Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bill Ayers and John McCain

The right-wing hyperventilating about Bill Ayers is clearly counterproductive -- we don't need today's NYT poll results to tell us that. Most people know instinctively that the attacks on Obama for knowing and working with Ayers are simply bullshit.

But the attacks keep on coming, in part because of the strong right-wing need to divide sheep from goats. Over and over we see the need, from the right side of the spectrum, to create pariah classes. Various Red Scares are prime examples, especially the blacklisting fad of the 1940s and 1950s. Then drugs became the new Communism, especially with the adoption of expensive and useless (for their ostensible purpose) drug testing regimes among employers. Then it wasn't your political associations that made one an outcast, it was the contents of one's urine.

Now we're back to associations again, with Sarah Palin's "palling around with terrorists" line.

But Ayers' journey really illustrates some of the best features of American society.

After a decade underground, Ayers surfaced, turned himself in, and faced the legal consequences of his acts. It certainly isn't his fault that the FBI and the Nixon Administration screwed up any chance the government had of prosecuting him under the law. Nor is that a fault in the system -- indeed, it's one of the system's strengths, as we know all the more clearly today, when we look on the actions of a government willing to ignore those laws.

And Ayers has led a law-abiding life ever since, by all accounts. He has become nationally known as an education reformer and done significant work in his community. People around the country have no problem with him personally or with the work he has done in recent decades. It is possible in America to reenter the society and to do constructive work within it (on the less hopeful side, it certainly helps things to have a family with money, and it hurts when you don't).

But a few people are unable to see the entire man and his entire life -- they prefer to focus exclusively on a few years and a few acts (which didn't cause any serious injuries or deaths -- the most the right wing can try to pin on Ayers is the accidental deaths of his own comrades when he wasn't even present). A lot of these people claim to be guided by religion, yet they have a significant problem with recognizing amends and offering forgiveness. The need to declare someone an outcast takes precedence, even when the object of their scorn has clearly done more good than harm over a lifetime.

If McCain is stupid enough to invoke Ayers at tonight's debate, the pettiness of his position will become much clearer.

Ironically, the right makes Ayers the anti-McCain. Ayers is supposed to be fully defined by a short period of his life when he broke the law. McCain is supposed to be fully defined by the short period of his life when he was a prisoner of war (had you heard he was a POW?). Neither is to be judged by the totality of his life so far -- only by a tiny segment of it.

And while Ayers has grown, McCain has shrunk. The reality never even came close to the myth, but over the course of the last few months McCain has thrown away most of what he has claimed to believe in. He has made common cause with the people who maligned him in 2000. He has abandoned a lot of long-held positions. I guess McCain has to hope that people do only remember one or two facts about a man's life -- because there's a lot he needs us to forget. Too bad that his worst time, like Ayers' best, is recent.

Update: Thomas Frank weighs in.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

McCain on Palin

The man has no shame at all.

He gave an interview on NPR yesterday, and here's a bit of it:

Q. Given what you've said, senator, is there an occasion where you could imagine turning to Gov. Palin for advice in a foreign policy crisis?

McCain: I've turned to her advice many times in the past.

Jesus H. Christ! Aside from a short encounter at the National Governors Association meeting in February, he has only been in touch with her for a bit over a month! Does he really expect us to believe that he turns to her for _foreign policy_ advice at all, much less "many times"?

And, take note, he was talking about foreign policy advice, because his very next words are:

McCain: I can't imagine turning to Sen. Obama or Sen. Biden, because they've been wrong. They were wrong about Iraq, they were wrong about Russia. Sen. Biden wanted to divide Iraq into three different countries. He voted against the first Gulf War. Sen. Obama has no experience whatsoever and has been wrong in the issues that he's been involved in.

Good grief.