tuesday, the McCain-Palin campaign put out a "damning" release confirming that Obama "continued to serve on a charitable board" with Ayers even while knowing he participated in such Vietnam-era actions as the "Days of Rage."

What they were doing was deciding how to spend an educational grant from Walter Annenberg, a Republican and Richard Nixon intimate who served as ambassador to Great Britain.

Of Ayers, I am reminded of an old quip by the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, longtime University of Notre Dame president. He reversed the adage about giving people enough rope and they'll hang themselves.

"If you give student dissenters enough time, they'll redeem themselves," Hesburgh said.

America is a forgiving place. It allows people to redeem, remake and repackage themselves.

A remaking example comes to mind, William F. Buckley's National Review, the magazine that revived conservatism in the 1960s. Its masthead was loaded with right-thinking folk who were Communist Party members in their youth.

David Horowitz, once editor of the radical magazine Ramparts, has been reborn as a conservative polemicist who campaigns against political correctness and compiles enemies' lists of liberal professors.

Ayers' father was president of Commonwealth Edison, Chicago's big electrical utility. When a federal appeals court threw out federal charges against the Weathermen, William Ayers and his wife, Bernadine Dohrn, ended 10 years of life on the lam and made productive lives in the Windy City.

Ayers is distinguished professor of education at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Dohrn is a Chicago lawyer and director of Northwestern University's Children and Family Justice Center.

The couple's work has won the praise of Mayor Richard Daley, whose father, Mayor Richard J. Daley, sent police after window-smashing Weathermen.

The stuff being hurled at Obama isn't new. Far-right Web sites, and Fox News, have spent months on the smear beat.

Again, in March, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis declared, "Throughout his life, John McCain has held himself to the highest standards, and

he will continue to run a respectful campaign based on the issues."

What do such folk as ex-Gov. Dan Evans and ex-Secretary of State Ralph Munro -- who signed up with McCain of 2000 -- think of today's character assassin?

Is Evans going to break out his hip boots, used in a 1988 TV spot to damn dirty Democrats, so as to wade through the dirt of McCain 2008?

Of course, those who throw mud often have clay feet.

McCain once "attended meetings" at which (later-imprisoned) savings-and-loan mogul Charles Keating asked senators to pressure federal regulators to lay off.

Palin has been associated with -- as recently as a February speech to its state convention -- the Alaska Independence Party. The party advocates that the 49th state become a commonwealth or independent state.

The AIP's founder, Joe Vogler, famously declared: "I'm an Alaskan, not an American. I've got no use for America and her damned institutions."

In our long-ago conversation, Ayers acknowledged the Weathermen's "stupidity" and "wrongness." "We were not terrorists," he argued. "We flirted with it. We toyed with it. We killed ourselves."

Is that so different from Palin toying with the AIP, or McCain flirting with a crook who cost the taxpayers billions?

Still, my life is stained by that pot of tea. S'Murphy Brown is no longer with us, but I half-expect to hear some mouth on Fox News describe her as a "notorious terrorist bitch."

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