Saturday, November 08, 2008

Who Is Bill Ayers and Why He Was Used by the McCain/Palin Campaign

Bill Ayers looks back on a surreal campaign season.

The saga of Bill Ayers, poster radical for the McCain/Palin campaign, but before them the Clinton campaign, too, is a painful reminder the political and culture wars of the 60's still reach deeply in the psyche of the US political landscape. The notoriety he gained from his participation with the Weather Underground made him - and that agit-prop group - a sitting duck for criticism, scapegoating, and easily exploited in the effort to discredit Barack Obama. The 'price' he has paid - is huge, as is the cost to the very society and system that continues to mask and conceal the military violence that is paraded around as "patriotism". Here, Ayers speaks out - yet again - on the reality of his actual participation and the statement about our society today. The hopeful aspect is in the repudiation of the tactics used against Obama by resurrecting and distorting the 60's and the political movements of the day, and to bring the focus on each of us taking responsibility for our actions to seek and realize social justice. - MS


Whew! What was all that mess? I'm still in a daze, sorting it all out, decompressing.
Pass the Vitamin C.
For the past few years, I have gone about my business, hanging out with my kids and, now, my grandchildren, taking care of our elders (they moved in as the kids moved out), going to work, teaching and writing. And every day, I participate in the never-ending effort to build a powerful and irresistible movement for peace and social justice.
In years past, I would now and then - often unpredictably - appear in the newspapers or on TV, sometimes with a reference to Fugitive Days, my 2001 memoir of the exhilarating and difficult years of resistance against the American war in Vietnam. It was a time when the world was in flames, revolution was in the air, and the serial assassinations of black leaders disrupted our utopian dreams.
These media episodes of fleeting notoriety always led to some extravagant and fantastic assertions about what I did, what I might have said and what I probably believe now.
It was always a bit surreal. Then came this political season.
During the primary, the blogosphere was full of chatter about my relationship with President-elect Barack Obama. We had served together on the board of the Woods Foundation and knew one another as neighbors in Chicago's Hyde Park. In 1996, at a coffee gathering that my wife, Bernardine Dohrn, and I held for him, I made a $200 donation to his campaign for the Illinois State Senate.
Obama's political rivals and enemies thought they saw an opportunity to deepen a dishonest perception that he is somehow un-American, alien, linked to radical ideas, a closet terrorist who sympathizes with extremism - and they pounced.
Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-N.Y.) campaign provided the script, which included guilt by association, demonization of people Obama knew (or might have known), creepy questions about his background and dark hints about hidden secrets yet to be uncovered.
On March 13, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), apparently in an attempt to reassure the base,- sat down for an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News. McCain was not yet aware of the narrative Hannity had been spinning for months, and so Hannity filled him in: Ayers is an unrepentant "terrorist," he explained, "On 9/11, of all days, he had an article where he bragged about bombing our Pentagon, bombing the Capitol and bombing New York City police headquarters. ... He said, 'I regret not doing more.'"
McCain couldn't believe it.
Neither could I.
On the campaign trail, McCain immediately got on message. I became a prop, a cartoon character created to be pummeled.
When Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin got hold of it, the attack went viral. At a now-famous Oct. 4 rally, she said Obama was √Źpallin' around with terrorists.- (I pictured us sharing a milkshake with two straws.)
The crowd began chanting, "Kill him!" "Kill him"- It was downhill from there.
My voicemail filled up with hate messages. They were mostly from men, all venting and sweating and breathing heavily. A few threats: "Watch out!" and "You deserve to be shot." And some e-mails, like this one I got from satan@hell.com: "I'm coming to get you and when I do, I'll water-board you."
The police lieutenant who came to copy down those threats deadpanned that he hoped the guy who was going to shoot me got there before the guy who was going to water-board me, since it would be most foul to be tortured and then shot. (We have been pals ever since he was first assigned to investigate threats made against me in 1987, after I was hired as an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.)
The good news was that every time McCain or Palin mentioned my name, they lost a point or two in the polls. The cartoon invented to hurt Obama was now poking holes in the rapidly sinking McCain-Palin ship.
That '60s Show
On Aug. 28, Stephen Colbert, the faux right-wing commentator from Comedy Central who channels Bill O'Reilly on steroids, observed:
To this day, when our country holds a presidential election, we judge the candidates through the lens of the 1960s. ... We all know Obama is cozy with William Ayers a '60s radical who planted a bomb in the capital building and then later went on to even more heinous crimes by becoming a college professor. ... Let us keep fighting the culture wars of our grandparents. The '60s are a political gift that keeps on giving.
It was inevitable. McCain would bet the house on a dishonest and largely discredited vision of the '60s, which was the defining decade for him. He built his political career on being a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
The '60s - as myth and symbol - is much abused: the downfall of civilization in one account, a time of defeat and humiliation in a second, and a perfect moment of righteous opposition, peace and love in a third.
The idea that the 2008 election may be the last time in American political life that the '60s plays any role whatsoever is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, let's get over the nostalgia and move on. On the other, the lessons we might have learned from the black freedom movement and from the resistance against the Vietnam War have never been learned. To achieve this would require that we face history fully and honestly, something this nation has never done.
The war in Vietnam was an illegal invasion and occupation, much of it conducted as a war of terror against the civilian population. The U.S. military killed millions of Vietnamese in air raids - like the one conducted by McCain - and entire areas of the country were designated free-fire zones, where American pilots indiscriminately dropped surplus ordinance - an immoral enterprise by any measure.
What Is Really Important
McCain and Palin - or as our late friend Studs Terkel put it, "Joe McCarthy in drag" - would like to bury the '60s. The '60s, after all, was a time of rejecting obedience and conformity in favor of initiative and courage. The '60s pushed us to a deeper appreciation of the humanity of every human being. And that is the threat it poses to the right wing, hence the attacks and all the guilt by association.
McCain and Palin demanded to "know the full extent" of the Obama-Ayers "relationship" so that they can know if Obama, as Palin put it, "is telling the truth to the American people or not."
This is just plain stupid.
Obama has continually been asked to defend something that ought to be at democracy's heart: the importance of talking to as many people as possible in this complicated and wildly diverse society, of listening with the possibility of learning something new, and of speaking with the possibility of persuading or influencing others.
The McCain-Palin attacks not only involved guilt by association, they also assumed that one must apply a political litmus test to begin a conversation.
On Oct. 4, Palin described her supporters as those who "see America as the greatest force for good in this world" and as a "beacon of light and hope for others who seek freedom and democracy." But Obama, she said, "Is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America." In other words, there are "real" Americans - and then there are the rest of us.
In a robust and sophisticated democracy, political leaders - and all of us - ought to seek ways to talk with many people who hold dissenting, or even radical, ideas. Lacking that simple and yet essential capacity to question authority, we might still be burning witches and enslaving our fellow human beings today.
Maybe we could welcome our current situation - torn by another illegal war, as it was in the '60s - as an opportunity to search for the new.
Perhaps we might think of ourselves not as passive consumers of politics but as fully mobilized political actors. Perhaps we might think of our various efforts now, as we did then, as more than a single campaign, but rather as our movement-in-the-making.
We might find hope in the growth of opposition to war and occupation worldwide. Or we might be inspired by the growing movements for reparations and prison abolition, or the rising immigrant rights movement and the stirrings of working people everywhere, or by gay and lesbian and transgender people courageously pressing for full recognition.
Yet hope - my hope, our hope - resides in a simple self-evident truth: the future is unknown, and it is also entirely unknowable.
History is always in the making. It's up to us. It is up to me and to you. Nothing is predetermined. That makes our moment on this earth both hopeful and all the more urgent - we must find ways to become real actors, to become authentic subjects in our own history.
We may not be able to will a movement into being, but neither can we sit idly for a movement to spring full-grown, as from the head of Zeus.
We have to agitate for democracy and egalitarianism, press harder for human rights, learn to build a new society through our self-transformations and our limited everyday struggles.
At the turn of the last century, Eugene Debs, the great Socialist Party leader from Terre Haute, Ind., told a group of workers in Chicago, "If I could lead you into the Promised Land, I would not do it, because someone else would come along and lead you
In this time of new beginnings and rising expectations, it is even more urgent that we figure out how to become the people we have been waiting to be.
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Bill Ayers is a Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the author of "Fugitive Days" (Beacon) and co-author, with Bernardine Dohrn, of "Race Course: Against White Supremacy" (Third World Press).

Saturday, November 01, 2008

It Is Now Absolutely Crystal Clear That Republican Rule Is Dangerous and Authoritarian



By John Dean, FindLaw.com


November 1, 2008
Republicans rule, rather than govern, when they are in power by imposing their authoritarian conservative philosophy on everyone, as their answer for everything. This works for them because their interest is in power, and in what it can do for those who think as they do. Ruling, of course, must be distinguished from governing, which is a more nuanced process that entails give-and-take and the kind of compromises that are often necessary to find a consensus and solutions that will best serve the interests of all Americans.
Republicans' authoritarian rule can also be characterized by its striking incivility and intolerance toward those who do not view the world as Republicans do. Their insufferable attitude is not dangerous in itself, but it is employed to accomplish what they want, which it to take care of themselves and those who work to keep them in power.
Authoritarian conservatives are primarily anti-government, except where they believe the government can be useful to impose moral or social order (for example, with respect to matters like abortion, prayer in schools, or prohibiting sexually-explicit information from public view). Similarly, Republicans' limited-government attitude does not apply regarding national security, where they feel there can never be too much government activity - nor are the rights and liberties of individuals respected when national security is involved. Authoritarian Republicans do oppose the government interfering with markets and the economy, however -- and generally oppose the government's doing anything to help anyone they feel should be able to help themselves.
In my book Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches, I set forth the facts regarding the consequences of the Republicans' controlling government for too many years. No Republican -- nor anyone else, for that matter -- has refuted these facts, and for good reason: They are irrefutable.

The McCain/Palin Ticket Perfectly Fits the Authoritarian Conservative Mold
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin, the Republican candidates, have shown themselves to be unapologetic and archetypical authoritarian conservatives. Indeed, their campaign has warmed the hearts of fellow authoritarians, who applaud them for their negativity, nastiness, and dishonest ploys and only criticize them for not offering more of the same.
The McCain/Palin campaign has assumed a typical authoritarian posture: The candidates provide no true, specific proposals to address America's needs. Rather, they simply ask voters to "trust us" and suggest that their opponents - Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden - are not "real Americans" like McCain, Palin, and the voters they are seeking to court. Accordingly, McCain and Plain have called Obama "a socialist," "a redistributionist," "a Marxist," and "a communist" - without a shred of evidence to support their name-calling, for these terms are pejorative, rather than in any manner descriptive. This is the way authoritarian leaders operate.
In my book Conservatives Without Conscience, I set forth the traits of authoritarian leaders and followers, which have been distilled from a half-century of empirical research, during which thousands of people have voluntarily been interviewed by social scientists. The touch points in these somewhat-overlapping lists of character traits provide a clear picture of the characters of both John McCain and Sarah Palin.
McCain, especially, fits perfectly as an authoritarian leader. Such leaders possess most, if not all, of these traits:
* dominating
* opposes equality
* desirous of personal power
* amoral
* intimidating and bullying
* faintly hedonistic
* vengeful
* pitiless
* exploitive
* manipulative
* dishonest
* cheats to win
* highly prejudiced (racist, sexist, homophobic)
* mean-spirited
* militant
* nationalistic
* tells others what they want to hear
* takes advantage of "suckers"
* specializes in creating false images to sell self
* may or may not be religious
* usually politically and economically conservative/Republican
Incidentally, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney also can be described by these well-defined and typical traits -- which is why a McCain presidency is so likely to be nearly identical to a Bush presidency.
Clearly, Sarah Palin also has some qualities typical of authoritarian leaders, not to mention almost all of the traits found among authoritarian followers. Specifically, such followers can be described as follows:
* submissive to authority
* aggressive on behalf of authority
* highly conventional in their behavior
* highly religious
* possessing moderate to little education
* trusting of untrustworthy authorities
* prejudiced (particularly against homosexuals and followers of religions other than their own)
* mean-spirited
* narrow-minded
* intolerant
* bullying
* zealous
* dogmatic
* uncritical toward chosen authority
* hypocritical
* inconsistent and contradictory
* prone to panic easily
* highly self-righteous
* moralistic
* strict disciplinarians
* severely punitive
* demanding loyalty and returning it
* possessing little self-awareness
* usually politically and economically conservative/Republican
The leading authority on right-wing authoritarianism, a man who devoted his career to developing hard empirical data about these people and their beliefs, is Robert Altemeyer. Altemeyer, a social scientist based in Canada, flushed out these typical character traits in decades of testing.
Altemeyer believes about 25 percent of the adult population in the United States is solidly authoritarian (with that group mostly composed of followers, and a small percentage of potential leaders). It is in these ranks of some 70 million that we find the core of the McCain/Palin supporters. They are people who are, in Altemeyer's words, are "so self-righteous, so ill-informed, and so dogmatic that nothing you can say or do will change their minds."
The Problem with Electing Authoritarian Conservatives
What is wrong with being an authoritarian conservative? Well, if you want to take the country where they do, nothing. "They would march America into a dictatorship and probably feel that things had improved as a result," Altemeyer told me. "The problem is that these authoritarian followers are much more active than the rest of the country. They have the mentality of 'old-time religion' on a crusade, and they generously give money, time and effort to the cause. They proselytize; they lick stamps; they put pressure on loved ones; and they revel in being loyal to a cohesive group of like thinkers. And they are so submissive to their leaders that they will believe and do virtually anything they are told. They are not going to let up and they are not going to go away."
I would nominate McCain's "Joe the Plumber" as a new poster-boy of the authoritarian followers. He is a believer, and he has signed on. On November 4, 2008, we will learn how many more Americans will join the ranks of the authoritarians.
Frankly, the fact that the pre-election polls are close - after eight years of authoritarian leadership from Bush and Cheney, and given its disastrous results -- shows that many Americans either do not realize where a McCain/Palin presidency might take us, or they are happy to go there. Frankly, it scares the hell out of me, for there is only one way to deal with these conservative zealots: Keep them out of power.
This election should be a slam dunk for Barack Obama, who has run a masterful campaign. It was no small undertaking winning the nomination from Hillary Clinton, and in doing so, he has shown without any doubt (in my mind anyway) that he is not only qualified to be president, but that he might be a once-in-a-lifetime leader who can forever change the nation and the world for the better.
If Obama is rejected on November 4th for another authoritarian conservative like McCain, I must ask if Americans are sufficiently intelligent to competently govern themselves. I can understand authoritarian conservatives voting for McCain, for they know no better. It is well-understood that most everyone votes with his or her heart, not his or her head. Polls show that 81 percent of Americans "feel" (in their hearts and their heads) that our country is going the wrong way. How could anyone with such thoughts and feelings vote for more authoritarian conservatism, which has done so much to take the nation in the wrong direction?
We will all find out on (or about) November 5th.
John W. Dean, a FindLaw columnist, is a former counsel to President Nixon.