Getting Passionate

As I was saying yesterday, I think the conservative effort to demonize Bill Ayers as somehow the greatest monster of American history is absurd. He was involved in violent extremism amidst an era of extremism in American politics and plenty of his contemporaries did worse stuff in the name of upholding white supremacy or prosecuting the Vietnam War than anything Ayers did in opposition to it. That said, my former boss Mike Tomasky is sure right to call BS on this statement in support of Ayers:

The current characterizations of Professor Ayers — -”unrepentant terrorist,” “lunatic leftist” — -are unrecognizable to those who know or work with him. It’s true that Professor Ayers participated passionately in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s, as did hundreds of thousands of Americans.

Martin Luther King, Jr. participated passionately in the civil rights and antiwar movements. And yet he never set bombs anywhere, nor advocated that anyone else set bombs anywhere. Ayers did. Was Ayers more passionate than King? No. Was Ayers more violent than King? Yes. And King was right and Ayers was wrong — that’s really all there is to it. Now and again you do see a strand of thought on the left that equates willingness to engage in violence with one’s level of passion and commitment. That was the Weather Underground in its day, and it also I think represents the thinking of some of the so-called “liberal hawks” of the 21st century. But the notion that passionate commitment to the cause of justice is best exemplified by killing people — and especially by a “tough-minded” willingness to contemplate killing innocent people — is ludicrous.


The “unrepentant terrorist” thing is a bit complicated. One thing you can say in Ayers’ defense is that it’s perfectly clear from his present-day conduct that he, in fact, realizes that unleashing a podunk domestic terrorism campaign would be a stupid and immoral thing to do. He could be going around setting off bombs. Instead, he’s a professor and a community activist. On the other hand, he seems sufficiently entrenched in egomania and self-righteousness that he can’t bring himself to actually admit that. And until he does admit that he was wrong, he’s hard to defend.