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Tsunami Of Populist Rage Coursing Through America February 8, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
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foreclosures

Slumdogs Unite!

Frank Rich

Published: February 7, 2009, New York Times 
SOMEDAY historians may look back at Tom Daschle’s flameout as a minor one-car (and chauffeur) accident. But that will depend on whether or not it’s followed by a multi-vehicle pileup that still could come. Even as President Obama refreshingly took responsibility for having “screwed up,” it’s not clear that he fully understands the huge forces that hit his young administration last week.

Barry Blitt

 

The tsunami of populist rage coursing through America is bigger than Daschle’s overdue tax bill, bigger than John Thain’s trash can, bigger than any bailed-out C.E.O.’s bonus. It’s even bigger than the Obama phenomenon itself. It could maim the president’s best-laid plans and what remains of our economy if he doesn’t get in front of the mounting public anger.

Like nearly everyone else in Washington, Obama was blindsided by the savagery and speed of Daschle’s demise. Conventional wisdom had him surviving the storm. Such is the city’s culture that not a single Republican or Democratic senator called for his withdrawal until the morning of his exit. Membership in the exclusive Senate club, after all, has its privileges. Among Daschle’s more vocal defenders was Bob Dole, who had recruited him to Alston & Bird, the law and lobbying firm where Dole has served as “special counsel” when not otherwise cashing in on his own Senate years by serving as a pitchman for Pepsi and Viagra.

In New York, editorial pages on both ends of the political spectrum, The Wall Street Journal and The Times, called for Daschle to step down. But not The Washington Post. In a frank expression of the capital’s isolation from the country, it thought Daschle could still soldier on even though “ordinary Americans who pay their taxes may well wonder why Mr. Obama can’t find cabinet secretaries who do the same.”

As Jon Stewart might say, oh those pesky ordinary Americans!

In reality, Daschle’s tax shortfall, an apparently honest mistake, was only a red flag for the larger syndrome that much of Washington still doesn’t get. It was the source, not the amount, of his unreported income that did him in. The car and driver advertised his post-Senate immersion in the greedy bipartisan culture of entitlement and crony capitalism that both helped create our economic meltdown (on Wall Street) and failed to police it (in Washington). Daschle might well have been the best choice to lead health-care reform. But his honorable public record was instantly vaporized by tales of his cozy, lucrative relationships with the very companies he’d have to adjudicate as health czar.

Few articulate this ethical morass better than Obama, who has repeatedly vowed to “close the revolving door” between business and government and end our “two sets of standards, one for powerful people and one for ordinary folks.” But his tough new restrictions on lobbyists (already compromised by inexplicable exceptions) and porous plan for salary caps on bailed-out bankers are only a down payment on this promise, even if they are strictly enforced.

The new president who vowed to change Washington’s culture will have to fight much harder to keep from being co-opted by it instead. There are simply too many major players in the Obama team who are either alumni of the financial bubble’s insiders’ club or of the somnambulant governmental establishment that presided over the catastrophe.

This includes Timothy Geithner, the Treasury secretary. Washington hands repeatedly observe how “lucky” Geithner was to be the first cabinet nominee with an I.R.S. problem, not the second, and therefore get confirmed by Congress while the getting was good. Whether or not this is “lucky” for him, it is hardly lucky for Obama. Geithner should have left ahead of Daschle.

Now more than ever, the president must inspire confidence and stave off panic. As Friday’s new unemployment figures showed, the economy kept plummeting while Congress postured. Though Obama is a genius at building public support, he is not Jesus and he can’t do it all alone. On Monday, it’s Geithner who will unveil the thorniest piece of the economic recovery plan to date — phase two of a bank rescue. The public face of this inevitably controversial package is now best known as the guy who escaped the tax reckoning that brought Daschle down.

Even before the revelation of his tax delinquency, the new Treasury secretary was a dubious choice to make this pitch. Geithner was present at the creation of the first, ineffectual and opaque bank bailout — TARP, today the most radioactive acronym in American politics. Now the double standard that allowed him to wriggle out of his tax mess is a metaphor for the double standard of the policy he must sell: Most “ordinary Americans” still don’t understand why banks got billions while nothing was done (and still isn’t being done) to bail out those who lost their homes, jobs and retirement savings.

As with Daschle, the political problems caused by Geithner’s tax infraction are secondary to the larger questions raised by his past interaction with the corporations now under his purview. To his credit, Geithner, like Obama, has devoted his career to public service, not buckraking. But he still has not satisfactorily explained why, as president of the New York Fed, he failed in his oversight of the teetering Wall Street institutions. Nor has he told us why, in his first major move in his new job, he secured a waiver from Obama to hire a Goldman Sachs lobbyist as his chief of staff. Nor, in his confirmation hearings, did he prove any more credible than the Bush Treasury secretary, the Goldman Sachs alumnus Hank Paulson, in explaining why Lehman Brothers was allowed to fail while A.I.G. and Citigroup were spared.

Citigroup had one highly visible asset that Lehman did not: Robert Rubin, the former Clinton Treasury secretary who sat passively (though lucratively) in its executive suite as Citi gorged on reckless risk. Geithner, as a Rubin protégé from the Clinton years, might have recused himself from rescuing Citi, which so far has devoured $45 billion in bailout money.

Key players in the Obama economic team beyond Geithner are also tied to Rubin or Citigroup or both, from Larry Summers, the administration’s top economic adviser, to Gary Gensler, the newly named nominee to run the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and a Treasury undersecretary in the Clinton administration. Back then, Summers and Gensler joined hands with Phil Gramm to ward off regulation of the derivative markets that have since brought the banking system to ruin. We must take it on faith that they have subsequently had judgment transplants.

Obama’s brilliant appointees, we keep being told, are irreplaceable. But as de Gaulle said, “The cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men.” You have to wonder if this team is really a meritocracy or merely a stacked deck. Not only did Rubin himself serve on the Obama economic transition team, but two of the transition’s headhunters were Michael Froman, Rubin’s chief of staff at Treasury and later a Citigroup executive, and James S. Rubin, an investor who is Robert Rubin’s son.

A welcome outlier to this club is Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman chosen to direct Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. But Bloomberg reported last week that Summers is already freezing Volcker out of many of his deliberations on economic policy. This sounds like the arrogant Summers who was fired as president of Harvard, not the chastened new Summers advertised at the time of his appointment. A team of rivals is not his thing.

Americans have had enough of such arrogance, whether in the public or private sectors, whether Democrat or Republican. Voters turned on Sarah Palin not just because of her manifest unfitness for office but because her claims of being a regular hockey mom were contradicted by her Evita shopping sprees. John McCain’s sanctification of Joe the Plumber (himself a tax delinquent) never could be squared with his inability to remember how many houses he owned. A graphic act of entitlement also stripped naked that faux populist John Edwards.

The public’s revulsion isn’t mindless class hatred. As Obama said on Wednesday of his fellow citizens: “We don’t disparage wealth. We don’t begrudge anybody for achieving success.” But we do know that the system has been fixed for too long. The gaping income inequality of the past decade — the top 1 percent of America’s earners received more than 20 percent of the total national income — has not been seen since the run-up to the Great Depression.

This is why “Slumdog Millionaire,” which pits a hard-working young man in Mumbai against a corrupt nexus of money and privilege, has become America’s movie of the year. As Robert Reich, the former Clinton labor secretary, wrote after Daschle’s fall, Americans “resent people who appear to be living high off a system dominated by insiders with the right connections.”

The neo-Hoover Republicans in Congress, who think government can put Americans back to work with corporate tax cuts but without any “spending,” are tone deaf to this rage. Obama is not. It’s a good thing he’s getting out of Washington this week to barnstorm the country about the crisis at hand. Once back home, he’s got to make certain that the insiders in his own White House know who’s the boss.

Getting the Bad Guys January 9, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Peace, War.
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HELEN IS BACK AND FIESTY AS EVER!

www.margaretandhelen.wordpress.com

January 5, 2009

Margaret,  I got a lot of crap.  How about you?    If it’s the thought that counts then I want to know what some of my family members were thinking? Candles and exotic soaps are gifts that tell me the giver didn’t give much thought.  To all my loved ones:  Please stop buying me things for the sake of buying me things.  In the future, bake me something nice and if you don’t bake,  a hug will do just fine.  And for the record, Harold hasn’t done anything that requires a screw driver set for almost twenty years.  We have people for that now.  And speaking of people…

Welcome back everyone.  I hope you had a wonderful holiday.  We had a lovely time with family stopping by for long overdue visits.  It was even good to see the vegetarians, but I couldn’t get them to try some stuffing.  Honestly, how can someone not like bacon?  It just doesn’t make any sense.

But I was so happy to see my nephew home from Iraq.  At least that is where I think he’s been.  As a  member of  the special forces, he can’t tell me what he’s been up to.  Instead he gave me a hug and told me he’s been getting the bad guys.   I hugged him back and held my tongue because I support the troops.

Support the troops.  You know saying those words takes about as much energy as putting one of those god awful yellow ribbon stickers on your car.  It’s meaningless unless you follow it with action.  When dealing with war, it’s more than the thought that counts. 

If you want to support the troops then you do everything you can to work for peace.  You march…  you write letters to your editor…  you call your elected officials…. and you teach your children that bad guys are rarely found on the field of battle. 

When it comes to war the real bad guys are usually hundreds of miles away surrounded by men with money to gain and power to loose.  It’s a shame that the guns are almost never aimed at the bad guys.  But I understand why the army has to convince my nephew and other soliders to see it that way.   I imagine it would be hard to pull the trigger if you realize the guy you’re aiming at is probably just like you.  Yep.  You don’t win many wars that way.  Instead you have to turn “us” into “them” and “we” into “they”.   It’s hard to hate people.  It’s much easier to just hate a country or a regime.  It’s hard to kill someone’s son or father or brother, but pulling a trigger when you are aiming at a terrorists… well that’s another story entirely.  You know, I can’t help but wonder what color the ribbons are in Irag.    I mean you realize that mothers in Iraq support the troops too, don’t you?

So my New Year’s resolution was going to be to stop calling Sarah Palin a bitch and to kiss and make up with George W. Bush.  But you know what they say about New Year’s Resolutions… they’re too easily broken.  Besides Sarah ” I see terrorists” Palin is a bitch.  And the only kiss that will ever happen between me and George W. Bush will be when his lips meet my ass.

So let’s see if we can all come up with a better resolution.  One that we can  actually keep and one that is in keeping with the spirit of this blog.   For me, in 2009, I resolve to point the gun at the bad guys…starting with myself.  

I have no idea if my little rants on this internet have had any type of positive impact, but I cannot point the gun at Palin and Bush without blaming myself as well.  I sat by for eight years when I should have been getting active every day in our politcal system.  It’s the only way democracy works.  So until they put me in a rest home, I’ll be watching – and writing.   I voted for Obama, but that doesn’t mean I gave him a free pass.   And I’m pretty sure we haven’t seen the last of that moose hunter in heels.   Trust me, I’ve learned my lesson.  There will always be bad guys – at home and abroad.

So Happy New Year everyone.  Leave your New Year’s Resolution before you go and make it one you can keep.  Thanks for stopping by again.  I mean it.  Really.

Happy New Year December 31, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Political Commentary.
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A Very Bad Year

 

 

 

by: William Rivers Pitt, t r u t h o u t | Columnist

 

 

There is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now.
- Eugene O’Neill
bush
 George W. Bush presided over a very bad year. (Photo: Getty Images)
The year 2008 began on a Tuesday. Matters went downhill swiftly from there.
     On that first day of 2008, the Taliban threatened to further escalate attacks in Afghanistan, eight people died in Gaza amid the violence of the Fatah-Hamas conflict and US diplomat John Granville was murdered along with his driver in Sudan. After that first day of 2008, the price of crude oil jumped to $100 a barrel, five armed Iranian boats confronted US warships near the Strait of Hormuz and a Taliban attack upon the Serena Hotel in Kabul killed six people. The Pentagon announced they were sending an additional 3,200 marines to Afghanistan, the year’s first significant stock market convulsion brought the Dow down 482 points, Barack Obama won Iowa and South Carolina, Clinton won New Hampshire and Florida and George W. Bush delivered the last State of the Union address of his presidency. Edmund Hillary died, Bobby Fischer died and Heath Ledger died. Forty American soldiers died in Iraq, seven American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in January of 2008.

    At least 43 people were killed in Baghdad when bombs exploded in two marketplaces, the US military admitted accidentally killing nine civilians south of Baghdad and George W. Bush introduced a $3.1 trillion budget on top of a near-record deficit of $410 billion. Tornados killed 57 people in the Southern US, a $158 billion economic stimulus package failed to pass a procedural vote, but a subsequent $168 billion stimulus package was successfully passed. Hamas launched 20 rockets into Israel, a suicide bomber killed 20 people at a political rally in Pakistan and a car bomb killed 25 people in Iraq. The US Congress voted in favor of granting immunity to the telecommunications companies involved in the NSA surveillance scandal, voted against letting the CIA use “waterboarding” while interrogating prisoners and voted to hold Bush administration officials Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten in contempt regarding the fired US attorneys scandal. Obama won a bunch of states, Clinton won a bunch of other states and Ralph Nader got into the race. Roy Scheider and William F. Buckley died. Twenty-nine American soldiers died in Iraq, one American soldier died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in February of 2008.

    A US submarine flipped at least one missile into Somalia, two bombs killed 54 people in Baghdad, a bomb was set off outside a US military recruiting center in Times Square and the US began talks with Iraqi officials about establishing the long-term presence of US forces in that country. New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer was implicated in the investigation of a prostitution ring and resigned his office, the US Congress failed to override Bush’s veto of the anti-waterboarding legislation and Adm. William Fallon resigned as commander of the US Central Command over disagreements with the Bush administration regarding their posture towards Iran. The value of the US dollar dropped to its lowest point in 13 years, Bear Stearns received emergency funding from JPMorgan Chase and was later bought out by Chase for pennies on the dollar. Obama won some states, Clinton won some other states and McCain won enough states to become the presumed GOP nominee for president. Arthur C. Clark died, Richard Widmark died and Dith Pran died. Thirty-nine American soldiers died in Iraq, eight American soldiers died in Afghanistan and the total number of US soldiers killed in Iraq passed 4,000. That’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in March of 2008.

    A suicide bomber attacked a checkpoint in Mosul and killed seven people, the US State Department renewed their security contract with Blackwater despite several investigations into that company’s involvement in the massacre of Iraqi civilians, gunmen kidnapped 42 university students in Mosul, all of whom were later released unharmed. Twenty people were killed in Sadr City clashes, rockets fell into the US Green Zone in Baghdad, two bombings in Baquba and Ramadi killed 60 people and the massive $736 million US embassy in Iraq opened for business. The Bush administration brought back the one-year Treasury note to combat the onrushing recession, real estate prices plummeted 12.7 percent and consumer confidence dropped again. Clinton won Pennsylvania but lost Mark Penn, the GOP lost Alan Keyes and John McCain kept on rolling. Charlton Heston died and Albert Hoffman died. Fifty-two American soldiers died in Iraq, five American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in April of 2008.

    The Fed auctioned off $24.12 billion in Treasury securities to try and blunt the impact of the subprime mortgage crisis, crude oil futures reached $130 for the first time in history, US home prices dropped 14.1 percent and the US Congress approved a $300 billion loan to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. Cyclone Nargis killed nearly 30,000 people in Burma, dozens were killed and wounded in Iraq during fighting between Iraqi militias and US forces, suicide bombers killed dozens more in and around Baghdad and an independent investigation into Pentagon spending on Iraq contracts found that 95 percent of the billions of dollars spent could not be accounted for. Obama won some states, Clinton won some other states and the Democratic primary season inched closer to a final conclusion. Willis Lamb and Sydney Pollack died. Nineteen American soldiers died in Iraq, 17 American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in May of 2008.

    A suicide bomber killed eight people outside the Danish embassy in Pakistan, US forces accidentally killed ten Pakistani soldiers in an airstrike, two bombs killed 12 people at a train station in Algeria and a car bomb killed 51 people at a bus station in Baghdad. Wachovia fired its CEO over the subprime crisis, AIG fired its CEO over the subprime crisis, General Motors announced the closing of several factories and the elimination of 10,000 jobs, two Bear Stearns executives were arrested on criminal charges and the price of a barrel of crude oil spiked $11 in one day. A bill to lower greenhouse gas emissions died in Congress after being successfully filibustered by Senate Republicans, and flooding in Wisconsin, Indiana and Iowa killed ten people. Clinton officially conceded defeat, making Obama the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. Bo Diddley died, Tim Russert died and George Carlin died. Twenty-nine American soldiers died in Iraq, 28 American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in June of 2008.

    Starbucks closed 600 coffee shops in the US, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke assured Congress that neither Fannie May nor Freddie Mac were in danger of failing and GOP Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska was indicted. The Pentagon extended the 24th Marine Expeditionary Force’s tour of duty in Afghanistan, an explosion near the Red Mosque in Pakistan killed ten people, a car bomb killed 41 people outside the Indian embassy in Afghanistan, another suicide bomber killed 18 people near a Pakistani police station, a suicide bomber killed 35 people in Baquba and Iran test-fired nine long- and medium-range missiles. A global study of coral reefs determined that one-third of the world’s coral-building species faced extinction, wildfires in California forced 10,000 people to evacuate and George W. Bush lifted the ban on offshore oil drilling. Jesse Helms died, Tony Snow died and Estelle Getty died. Thirteen American soldiers died in Iraq, 20 American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in July of 2008.

    US unemployment rose to 5.7 percent, the highest level in four years, 12 people were killed when a minibus exploded in Baghdad and 21 street cleaners were killed by an explosion in Somalia. The Georgia-Ossetia conflict erupted, thousands of civilians were killed and GOP presidential candidate John McCain declared all Americans to be Georgians. Taliban fighters forced the retreat of Pakistani soldiers from the Afghan border and later attacked a US base in the Khost province. The US inked a missile shield deal with Poland, causing Russia to declare Poland a “legitimate military target” that had “opened itself to a nuclear strike.” Conservative columnist Robert Novak retired, former Democratic Senator and vice-presidential candidate John Edwards admitted to cheating on his cancer-stricken wife, the Democratic National Convention nominated Barack Obama for president and GOP presidential candidate John McCain chose Sarah Palin to be his running mate. Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes died. Twenty-three American soldiers died in Iraq, 22 American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in August of 2008.

    The Republican National Convention nominated John McCain and Sarah Palin for president and vice president and Jack Abramoff was sentenced to four years in prison for his role in the US lobbying scandal. The US economy lost 84,000 jobs, the US government took Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into conservatorship, Washington Mutual fired its CEO over the subprime mortgage crisis and HP announced they were eliminating nearly 25,000 jobs. In the space of 48 hours, AIG asked the US government for a $40 billion loan to save it from collapse, Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch, Citibank acquired Wachovia, Lehman Brothers filed Chapter 11 and the Dow dropped more than 500 points. The US government loaned AIG more than $80 billion, a car bomb in northern Pakistan killed more than 30 people, video surfaced implicating the US military in the bombing deaths of more than 90 civilians in Afghanistan, a car bomb killed 32 people in Iraq, five explosions in India killed 30 people, the Marriott Hotel in Pakistan was bombed and Hurricane Ike made its deadly landfall in Texas. David Foster Wallace and Paul Newman died. Twenty-five American soldiers died in Iraq, 27 American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in September of 2008.

    The Senate approved a massive $700 billion bailout plan aimed at salvaging the American economy, Bush signed it, the Dow dropped 800 points in its single largest loss on record and retail sales plummeted for the third straight month. A senior British military commander was quoted as saying that victory in Afghanistan would be impossible to achieve, a suicide bomber killed 27 people in Pakistan, a suicide bomber killed 25 people in Sri Lanka, the Taliban executed 30 people they had kidnapped in Afghanistan, a series of bomb blasts killed 66 people and wounded nearly 500 in India, North Korea threatened to turn South Korea into “debris” and US forces attacked a civilian building in Syria. The NSA was accused of listening in on thousands of telephone conversations between Americans at home and Americans abroad, including conversations between US soldiers serving overseas and their families and two white supremacists were arrested for plotting to assassinate Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Tony Hillerman and Studs Terkel died. Fourteen American soldiers died in Iraq, 16 American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in October of 2008.

    The Alaskan legislature concluded that Gov. Sarah Palin acted improperly in the “Troopergate” scandal, which mattered little after the McCain/Palin GOP presidential ticket was soundly thrashed at the polls by the Democratic presidential ticket of Barack Obama and Joe Biden. The passage of Proposition 8 ended same-sex marriages in California and inspired protests by millions of people in 300 cities. An anonymous hold by a GOP senator disrupted the mandated oversight of the $700 billion bailout deal, an explosion on a Minibus killed 11 people in Russia, five Guantanamo detainees were ordered released by a US judge and terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India’s financial heartland, killed hundreds of people. Unemployment levels in the US reached their highest level in 14 years, a second bailout of AIG cost taxpayers an additional $150 billion, retail chain Circuit City filed for Chapter 11 and the euro zone entered the first official recession in its history. Citigroup announced the elimination of 75,000 jobs and got $32 billion from the US government, Pepsi announced 3,000 layoffs and representatives from the “Big Three” automakers began pushing for a bailout of their crippled industry. Two people were shot to death in a Toys ‘R Us in California and a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death in New York on the first official day of the Christmas shopping season. Michael Crichton and Mitch Mitchell died. Seventeen American soldiers died in Iraq, one American soldier died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in November of 2008.

    GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss won re-election, O.J. Simpson was sentenced to prison and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested for his role in a vast pay-for-play bribery scheme involving, among other things, the open Senate seat recently vacated by president-elect Obama. The Tribune Company filed for Chapter 11, Sony announced the elimination of 8,000 jobs and the closure of 10 percent of its manufacturing facilities, the “Big Three” automotive industry bailout staggered to and fro in Washington, hundreds of thousands in New England lost electrical power for more than a week after a massive ice storm struck the region and the US consumer price index fell to its lowest point since the Great Depression. A suicide bomber killed ten people in Afghanistan, a bomb in Pakistan killed 17 people and rioters turned Athens into a war zone. A suicide bomber killed 48 people in Iraq, four Royal Marines were killed in Afghanistan, Pakistan deployed thousands of troops along the Indian border amid rising tensions after the Mumbai attacks, Israel launched a massive attack against Hamas and an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at George W. Bush. Odetta died, Bettie Page died, Deep Throat died, Harold Pinter died, Eartha Kitt died and Freddie Hubbard died. Twelve American soldiers died in Iraq, three American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in December of 2008.

    Happy New Year. Who else needs a drink?

William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: “War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You to Know” and “The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.” His newest book, “House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America’s Ravaged Reputation,” is now available from PoliPointPress

 

 

The GOP’s McCarthy Gene December 2, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Political Commentary.
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goldwater

www.truthout.com

30 November 2008

by: Neal Gabler, The Los Angeles Times

photo
Barry Goldwater. (Photo: The Santa Barbara Independent)

    Think Goldwater is the father of conservatism? Think again.

    Ever since the election, partisans within the Republican Party and observers outside it have been speculating wildly about what direction the GOP will take to revive itself from its disaster. Or, more specifically, which wing of the party will prevail in setting the new Republican course – whether it will be what conservative writer Kathleen Parker has called the “evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy” branch or the more pragmatic, intellectual, centrist branch. To determine the answer, it helps to understand exactly how Republicans arrived at this spot in the first place.

    The creation myth of modern conservatism usually begins with Barry Goldwater, the Arizona senator who was the party’s presidential standard-bearer in 1964 and who, even though he lost in one of the biggest landslides in American electoral history, nevertheless wrested the party from its Eastern establishment wing. Then, Richard Nixon co-opted conservatism, talking like a conservative while governing like a moderate, and drawing the opprobrium of true believers. But Ronald Reagan embraced it wholeheartedly, becoming the patron saint of conservatism and making it the dominant ideology in the country. George W. Bush picked up Reagan’s fallen standard and “conservatized” government even more thoroughly than Reagan had, cheering conservatives until his presidency came crashing down around him. That’s how the story goes.

    But there is another rendition of the story of modern conservatism, one that doesn’t begin with Goldwater and doesn’t celebrate his libertarian orientation. It is a less heroic story, and one that may go a much longer way toward really explaining the Republican Party’s past electoral fortunes and its future. In this tale, the real father of modern Republicanism is Sen. Joe McCarthy, and the line doesn’t run from Goldwater to Reagan to George W. Bush; it runs from McCarthy to Nixon to Bush and possibly now to Sarah Palin. It centralizes what one might call the McCarthy gene, something deep in the DNA of the Republican Party that determines how Republicans run for office, and because it is genetic, it isn’t likely to be expunged any time soon.

    The basic problem with the Goldwater tale is that it focuses on ideology and movement building, which few voters have ever really cared about, while the McCarthy tale focuses on electoral strategy, which is where Republicans have excelled.

    McCarthy, Wisconsin’s junior senator, was the man who first energized conservatism and made it a force to reckon with. When he burst on the national scene in 1950 waving his list of alleged communists who had supposedly infiltrated Harry Truman’s State Department, conservatism was as bland, temperate and feckless as its primary congressional proponent, Ohio Sen. Robert Taft, known fondly as “Mister Conservative.” Taft was no flamethrower. Though he was an isolationist and a vehement opponent of FDR, he supported America’s involvement in the war after Pearl Harbor and had even grudgingly come to accept the basic institutions of the New Deal. He was also no winner. He had contested and lost the Republican presidential nomination to Wendell Willkie in 1940, Thomas Dewey in 1948 and Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, three men who were regarded as much more moderate than he.

    McCarthy was another thing entirely. What he lacked in ideology – and he was no ideologue at all – he made up for in aggression. Establishment Republicans, even conservatives, were disdainful of his tactics, but when those same conservatives saw the support he elicited from the grass-roots and the press attention he got, many of them were impressed. Taft, no slouch himself when it came to Red-baiting, decided to encourage McCarthy, secretly, sealing a Faustian bargain that would change conservatism and the Republican Party. Henceforth, conservatism would be as much about electoral slash-and-burn as it would be about a policy agenda.

    For the polite conservatives, McCarthy was useful. That’s because he wasn’t only attacking alleged communists and the Democrats whom he accused of shielding them. He was also attacking the entire centrist American establishment, the Eastern intellectuals and the power class, many of whom were Republicans themselves, albeit moderate ones. When he began his investigation of the Army, he even set himself against his own Republican president, who had once commanded that service. In the end, he was censured in 1954, not for his recklessness about alleged communists but for his recklessness toward his fellow senators. Moderate Republicans, not Democrats, led the fight against him. His intemperance disgusted them as much as it emboldened his fans, Goldwater among them.

    But if McCarthy had been vanquished – he died three years later of cirrhosis from drinking – McCarthyism was only just beginning. McCarthyism is usually considered a virulent form of Red-baiting and character assassination. But it is much more than that. As historian Richard Hofstadter described it in his famous essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” McCarthyism is a way to build support by playing on the anxieties of Americans, actively convincing them of danger and conspiracy even where these don’t exist.

    McCarthy, a Catholic, was especially adept at nursing national resentments among the sorts of people that typically did not vote Republican. He stumbled onto the fact that many of these people in postwar America were frightened and looking for scapegoats. He provided them, and in doing so not only won millions of adherents but also bequeathed to his party a powerful electoral bludgeon that would eventually drive out the moderates from the GOP (posthumous payback) before it drove the Democrats from the White House.

    In a way, Goldwater was less a fulfillment of McCarthy conservatism than a slight diversion from it. Goldwater was ideological – an economic individualist. He hated government more than he loved winning, and though he was certainly not above using the McCarthy appeal to resentment or accusing his opponents of socialism, he lacked McCarthy’s blood- lust. McCarthy’s real heir was Nixon, who mainstreamed McCarthyism in 1968 by substituting liberals, youth and minorities for communists and intellectuals, and fueling resentments as McCarthy had. In his 1972 reelection, playing relentlessly on those resentments, Nixon effectively disassembled the old Roosevelt coalition, peeling off Catholics, evangelicals and working-class Democrats, and changed American politics far more than Goldwater ever would.

    Today, these former liberals are known as Reagan Democrats, but they were Nixon voters before they were Reagan voters, and they were McCarthy supporters before they were either. A good deal of McCarthy’s support came from Catholics and evangelical Protestants who, along with Southerners, would form the basis of the new conservative coalition. Nixon simply mastered what McCarthy had authored. You demonize the opposition and polarize the electorate to win.

    Reagan’s sunny disposition and his willingness to compromise masked the McCarthyite elements of his appeal, but Reaganism as an electoral device was unique to Reagan and essentially died with the end of his presidency. McCarthyism, on the other hand, which could be deployed by anyone, thrived. McCarthyism was how Republicans won. George H.W. Bush used it to get himself elected, terrifying voters with Willie Horton. And his son, under the tutelage of strategist Karl Rove, not only got himself reelected by convincing voters that John Kerry was a coward and a liar and would hand the nation over to terrorists, which was pure McCarthyism, he governed by rousing McCarthyite resentments among his base.

    Republicans continue to push the idea that this is a center-right country and that Americans have swooned for GOP anti-government posturing all these years, but the real electoral bait has been anger, recrimination and scapegoating. That’s why John McCain kept describing Barack Obama as some sort of alien and why Palin, taking a page right out of the McCarthy playbook, kept pushing Obama’s relationship with onetime radical William Ayers.

    And that is also why the Republican Party, despite the recent failure of McCarthyism, is likely to keep moving rightward, appeasing its more extreme elements and stoking their grievances for some time to come. There may be assorted intellectuals and ideologues in the party, maybe even a few centrists, but there is no longer an intellectual or even ideological wing. The party belongs to McCarthy and his heirs – Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Palin. It’s in the genes.

    ——-

    Neal Gabler is the author of many books, including, most recently, “Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination.”

Democracy Now! Exclusive: Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn of the Weather Underground, the McCain Campaign Attacks, President-Elect Obama and the Antiwar Movement Today November 24, 2008

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In the late stages of the presidential race, no other name was used more by the McCain-Palin campaign against Barack Obama than Bill Ayers. Ayers is a respected Chicago professor who was a member of the 1960s militant antiwar group the Weather Underground. In their first joint television interview, Ayers and his wife Bernardine Dohrn discuss the McCain campaign attacks, President-elect Obama, the Weather Underground, the legacy of 1960s social justice movements, and more. [includes rush transcript]

Guests:

Bill Ayers, distinguished professor of education and a senior university scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the author many books, including his 2001 memoir, Fugitive Days: Memoirs of an Antiwar Activist, which is being reissued this week.

Bernardine Dohrn, Associate Professor of Law at Northwestern University School of Law and the Director of Northwestern’s Children and Family Justice Center.

Rush Transcript

This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.
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 AMY GOODMAN: It’s been ten days since Senator Barack Obama won the election, cementing his path to become the country’s forty-fourth president and the first African American president in US history. Over the course of his almost two-year campaign, Obama came under attack on a number of fronts. But in the late stages of the presidential race, no other name was used more by the McCain-Palin campaign against Obama than Bill Ayers.

Bill Ayers is a respected Chicago professor who was a member of the 1960s militant antiwar group the Weather Underground. On Wednesday, more than a week after Obama beat John McCain in the election, Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin again brought up Obama’s alleged ties to Ayers in an interview on CNN.

    GOV. SARAH PALIN: Well, I still am concerned about that association with Bill Ayers. And if anybody still wants to talk about it, I will, because this is an unrepentant domestic terrorist who had campaigned to blow up—to destroy our Pentagon and our US Capitol. That’s an association that still bothers me. And I think it’s still fair to talk about it. However, the campaign is over. That chapter is closed. Now is the time to move on and to, again, make sure that all of us are doing all that we can to progress as a nation, keep us secure, get the economy back on the right track. And many of us do have some ideas on how to do that, and hopefully, we’ll be able to put all that wisdom and experience to good use together.

WOLF BLITZER: So, looking back, you don’t regret that tough language during the campaign?

GOV. SARAH PALIN: No, and I do not think that it is off base nor mean-spirited nor negative campaigning to call someone out on their associations and on their record.

 

AMY GOODMAN: In the closing weeks of the presidential race, Governor Palin repeatedly invoked Bill Ayers on the campaign trail as a line of attack against Obama.

    GOV. SARAH PALIN: I’m afraid this is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to work with a former domestic terrorist who had targeted his own country.

 

There’s no question that Bill Ayers, via his own admittance, was one who sought to destroy our US Capitol and our Pentagon. That is a domestic terrorist.

One of his earliest supporters is a man who, according to the New York Times, was a domestic terrorist and part of a group—part of a group that, quote, “launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and the US Capitol.”

 

AMY GOODMAN: The McCain campaign even put out automated robocalls to voters in swing states to highlight Obama’s alleged links to Bill Ayers.

    McCAIN ROBOCALL: Hello, I’m calling for John McCain and the RNC, because you need to know that Barack Obama has worked closely with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, whose organization bombed the US Capitol, the Pentagon, a judge’s home, and killed Americans. And Democrats will enact an extreme leftist agenda if they take control of Washington. Barack Obama and his Democratic allies lack the judgment to lead our country. This call was paid for by McCain-Palin 2008 and the Republican National Committee.

 

AMY GOODMAN: On television, an attack ad by the conservative American Issues Project was played in key battleground states linking Obama to Bill Ayers.

    AMERICAN ISSUES PROJECT AD: Beyond the speeches, how much do you know about Barack Obama? What does he really believe? Consider this. United 93 never hit the Capitol on 9/11, but the Capitol was bombed thirty years before by an American terrorist group called Weather Underground that declared war on the US, targeting the Capitol, the Pentagon, police stations and more. One of the group’s leaders, William Ayers, admits to the bombings, proudly saying later, “We didn’t do enough.” Some members of the group Ayers founded even went on to kill police. But Barack Obama is friends with Ayers, defending him as, quote, “respectable and mainstream.” Obama’s political career was launched in Ayers’s home, and the two served together on a left-wing board. Why would Barack Obama be friends with someone who bombed the Capitol and is proud of it? Do you know enough to elect Barack Obama? American Issues Project is responsible for the content of this ad.

 

AMY GOODMAN: On Fox News, Bill O’Reilly made Bill Ayers his drumbeat.

    BILL O’REILLY: Hi, I’m Bill O’Reilly. Thanks for watching us tonight. The Factor confronts William Ayers. That is the subject of this evening’s talking points memo. As I said before, the radical Chicago teacher Bill Ayers is Barack Obama’s worst nightmare. Here’s a guy who simply won’t go away, a man most Americans detest, but a legitimate issue in evaluating a potential president’s associations.

 

One caveat here, The Factor believes the economy and national security are the two most important issues in this campaign by far. We don’t believe William Ayers rises anywhere near those things. However, Ayers is interesting. Here’s a guy who calls himself an anarchist, has admitted committing terrorist acts, even participated in bombing a police station here in New York City. And Barack Obama gave him a blurb for his book in the Chicago Tribune? That, ladies and gentlemen, is no small thing.

Ayers has been hiding out. We watched him for a number of days before Jesse Waters finally caught up with him.

JESSE WATERS: How do you feel about being the centerpiece of this presidential election? What’s your relationship with Barack Obama, Mr. Ayers? Did he write a blurb for your book and sit on a panel with you?

BILL AYERS: This is my property. Would you please leave?

JESSE WATERS: Mr. Ayers, do you want to take this opportunity to apologize for your terrorist acts? Mr. Ayers? Don’t you think it’s time for some repentance? Do you still consider yourself an anarchist?

BILL O’REILLY: Did you notice the red star on his shirt there? You know, here’s the irony. After Jesse’s brief chat with Mr. Ayers, the guy calls the police, the same police he tried to kill back in the ’60s. That is called irony. Well, he police came and escorted Ayers back to his car. Don’t you just love this? When a terrorist guy needs some help, who does he call? The cops. Like everybody else.

Now, some misguided souls feel sorry for Bill Ayers; I don’t. He’s had plenty of time to apologize for trying to hurt fellow Americans. He has never said he’s sorry, most likely because he’s not sorry. I actually think Barack Obama should apologize for hanging with the guy. He should throw him under the bus, just like he did Revered Wright. Look, Senator, everybody makes mistakes. You made one. This is a bad guy. Just say you made a mistake in judgment. Then it goes all away. But Obama has not done that, so poor Jesse had to track Ayers down. That should be the end of the story, but, of course, it won’t be.

 

AMY GOODMAN: Throughout the entire presidential race, Bill Ayers did not once talk to the media. Today, he and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, a fellow member of the Weather Underground, are speaking out in their first joint television interview since the controversy began.

Bill Ayers is now a distinguished professor of education and a senior university scholar at the University of Illinois, Chicago. He’s the author of many books, including his 2001 memoir, Fugitive Days: Memoirs of an Antiwar Activist, which is being reissued this week.

Bernardine Dohrn is an associate professor of Law at Northwestern University School of Law and the director of Northwestern’s Children and Family Justice Center.

Well, Democracy Now!’s Juan Gonzalez and I spoke with both of them from a studio in their hometown of Chicago. In a wide-ranging conversation, we discussed the McCain campaign attacks, President-elect Obama, the Weather Underground, their plans for the future and much more.

I began by asking Bill Ayers to respond to the controversy surrounding him in the presidential race.

    BILL AYERS: We actually didn’t pay a lot of attention to it. We recognized that there was this cartoon character kind of thrust up on the screen, and I was an unwitting and unwilling part of his presidential campaign. We tried not to watch it, because, pretty much, it was distracting and kind of crazy-producing. On the other hand, as you played those, there’s so much that’s dishonest in it that it’s kind of impossible to kind of know where to enter it.

 

First of all, the idea that Bill O’Reilly says, you know, that I was in hiding. I wasn’t in hiding. I was teaching and speaking and writing and doing all the things I do. What I wasn’t doing was commenting on the presidential campaign to the media. And I decided not to do that. We decided not to do that when this all began, because we couldn’t figure out a way to interrupt what we took to be a profoundly dishonest narrative that, you know, had no—we had no purchase. We had no way into it.

And what’s dishonest about it, I mean, there are many things. One is, I was not a terrorist. I never was a terrorist. And the idea that the Weather Underground carried out terrorism is nonsense. We never killed or hurt a person. We never intended to. We existed from 1970 to 1976, the last years, the last half-decade of the war in Vietnam. And by contrast, the war in Vietnam really was a terrorist undertaking. The war in Vietnam was terror on a mass scale, with thousands of people every month being murdered, mostly from the air. And we were doing everything we could to stop it. So, again, it’s hard to know where to start to interrupt that narrative.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Bill, for a lot of younger listeners and viewers who may be not familiar with the Weather Underground—I remember back more than forty years ago I was in the Students for a Democratic Society with you and Bernadine—and could you talk a little bit about how the Weather Underground developed and what were its goals?

BILL AYERS: Sure. When I was first arrested opposing the war in Vietnam was the year that the United States built the war up, 1965. And at that time, I was arrested in the draft board with thirty-nine other students trying to disrupt the normal activity of the draft board. You know, one of the things to note about that arrest is, while thirty-nine of us were arrested and while hundreds of students supported us, thousands of students opposed us, because in 1965 the war was popular. Again, in retrospect, it’s hard to remember that.

In ’65, 70 percent of Americans supported the war. By 1968, 70 percent opposed the war. A lot had happened in those years. Certainly, the activism of the student movement was part of it. Perhaps more important was strong elements of the black freedom movement coming out unequivocally against the war. And perhaps most decisive was Vietnam vets coming home and adding energy to the antiwar movement, starting their own antiwar organizations and denouncing the people who had sent them there, telling us, telling all the American people, that the war was immoral, that they were asked to do war crimes on a regular basis as a part of policy, not by accident. And that just, you know, kind of deflated the whole idea of this so-called noble enterprise.

So here was this illegal, immoral war. In 1968, the sitting president announced that he would leave office at the end of his term, rather than run for reelection, in order to end the war. We felt that we had run a great victory when he made that announcement in March of 1968. Four days after that announcement, King was dead. A couple of months later, Kennedy was dead. And a few months after that, it was clear that the war was going to escalate. And the question was, what do you do? It’s 1968, there’s no end point in sight, and thousands of people are being murdered every month. People did many things. Some joined the Democratic Party and tried to organize a peace wing. Some left the country. Others decided to organize in communities. Some built communes. And we decided that we would build an organization that could resist and create a more militant response to the American misdeeds in Vietnam.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, obviously, when you say that the Weathermen was not a terrorist organization, many Americans, who would see that the organization set bombs in government buildings and in other places, would dispute that. Why would you say that it was not a terrorist organization?

BILL AYERS: Because—

BERNADINE DOHRN: No-–

BILL AYERS: Go ahead.

BERNADINE DOHRN: Can I jump in, Juan?

BILL AYERS: Sure.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Sure, Bernadine.

BERNADINE DOHRN: Nothing the Weather Underground did was terrorist. And, you know, we could make lots of choices if we were reliving it. Nothing we did was perfect. But decision was made, after the death of our three comrades in a townhouse, not to hurt people, to engage in direct actions that were symbolic, that were recognizable and understandable to the American people and that protected people. And that kind of restraint was widespread. There were tens of thousands of political bombings over that first three—1970, ’71, ’72, ’73, all across the country, not under anybody’s leadership, but they were overwhelmingly restrained, symbolic.

Now, nobody in today’s world can defend bombings. How could you do that after 9/11, after, you know, Oklahoma City? It’s a new context, in a different context. So you have to go back to the savage and unrestrained terror that the United States was unleashing in the world, in Vietnam, as Bill said, and at home. You remember that the assassinations of black political leaders in the United States was a regular feature of life. And, you know, it seemed—the context of the time has to be understood.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill O’Reilly, Bill Ayers, in the ad said that you admitted to bombing a police station and weren’t sorry about it.

BILL AYERS: What I wrote in my book, Fugitive Days, I wrote about the extraordinary decade in which many of us came of age and committed ourselves to fighting against war and against injustice and for peace. And mostly what we did was nonviolent direct action through that whole latter part of the ’60s. And then we reached a kind of crisis, which is, we had convinced the American people—we and forces—you know, it’s an interesting thing to think about the years ’65, ’68. In three years, the American people swung all the way over to oppose the war. Kind of reminds you of the recent events, where in three years a popular war became massively unpopular.

But in any case, the question was, what do you do? And in no way do I think, or in my book do I rationalize or argue, that what we did was the best thing or the only thing. But what I do say is it was understandable in its own terms. “Is it terrorism?” Juan asked. No, it’s not, because terrorism targets people and intends to intimidate and murder people in order to get a political—its political way. We never did that. We never intended to do it. And no one was hurt or killed. So that’s an important distinction.

 

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn today on Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We return to our interview with Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn.

  •  
      SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Mr. Ayers has become the centerpiece of Senator McCain’s campaign over the last two or three weeks. This has been their primary focus. So let’s get the record straight.

 

Bill Ayers is a professor of education in Chicago. Forty years ago, when I was eight years old, he engaged in despicable acts with a radical domestic group. I have roundly condemned those acts. Ten years ago, he served and I served on a school reform board that was funded by one of Ronald Reagan’s former ambassadors and close friends, Mr. Annenberg. Other members on that board were the presidents of the University of Illinois, the president of Northwestern University, who happens to be a Republican, the president of the Chicago Tribune, a Republican-leaning newspaper. Mr. Ayers is not involved in my campaign, he has never been involved in this campaign, and he will not advise me in the White House. So that’s Mr. Ayers.

    FRED HAMPTON: So we say—we always say in the Black Panther Party that they can do anything they want to to us. We might not be back. I might be in jail. I might be anywhere. But when I leave, you’ll remember I said, with the last words on my lips, that I am a revolutionary.

 

WALTER CRONKITE: In Chicago today, two Black Panthers were killed as police raided a Panther stronghold. Police arrived at Fred Hampton’s West Side apartment at 4:45 this morning. They had a search warrant authorizing them to look for illegal weapons. The state’s attorney’s office says that Hampton and another man were killed in the fifteen-minute gun battle which followed.

BLACK PANTHER: The pigs murdered Deputy Chairman Fred Hampton while he lay in bed. Their lies, their oinking to the people won’t—can’t bear up to the evidence that we have that they murdered our deputy chairman in cold blood as he lay in his bed asleep.

BERNADINE DOHRN: The Panther Party organized tours of the apartment that they were in when they were murdered, and I went with a group of people from the SDS national office, which is a couple of blocks away.

BLACK PANTHER TOUR GUIDE: Don’t touch nothing. Don’t move nothing, because we want to keep everything just the way it is.

BERNADINE DOHRN: It was a scene of carnage. It was a scene of war. You see this door ridden with bullets, not little bullet holes, but shattered.

BLACK PANTHER TOUR GUIDE: The room where First Brother Mark Clark was murdered at.

BERNADINE DOHRN: You walk through a living room into the bedroom, and there’s a mattress soaked in his blood, red blood down the floor.

SKIP ANDREW: Anyone who went through that apartment and examined the evidence that was remaining there could come to only one conclusion, and that is that Fred Hampton, twenty-one years old and a member of a militant, well-known militant group, was murdered in his bed probably as he lay asleep.

THOMAS STRIETER: This blatant act of legitimatized murder strips all credibility for law enforcement. In the context of other acts against militant blacks in recent months, it suggests an official policy of systematic repression.

BERNADINE DOHRN: We felt that the murder of Fred required us to be more grave, more serious, more determined to raise the stakes and not just be the white people who wrung their hands when black people were being murdered.

It’s two-and-a-half weeks since Fred Hampton was murdered by the pigs who own this city. And for people to be able to enjoy Christmas time in this country, without remembering and without making a choice about the struggle that’s going on in the world, without taking action about a blatant murder that takes place in the city against a revolutionary black leader, is an obscenity.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The allegations repeatedly raised by folks on the right throughout the country that you helped launch Barack Obama’s career, what were the actual facts, in your perspective, of that relationship with Obama and the event that you held at your house?

BILL AYERS: You know, we, like thousands of other people, we knew Obama, and we knew him as well, probably, as thousands of other people. He was a guy in the neighborhood. He was somebody that was active in civic life, as we are. And so, of course we would meet and see one another at meetings and so on.

The idea that we launched his political career is a myth that was created with the intention of hurting his candidacy. You know, like millions and millions of other people, we wish that we knew him better. I mean, you know, he is an extraordinary person who has accomplished something extraordinary. But did we launch his career? We were asked by our state senator if we would hold a coffee for him some, I don’t know, twelve or fifteen years ago, and we did, which we’ve done for many people and many causes. So it wasn’t anything extraordinary, and it wasn’t anything outside of our normal lives.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Ayers, we have the clip of Barack Obama in the debate talking about you, in the last debate, saying he was setting the record straight.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Barack Obama in the last debate. His comment within that quote, he said, “Forty years ago, when I was eight years old, he engaged in despicable acts with a radical domestic group. I have roundly condemned those acts.” Your thoughts on that, Bill?

BILL AYERS: Well, we were a radical domestic group, and he did condemn those acts. You know, I don’t think that what we did was exactly—it certainly wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t something that I’ve defended in every way. But on the other hand, I don’t expect somebody to today endorse what we did forty years ago or even to understand it. To me, nothing that he said is either, you know, false or wrong or terrible. The other thing I guess I would say about it is, we would disagree on our evaluation of what went on forty years ago, but we disagree on many things, so it’s not surprising.

AMY GOODMAN: Like what do you disagree with?

BILL AYERS: Well, you know, I would say calling those acts despicable forty years ago, I guess I would disagree with. But more to the point is that it’s an irrelevant—it’s an irrelevant issue in this campaign.

And what’s interesting is that it was raised up in an attempt to replay the culture wars. You know, there was this wonderful moment on Stephen Colbert where the word for the night was “the ’60s.” And he has a clip of Obama saying, “Can’t we just leave the ’60s behind?” And it comes back to Colbert, in full anger, saying, “No, Senator. We can’t leave it behind. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”

And frankly, I think the fact that this may be the last time that the ’60s is raised in that kind of cultural warrior-ish way is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I think it is time to move on, and there’s a new generation. And a lot of the nostalgia for the ’60s, both the hatred of it and the love of it, is misplaced. I think it’s time to look forward. On the other hand, I think that it’s a sad thing that we’ve never really had a truth and reconciliation process about the war in Vietnam, about the black freedom movement and what happened. And that means, among other things, that we haven’t learned the lessons of invasion and occupation. We haven’t learned the lessons of what happens when people get involved in direction action and struggle, and both the advances that can be made and also the limits of those struggles. We haven’t learned the lessons that might make for a more peaceful, more just future. I think that’s the problem.

AMY GOODMAN: Bernadine, I wanted to stay there for a minute, and then, Bernadine, I wanted to get your response, with this clip actually focusing on you. And this is that film that came out a few years ago called Weather Underground. It perhaps gives some context to this. It begins with, well, the Black Panther who was killed soon after this, Fred Hampton.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Bernadine Dohrn in 1969, just after Fred Hampton was killed. And this is from the documentary The Weather Underground by Sam Green and Bill Siegel. Bernadine Dohrn, take us back then and continue with the context.

BERNADINE DOHRN: Well, the murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, as we now know—it’s thoroughly documented and decided by courts, federal courts here in Chicago, in Illinois—was carried out in a conspiracy, in a secret conspiracy, between the FBI and the Chicago Police Department. It was covered up, denied. Lies were told. And it was, you know, one of many targeted assassinations of African American leaders in political life. You know, I think during this election campaign, still the echoes and fears for the safety of African American political leaders echoed, certainly from people in our generation, because of the traumatic experiences with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King’s assassination and so many Panthers targeted and assassinated.

The murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark certainly galvanized us and threw us into a level of activity and purposefulness, but so did the Vietnam War. And really, one of the extraordinary things was the merger of those two great rivers of struggle. And they were not separate, the black freedom movement and the war in Vietnam, eventually. So, you know, you had a situation in that era, almost unimaginable now and rarely remembered, where Dr. King, in one of the great talks, speeches of his life at Riverside Church in 1967, said, “The greatest purveyor of violence on this earth is my own country.” That was a painful and agonizing thing for him to say. He said it against the pressures of people around him, the civil rights movement, the labor movement, the Democratic Party. But he said it because he felt that it was true and that it required a certain kind of action. A year later, he was assassinated and dead.

I raise the question when I speak now, is that still true today? Is the greatest purveyor of violence on this earth our own country? Not the only purveyor of violence, but the greatest. If that’s true, we felt then and I still believe, it requires people who are citizens here, who care about the great moral issues of our time, to respond, to not let these crimes and suffering be done in our name. Now, how you respond is a whole other question.

And I think, you know, one of the things that’s interesting about reviving the ’60s, by using Bill as a caricature, as a placeholder during this election to try to make the ’60s seem dangerous and terrifying, is worth examining. In fact, the ’60s was liberatory and exciting and gave birth to a whole progeny of social struggles that transformed American life. Barack Obama could not have been elected president without the great struggles of the civil rights and the black freedom movement; without white people in the United States wrestling with the issue of racism and white supremacy; without the women’s movement; without the veterans’ movement, really, to tell the truth about the Vietnam War and all wars of occupation and conquest; the disabled rights movement; the environmental movement; the green movement; the labor struggles. So these are the part of the ’60s that are being pushed aside, disremembered, and in an attempt to really rewrite the notion that, you know, the issues of our day are defined by what people do.

On the other hand, the exciting thing about today—Bill and I were in Grant Park last week, the day of the—night of the election. And I think one wants to note that many of the tools of the ’60s—the participatory engaged organizing, the door-to-door, the volunteerism, people changing their lives to go listen and talk to people they don’t know about critical issues of our time—this is extremely hopeful. Many of the great tools of the ’60s have been picked up and transformed in the course of this campaign, in the course of these terrible wars we’re involved in, and now in the course of this economic collapse and global peril. So I’m hopeful that we can, not continually rerun the disagreements about the ’60s, but actually recognize that the ’60s were a springboard for this election and for really a historic and momentous milestone that just happened last week. And we can savor that milestone, before we have to critique it and disagree with it and fall to squabbling again.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Bernadine, when you quote Martin Luther King about the greatest purveyor of violence is our own country, that’s not a sentiment that is shared by most political leaders today, certainly not by Barack Obama. And the issue of whether that lesson has been learned or whether the movement that is marshaled behind Obama will perhaps once again be disappointed? As you say, in 1968, you were expecting that the war would be ended, because a majority of the population opposed it. Your concerns about how the political leaders in the United States today deal with the fact of our country being an empire?

BERNADINE DOHRN: Well, I think it’s in our hands, Juan. I think that there is a great peace movement. I think that the people—many of the people who worked in this campaign and were galvanized by this campaign want an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, want no US ongoing military bases in Iraq, want hands off—US hands off Iraqi oil, which I think is the only way that we can begin to repair the incredible harm done to that country and to the displacement of people all over the Middle East. And I think, you know, the same is true for the 160 military bases the US has around the world.

We’re in an incredible historic moment, where the question of the relationship between these issues—let’s just take, for example, war and warming. The global crisis we’re in is related to these wars over oil and control of oil fields. And, you know, we have to connect these issues and to continue to organize independent social struggles.

I think my favorite—our favorite moment of this whole election campaign—and there were certainly, really, many unprecedented and moving moments of the last year and a half—was when, at the height of the primary campaign, Senator—then-Senator Obama was asked, “Who would Martin Luther King support? Would you support you or Senator Clinton?” And without his frequent pauses in thinking, he said, “He wouldn’t support either of us. He’d be out in the street building an independent social justice movement.”

So, as a community—or as an ex-community organizer, he does recognize that social change and really justice comes from below. If we’re going to get universal healthcare, we have to have a movement that insists on universal healthcare. We can do it in stages. It doesn’t have to be all at once. But I think that relationship between social mobilization and participation by large sectors of the population, the whole population, and changing the direction of this country is recognizable and real.

 

AMY GOODMAN: Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers. If you’d like a copy of today’s show, you can go to our website, democracynow.org. We’ll go back to the interview in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: As we continue with our Democracy Now! exclusive, I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonzalez, in this first joint interview with Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn since the Obama campaign has ended. They joined us from a studio in Chicago. Bill Ayers spoke about being at Grant Park the night Barack Obama was elected president.

    BILL AYERS: It was an extraordinary feeling. I’ve been in a lot of large crowds in my life, but I’ve never been in one that didn’t either have an edge of anger or a lot of drunkenness or kind of performance. This was all unity, all love. And what people were celebrating was this milestone, which was sweet and exciting and important. But they were also celebrating—there was—you could kind of cut the relief in people’s feelings with a knife. I mean, it was the sense that we were going to leave behind the era of 9/11 and the era of fear and war without end and repression and constitutional shredding and scapegoating of gay and lesbian people, on and on. And there we were, millions, in the park, representing everybody, hugging, dancing, carrying on right in the spot, forty years ago, where many of us were beaten and dragged to jail. It was an extraordinary feeling.

 

I don’t think at this moment we should be getting into at all the business of trying to read the mind of the President-elect and see where we, you know, might do this or that. The question is, as Bernadine is saying, how do we build the movement on the ground that demands peace, that demands justice? This is always the question. It’s happening—the question is being raised in a new context. So how do—you know, I often think, thinking historically, Lyndon Johnson wasn’t the civil rights movement, but he was an effective politician who passed civil rights legislation. FDR wasn’t a labor leader. Lincoln didn’t belong to an abolitionist party. They all responded to something going on on the ground. And in a lot of ways, we have to get beyond—progressive people have to get beyond the idea that we’re waiting for a savior. We’re not waiting for a savior. We need to transform ourselves, transform our movements, reach out to one another and build an irresistible social force for change.

BERNADINE DOHRN: I want to add one word about the election last week, because I’m not done with savoring it and being struck by the uniqueness of the moment. One of the things, I’ve been using the word “jubilant” to describe the feeling in Grant Park and in Harlem and in Soweto and in Indonesia and in, you know, India. It was a global celebration of an election. And it was somber at the same time that it was ecstatic. I think people felt that way when they were home with their kids or taking care of their elderly parents or whether they wanted to go out to some public place and just be part of the phenomena.

And it does represent two important things, at least. One of them, it seems to me, is a pretty decisive rejection of the politics of fear, whether it’s fear that there’s some secret cell of domestic terrorists from the ’60s hanging around or fear that our major primary approach to the world and to raising our children should be one of fear. Obviously, life is—includes tragedy and pain and suffering, and that will come along, but approaching the world as five percent of the world’s people now seems possible, adjusting how the United States thinks of itself in the world. That’s, to me, an enormous thing.

Secondly, you want to recognize here that the famous and much talked-about Bradley Effect, the notion that white people cannot leave behind some of the trappings of white supremacy and racism that have been the ugly river beneath all US discourse, is really important. I was struck when you were playing those tapes that the real coded message underneath those tapes that used Bill as a fear proxy is that you don’t know who Barack Obama really is. There was some notion of him being unknowable, exotic, strange, foreign, deceitful. And, you know, strangely enough, we feel like if all they could come up with was that he knew us casually, the guy is pretty clean, is pretty extraordinary. He’s been vetted and vetted and vetted, and there was nothing there to throw at him, except this question of maybe an African American man is not knowable to white people. And it’s worth—we don’t—neither Bill or I think that we’re in a post-racial world, but it is worth noting that that was rejected by almost all sectors of the population, including independent voters.

BILL AYERS: The attack on—

JUAN GONZALEZ: Bill, if I can, I’d like to change tack for a moment—

BILL AYERS: Sure.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —and talk a little bit about how you evolved from the period of Weathermen. Obviously, you were fugitives for awhile, then you came above-ground and settled your problems with the law. You became a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a leader of the reform movement in education in that city. This whole issue of public education and what you see as what needs to be done in public education to revamp our public school system, and what you would hope an Obama presidency would address?

BILL AYERS: You know, I think we’ve suffered so much in the last decades, really, under the wrong way of thinking about education, education reform, foreign policy, the economy, so much of the kind of meta-narrative, or the dominant discourse, is so mistaken and so misplaced. And a lot of what I’m—what I have fought for and what I am struggling for is simply to say, let’s change the frame on education.

I can give you a couple of simple examples. When somebody says, as people said in this campaign, “We really need to get the rotten teachers out of the classroom,” I mean, immediately we all kind of nod dully. But if somebody said, instead of that frame, somebody said, “What we really need is for every child to be in a classroom with a thoughtful, well-educated, caring, intellectual, well-compensated and well-rested teacher,” we’d all nod to that, too.

So, the question is, who gets to set the agenda? To me, the agenda for education in the last couple of decades has been so wrongheaded, because it’s been based on the idea that we do our best with a lot of competition, which is very narrowly conducted and highly supervised and surveilled. That, to me, is the wrong model for democratic education. In fact, the way I think we have to ask the question is, since all of us, no matter—educational leaders, no matter where they are—the old Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, medieval Saudi Arabia—we all agree that the kids should do their homework, not do drugs, be in school, learn the subject matters.

So what makes education in a democracy distinct? And I would argue that what makes education in a democracy distinct is that we don’t educate for obedience and conformity; we educate for initiative and courage. We educate for imagination and hope and possibility. And we recognize that the full development of each person requires the full development of all people. Or another way of saying it is, the full development of all is the condition whereby we can educate each. And that shifting of the frame is so important. And frankly, I’m hopeful that in this period of rising expectations, of rethinking so much, that this is where we can go.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Ayers, Juan mentioned that course of history, that time when you were fugitives and then when you came, surfaced above ground. But I was wondering if we could go back there, especially because you’ve just re-released your book Fugitive Days: Memoirs of an Antiwar Activist. First of all, why are you releasing it now? Very significantly, it came out on a day that most people would not have noticed it, September 11th, 2001. And can you talk, actually, about what it was like to be underground, and then what happened as you chose, you and Bernadine chose, to resurface, and how you dealt with things from there, how you dealt with the law and then became the two professors that you have become?

BILL AYERS: You’re going to have to help me, I think. But, OK, the release of the book. I mean, the books—I’ve written several books. And the book was released now, because the publisher wanted to release it now, but it’s been in production for a while, this re-release. It was released initially September 11th, 2001. And, of course, like everything else, pretty much we forgot about what else happened on that day, except the terrible tragedy of the World Trade Center and the bombing of the Pentagon. So, the book had a life, and I, at the time, went on a book tour and was very lucky to be on a book tour, actually, because I found myself in independent bookstores all across the country, where there was, in effect, at that time, an ongoing rolling teach-in going on. You remember the months right after 9/11. There was an uncharacteristic questioning and wondering and conversation. And that was a very kind of tragic and also kind of hopeful moment. The book was published in paperback a year later. And then Beacon decided to bring it out again.

I’ll say a couple things about the book. One is that I didn’t want it to come out in the last few months, partly because I thought it would have been lost. I didn’t see how anybody could pick it up and read it when so much else was going on. So, you know, it was—it’s coming out now. But the book is a memoir. That is, it’s a story of one imperfect person set down in a particular historical and social context and how he makes his way, how he makes his choices. It’s not a political manifesto. It’s not a history. It’s one person’s memory of those times. And so, it’s a story about a very privileged kid, myself, going to the University of Michigan in 1963, having my eyes kind of painfully opened and seeing the world in flames, and making choice after choice after choice that—you know, on the kind of side of justice and peace and struggling for those things, and finding myself taking more and more militant positions and actions in order to end the war.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill, a quick question.

BILL AYERS: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Didn’t Dr. King meet with your father? Talk about those years.

BILL AYERS: Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: When Dr. King came to Chicago, he said he felt his life was more in danger there than anywhere else. Ultimately, as he tried to challenge segregation in the North and housing in the North, he was forced out of Chicago. But talk about those early years.

BILL AYERS: Yeah, I think Bernadine was very involved in that, and I want her to say a word about that. But it’s true. When King came north and was leading the movement in Chicago—and he had said this is going to be the hardest nut to crack. Before this, we were fighting feudalism. Now we’re actually taking on power in its own headquarters. And Mayor Daley negotiated with King, and the chief negotiators were two prominent businessmen, one of whom was my father. So my father was negotiating between King and Daley. He was the chairman of Commonwealth Edison at the time. Bernadine was in the streets fighting. I was in a few of those demonstrations. So it was a kind of an odd and interesting time.

BERNADINE DOHRN: I wasn’t fighting. I was being a law student.

BILL AYERS: Well, I know, I know. Well, we wrote a book together, about this and other incidents that’s also coming out this month called Race Course. And the subtitle is Against White Supremacy. Maybe talk a little bit about King and then come back to—and the Chicago days.

BERNADINE DOHRN: You know, one of the great things about both of us being from Chicago and from Hyde Park, you know, is that you have two generations of Daleys and many two-generation stories here: Bill and his father; my mom, who lived with us for the last five years of her life, growing up in an immigrant family here in Chicago. So, the threads are deep.

But for me, as a law student going to work with Dr. King on the West Side of Chicago in 1965, when he moved to Chicago, around the key issues of housing, habitable housing for poor people, and desegregated housing, which was tied to habitable housing, is that, you know, I had that great opportunity, which many law students still do today, of seeing law and justice tied to a social movement. And so, I went around with experienced community organizers from the South with an armband that said “Legal.” I was a second-year law student. I knew practically nothing. But my eyes were opened. I learned, I watched, I listened. And I was able to try to understand, you know, that new left kind of mantra, that the people with the problems are the people with the solutions and that you don’t hand people solutions, you encourage people to take up and remake their own world, a lesson for participatory democracy and community organizers today. So, for me, that relationship between justice and social change was forged right at that moment.

 

BILL AYERS: And, you know, the other thing about King coming north is that Martin Luther King, who’s mythologized as this person who led a bus boycott, had a dream, gave a speech, won a Nobel, all those things, and then kind of was quiet, misses 1965 to ’68, when King, the angry pilgrim, was becoming more radical every year, every day, as he tried to forge a unity between racial justice, economic justice and global justice.

And frankly, that’s very much what we have to do today. When we said before, you know, it’s the end of the era of 9/11, this vote is a repudiation of the era of war and fear, it’s also an affirmation of possibility. And we’re looking forward to kind of January ’09, rising expectations, new hopes, finding ways to unite movements. One of the things I think we have to do as progressives is get over the idea that we’re somehow a barricaded minority with some precious ideas that don’t fit with the larger vision of democracy and so on, because I think, actually, we are very much—you know, I’m sometimes amused to be called “in the mainstream.” I’m still a political radical. I’m still a progressive. I still consider myself an activist. At the same time, I’ll take it, because, frankly, I think the mainstream includes peace. It includes racial reconciliation. It includes a repudiation of white power. It includes the rights of all human beings for dignity and recognition, including and importantly gay and lesbian and transgendered people, and on and on. I don’t think these are minority positions. It sometimes startles me to read what the Chicago City Council passes as resolutions. They, too, are against the PATRIOT Act. They, too, are against nuclear weapons. So, why do I have to pretend that I’m protecting some precious turf, when actually I should join with everybody, link movements together and build a force for real fundamental social change.

 

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Ayers, now a distinguished professor of education at University of Illinois, Chicago, speaking along with Bernadine Dohrn, his wife, attorney. She is an associate professor of law at Northwestern. She runs the Northwestern Children and Family Justice Center there. And that does it for part one of our Democracy Now! exclusive. We will bring you the rest of this interview on Monday. Tell your friends.

AMY GOODMAN: Right now we turn to the second part of our exclusive broadcast interview with former Weather Underground members Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. Until just a few weeks ago, Ayers and his anti-war actions from nearly 40 years ago formed a central part of the Republican attack on Obama. In their first joint television interview, education professor Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn spoke to Democracy Now! Today we bring you the final part of the interview. I asked them about their thoughts on why the John McCain campaign had focused on Bill Ayers in particular and not on Bernardine Dohrn.

BILL AYERS: Well, I think that there’s a couple of things, one is that, you know, it’s worth noting that this was an * to a New York Times reporter, I have no regrets for opposing this government and its war with every ounce of my being. I don’t have anything to apologize for. I wish we had done more. And by we, I mean you, I mean me, I mean everybody who’s over 50. I wish we had all done more. And more does not mean a particular tactic. It means we should have been smarter, more determined, more capable of uniting, more able to think of ways to bring this to an end. Because democracy failed us in 1968. Profoundly. It failed us because we wanted a war to end. We couldn’t end it. And we couldn’t figure out how. So I think we all should have done more. And frankly, today, an honest assessment of the wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are not doing enough. We should be doing more. And what that means is, we should be thinking harder, uniting harder, and working harder for peace and justice.

BERNARDINE DOHRN: And knocking on doors. I mean, I think we have the opportunity right now, hundreds of thousands of people have just experienced their first time of talking to strangers, listening to strangers about politics and *about the future of the planet. That’s a remarkable opportunity, because we have to do a lot more listening and a lot more talking to deal with, really, the future of the planet, massive starvation, the destruction of water and rivers and oceans, and the relationship of all that to war and armament. I don’t see how we can move forward out of this economic crisis without massive demilitarizing of the U.S. empire machine.

BILL AYERS: And, and…

BERNARDINE DOHRN: I think that’s what we have to do, but how do we have that? I don’t have any formula for how we do that. I want to talk to everybody about how key that question is of how much money and resources and off the budget, you know, budgeting of our tax dollars goes into that unaccountable, highly privatized war machine of domination and mayhem. When we have so many fundamental human needs here and around the world. And what?

BILL AYERS: And I was going to just say, I mean, not only do we need to reframe, kind of, foreign policy to say could it be about justice, could we be a nation among nations rather than the most militarized, dominant kind of nation. But the second part of that is, could we invest in people and could we imagine an economy not based on the idea that what’s good for the most wealthy is going to trickle down and be good for all of us, but rather based on the idea that investing in education—very important—investing in Social Security, investing in health, investing in employment, investing in rebuilding. This is what could transform the whole situation. So we’re at a moment, and this is—I think connect these ideas, these demands, these movements is really where we’re headed.

AMY GOODMAN: In a part of The Weather Underground, the film, you are reading from Fugitive Days, Bernardine Dohrn, from Bill’s book, and you’re talking about—when you’re underground, you’re talking about being surveilled and harassed. This is 40 years later. We see the police infiltrate peace groups, terrorist databases with thousands of names, the latest revelations in Maryland—
people opposed to the death penalty who are working for peace; on a database, Catholic nuns; on a database.

But if you could go back, because you do in this book, in Fugitive Days, what it was like to live underground and how you both decided to resurface. Where you were, how you dealt with—well, actually, not being known where you were, and then what happened when you surfaced? How did you deal with the law? I mean, Bernardine, you’re a lawyer today.

BERNARDINE DOHRN: That’s a big, long question, Amy. We—you know, being underground was more ordinary than you can imagine. Even though it was an extraordinary kind of Alice-in-Wonderland-through-the-rabbit-hole transformation because the day after, we disappeared. We didn’t really disappear of course, we just failed to show up for our court date in Chicago.

We—and Bill writes about this quite beautifully, I think, you know, we had to invent what it meant. We had to try to figure out how to live, how to work, and we found ourselves thrown into a part of the economy, a largely invisible but huge part of the economy, where people work off the books, where people are not who they say. Massive immigrant and undocumented population. People who at that time were fleeing the draft or military service for moral reasons, not out of cowardice. And people who were trying to live—women who wanted to live as who they were. Gay and lesbian people who couldn’t tolerate being denied and stifled. So, there was a really rich sea of people transforming themselves and making themselves up and inventing themselves.

We had to live, you know, work jobs. I worked cleaning women’s houses. I worked in the fields cutting grapes. I worked as a waitress. So all the jobs, transient kind of jobs, that people do brought us, I think, back into touch with how we got thrust into the peace movement and the student activist movement of the 60’s and how hierarchical and unfair large parts of American society are. So, we took care of each other and interestingly enough, we were protected. A lot of people from the 60’s were painted as a fringe element. And in some ways, of course, our rhetoric was wildly overheated. But in fact, for 11 years, we were protected. Nobody turned us in. People helped take care of us even when they disagreed with us and wanted to sit down and argue about various choices and what was the priority to do. And, so, there was large sea of support. We were part of a big umbrella that hated what was being done by the Nixon administration and thought that there was a tradition in U.S. political life that was better.

So, in some ways, it’s very similar today, even though the tactics and the framing of things are different. The Bush administration has been utterly discredited and repudiated—unprecedented. We have to immediately move to, you know, overturn the military commission act, probably the worst piece of legislation passed. Well, I think it probably surpasses the alien sedition act that denies habeas corpus, that gives the U.S. And the President the secret ability to define torture, that pardons everybody for war crimes that have been committed. And come to some—I think we should do now what we failed to do in the Vietnam War, which is, you know, a new forum, a U.S. forum of a truth and reconciliation, independent commission. To hear testimony about the last eight years and to find out who was responsible for the worst crimes that were committed. And then, I don’t really care what happens in terms of how much prosecution and who’s sent to jail, but I think an honest recounting and an honest listening of who’s paying the price for these policies from the top is really called for.

I’ve been teaching a class on torture for the last six years. We had a young man who was in Iraq come talk to the class. He was an interrogator and came to realize that what he was doing was torture, and left the military and has written a book about it. He just reflects, to me, one of hundreds of thousands of young people who are struggling to come to an ethical understanding of their own life and their role in relationship to power in this moment. And I think our attention, you know, the 60’s is past. It’s interesting, it sets a context. I think without the 60’s, we wouldn’t be where we are now, and yet, I think, Bill and I feel very much like our job is to live in the present and to be part of today’s social struggles.

AMY GOODMAN: How does it feel to speaking in the press, Bill Ayers, right now? You haven’t for many, many months since your name was first invoked.

BILL AYERS: Well, I mean it—you know, I speak all the time, so it doesn’t feel that unusual. Although, I didn’t want to comment on the presidential campaign while it was going on to the media. So that’s what—that’s the only thing that I didn’t do. Again, I couldn’t find a way—I couldn’t think of a way to disrupt the dishonest narrative of guilt by association or the dishonest narrative of unrepentent terrorists. I couldn’t find a way to object to that and push it back. So, that’s done now and moving on.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill, in the decision to resurface after 10 years that you and Bernardine made with your two boys, how did you resurface? What is the process?

BILL AYERS: See, I thought you were going to speak to that when you started.

BERNARDINE DOHRN: I meant to speak to that.

BILL AYERS: Why don’t you say something?

BERNARDINE DOHRN: There were charges against me. We didn’t know—Bill was his usual generous and patient self. After the end of the Weather Underground organization, most people…

BILL AYERS: Which was right at the end of the war.

BERNARDINE DOHRN: Which was in 1976, right after the United States—well, let me just divert for one minute. How did the war in Vietnam end? This is one thing from the past that we might note, here, because to listen to the Republican campaign, you would think that somehow the U.S., you know, wasn’t defeated in Vietnam—that something shameful happened. In fact, the U.S. was militarily defeated and driven out of Vietnam, both by opposition here and by the Vietnamese people. So, we might just note that moment, because how the war ended does matter in terms of how this war might end—better, sooner, quicker, save more lives.

But we—I was stubborn, and I couldn’t bring myself to turn ourselves in. So, Bill was generous and easygoing and let me come to it by myself. We regrouped. We had a life organized around our two children. We worked at a school and worked and jobs and became child-centered parents to the best of our ability. I came to realize after the birth of our second child, who’s now a teacher—a middle school teacher, that, you know, they couldn’t continue like this and there was no political reason for to us stay underground. So, we agreed to turn ourselves in, in Chicago, and not completely knowing whether there were secret charges and what had happened. Of course, all the federal charges from the old days had been dismissed because of massive illegal F.B.I. activity, and several F.B.I. agents had been indicted. So, we came to Chicago, left our two boys with dear family friends, not knowing what would happen, and walked the gauntlet, really, into a hive of media—that’s my main memory of it—and then went back to our fifth floor walkup apartment in New York and resumed our lives there. Just changed our names, as the kids said.

BILL AYERS: And like everybody else, made our twisty ways towards, you know, back to school, to work, and that’s what we continue to do—trying to figure out how to name the moment that we’re in, how to participate in it. We’ve been very involved in the last couple of years in a movement-building process with lots and lots of friends, and we’re hopeful.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, we want to thank you very much for being with us. Are there any final regrets? And, also, what you felt so far as you’ve led your life above ground, underground, and above ground again—what you felt were the greatest successes?

BERNARDINE DOHRN: You know, of course we have regrets. I think our sectarian errors, but they’re easy to say, Amy, and really hard to do. That’s what I’ve come to realize. We can list off, you know, what we wish we’d done better. I’ve written about it extensively. Bill’s written about it extensively. But doing it right, of course, is hard. I think we have an opportunity now for unity, for connecting issues and for popular organizing. That’s how I see it. In my lifetime, I’ve seen young people change the world. So, I remain very hopeful in Birmingham, in Beijing, in Soweto, in Seattle, at Stonewall. Young people standing up, not with any particular tactic or with any particular form of militancy. You know, the bus riders into the South changed the world. So, ye’re in a perilous moment, but tremendously hopeful moment.

BILL AYERS: You know, I think that I would echo Bernardine’s regret. I think that if we’ve learned one thing from those perilous years, it’s that dogma, certainty, self-righteousness, sectarianism of all kinds is dangerous and self-defeating. So, to me, the rhythm that we tried to live our lives by and that we urge on our students and others is open your eyes, see the world as it really is. Act. Take some action within the world. Engage. And then, importantly, and something we forgot to do in 1970, doubt. Act and then doubt. Question yourself. What did you do right? What did you do wrong? And then act again. So that rhythm of opening your eyes, seeing the world, acting, doubting, acting, doubting, it seems to me is what ought to power us forward.

What I’m proudest of, what I feel most strongly about, is that we’ve had this extraordinary 40 years together. We’ve raised three of the most extraordinary young men that I can imagine, and they continue to kind of help us, inspire us, awe us, and I guess the other thing is, I think, that Bernardine mentioned we had her mother living with us the last five years of our her life, we had my father living with us the last three years of his life. They both died at home with a lot of dignity, and, I guess, I feel that’s the best accomplishment, those two things—our kids, our parents, and onward from here.

BERNARDINE DOHRN: I want to say one last thing. The best of the new Left and the best of the social struggles of today have at their core the valuing of human life. All human life. You have to say both parts of that because people in the United States have to find our place in the world. And in some ways get off the necks and the backs of people of the world. We have to live differently. We have to live, and I say this with all humility too, you know. We have to all together learn to live differently so that others may live. So that core notion that animates social justice movements is really the valuing of all human life.

AMY GOODMAN: Bernardine Dohrn, law professor at Northwestern University in Chicago. Bill Ayers is an education professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

Who Gets to Vote? October 17, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Electoral Fraud, John McCain, Sarah Palin, U.S. Election 2008.
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By Amy Goodman

October 16, 2008/truthdig.com

The 2008 presidential election may see the highest participation in U.S. history. Voter-registration organizations and local election boards have been overwhelmed by enthusiastic people eager to vote. But not everyone is happy about this blossoming of democracy.

ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, has become a lightning rod for the right wing. ACORN’s Web site notes that “the electorate does not reflect the citizenry of the United States of America. It skews whiter, older, more educated and more affluent than the citizenry as a whole.” Bertha Lewis, ACORN’s lead organizer, told me: “We organize low- and moderate-income people, usually folks who are minorities—African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and working-class white people. And most of these folks have always been disenfranchised out of the electoral process. … We’ve registered 1.3 million new voters across the country over an 18-month period of time. We had over 13,000 hard-working voter-registration workers. And we may have had a few bad apples, but I don’t know any organization that didn’t.”

Barack Obama himself was questioned about ACORN’s problematic registrations. He said: “Having run a voter-registration drive, I know how problems arise. This is typically a situation where ACORN probably paid people to get registrations, and these folks, not wanting to actually register people, because that’s actually hard work, just went into a phone book or made up names and submitted false registrations to get paid. So there’s been fraud perpetrated on probably ACORN, if they paid these individuals and they actually didn’t do registrations. But this isn’t a situation where there’s actually people who are going to try to vote, because these are phony names.”

ACORN has seen some clearly fraudulent registrations submitted, with names like “Mickey Mouse” turned in. ACORN says it reviews all the registration forms. However, it does not serve as the ultimate arbiter of which registrations are fraudulent. In fact, ACORN cannot legally throw away any voter-registration cards. It flags suspicious cards and submits them to the appropriate state election authority to make the judgment.

Republicans are increasingly alarmed at the shifting demographics of the United States. Minorities tend to vote Democratic, and the United States is slowly becoming a majority minority country—by 2050, whites will no longer represent a majority in the U.S. As right-wing commentator Patrick Buchanan lamented in 2004: “In 1960, when JFK defeated Nixon, America was a nation of 160 million, 90 percent white and 10 percent black, with a few million Hispanics and Asians sprinkled among us. We were one nation, one people. We worshiped the same God, spoke the same English language.” Buchanan’s xenophobia highlights a political reality: Immigration and mobilization of the urban poor are shifting the electorate to the Democrats, especially in key swing states like New Mexico, Colorado, Florida and Ohio.

The federal Help America Vote Act was passed in 2002 in response to the electoral crisis of 2000. But it requires new voters to present identification at the polling place, which critics allege is a modern-day Jim Crow law. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (the son of the assassinated 1968 presidential candidate) said recently: “I have an ID, and most Americans have an ID. But one out of every 10 Americans don’t have a government-issued ID, because they don’t travel abroad, so they don’t have passports, and they don’t drive a car, so they don’t have driver’s licenses. The number rises to one in five when you’re dealing with the African-American community.” The online Michigan Messenger revealed that Michigan Republicans were planning to use a list of people with foreclosed homes to purge voter rolls. And a federal judge in Detroit has just ordered that 1,500 people be restored to the Michigan voter rolls, based on “voter caging”—purging people if mail to them is returned as undeliverable. The scandal around the firing of U.S. attorneys, which ultimately led to the resignation of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was based largely on the refusal of the Republican prosecutors to pursue unfounded voter-fraud cases.

Citizen groups like Election Protection and Video the Vote are organizing to document and report problems at the polls on Nov. 4. It is more likely that they will see honest people denied the right to vote, purged from the voter rolls, than an attempt by Mickey Mouse to vote Obama.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
© 2008 Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 700 stations in North America. She has been awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and will receive the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

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