In the summer of 1995, a group of influential leftists gathered in the home of unrepentant Maoist-terrorists William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn in order to hear Illinois State Senator Alice Palmer introduce her hand-picked successor Barack Obama. Imagine that scene. Palmer looks at Ayers, then looks at Obama and in her mind perceives no politically significant contradiction or conflict between the two people. Neither did anyone else at the gathering. No one looked around and thought, “man, those two don’t belong in the same room,” or “there’s no way that the people who accept and respect Ayers will accept and respect Obama.”
This meeting tells us something important about Obama. It tells us what kind of president these leftists think Obama will be.
In my previous post on the Obama’s Ayers problem, I argued that:
…the real troubling aspect of the Obama-Ayers relationship is that Obama comes from a political subculture in which Ayers is an accepted and unremarkable individual. Looking at Ayers, one is forced to ask exactly what kind of leftist extremism would be considered unacceptable by Obama and his cohorts.
Commenters supporting Obama argued that the entirety of Chicago political culture across the spectrum rehabilitated Ayers and that therefore incidents such as that of Obama starting his political career in Ayers’ house tell us nothing about the subculture around Obama.
Michael Barone illustrates the dynamics of Chicago politics and in doing so explains the role of the leftist subculture that nurtured both Obama and Ayers:
For Daley, family is paramount, and Ayers is admitted into le tout Chicago because his father is one of its pillars. And electoral politics is also paramount: In a city that is roughly 40 percent (and falling) white ethnic and 40 percent black, with an increasing gentrified white population, the current Mayor Daley has maintained very strong support from lakefront liberals, including the Hyde Park/Kenwood leftists like Ayers who were the original movers behind Obama’s 1996 state Senate candidacy. It’s in Daley’s interest to work with these people and against his interest to do anything that seems like disrespecting them. As Bill Daley told me when I asked him some years ago whether his father would have approved of Richie marching in the gay rights parade, “Our father always told us when a group was big enough to control a ward, we should pay attention to them.” Staying mayor is real important to Daley, and Daley staying mayor is real important to le tout Chicago. An unrepentant terrorist? Hey, we know your dad. And you control the 5th Ward. [emphasis added]
Culturally, wards in Chicago politics bear the same relationship to city government as states do to the federal government. Wards differ strongly by ethnicity, income, religion and political orientation. Politically each forms a world into itself. As in the days when state governments elected senators, once a ward embraces an individual everyone else must deal with him. Ayers wormed his way back into public life using the support of the lakefront leftists. Had they chosen instead to exclude him, he would have faded into obscurity.
When State Senator Alice Palmer introduced Obama as her chosen successor, she did so in Ayers’ living room. One does not make such a political statement in the home of people the targeted community views as marginalized or merely tolerated. One chooses the home of someone known and respected. The lakefront leftists knew Ayers and accorded him a position of prominence and respect in their community.
The lakefront leftists embraced Ayers not out of approval of his violent actions but rather out of approval of the ideas he claimed drove him to violence! The Weathermen espoused a racialism-informed version of Maoist communism. The Weatherman rejected America as a cruel sham. They scorned the concepts of liberal-democracy, equality before the law. individual liberty and economic freedom. In the eyes of the Weathermen, the great crime of America’s involvement in Indochina lay not in fighting a losing, pointless battle but in seeking to prevent the expansion of communist totalitarianism. They sought to trigger widespread chaos in America that in turn would allow a small group of people like them to seize total, unrestricted power. The lakefront leftists found these beliefs acceptable or, at the very least, found it reasonable that an intelligent, respectable person could hold them. In the eyes of the lakefront leftists, Ayers’ sin lay in allowing his passionate commitment to otherwise-just beliefs to drive him to violent action.
The same dynamic occurs again and again in the leftist rehabilitation of ’60s terrorists and “revolutionaries”. Their extreme acts receive leftist condemnation but not their extreme ideas. Over the years, Ayers has tepidly and incompletely recanted of his acts but he has never recanted of his ideas.
At the 1995 gathering at Ayers’ house, a group of prominent leftists looked at Ayers and saw a respected member of their community. Then they looked at Obama standing next to him and saw nothing contradictory in the juxtaposition of the two men. The same people who embraced Ayers and his ideas felt comfortable embracing Obama and his ideas. At no time since then have they seen a contradiction between embracing both Ayers and Obama.
In my previous post, commentator Jjv observes:
I think the bigger problem is what did Ayers see in Obama?
Ayers sees something he likes in Obama, and that should concern us, but more importantly it should concern us that the broader community of lakeside leftists, who see nothing wrong with Ayers’ ideas, also see nothing wrong with Obama’s. It tells us that they think that Obama will make the kind of decisions and choices that they and Ayers approve of.
Do we want a President that makes these people happy?