I'm on the Pavement, Thinkin' 'Bout the Government


Ex-Weather Underground terrorist, current doyenne of the Chicago left (both extreme and mainstream) Bill Ayers, deals with his "episodic notoriety."

I'm often quoted saying that I have "no regrets." This is not true. For anyone paying attention—and I try to stay wide-awake to the world around me all/ways—life brings misgivings, doubts, uncertainty, loss, regret. I'm sometimes asked if I regret anything I did to oppose the war in Viet Nam, and I say "no, I don't regret anything I did to try to stop the slaughter of millions of human beings by my own government." Sometimes I add, "I don't think I did enough." This is then elided: he has no regrets for setting bombs and thinks there should be more bombings.

Is this true? This is the explosive (sorry, pun) lede of the 9/11/01 New York Times story that roughnecks from Sean Hannity and Hillary Clinton have been using to slice at Obama.

"I don't regret setting bombs," Bill Ayers said. "I feel we didn't do enough.'


So, would Mr. Ayers do it all again, he is asked? "I don't want to discount the possibility," he said.

Let's be clear about Ayers was doing: Twenty-one years after he left the underground, many years into a respectable career as a leftish education scholar, he was maximizing his profits on a pretentious memoir about his sexy, dangerous days as a radical. In doing so he mugged for the camera (or, pen) of the New York Times, selling readers a new hard-bound collection of radical chic for their bookshelves. It's a complete coincidence that the interview came out the day of the WTC and Pentagon attacks and radical chic no longer seemed as cool as it had when the paper went to bed. Ayers and his wife became the targets of understandable anger. When Ayers began his book tour, he started sounding more contrite. He had to.

In those three years there was something like 20,000 arsons and bombings against U.S. government targets in this country. Something like 20,000, and as far as I know one person was killed and, you know, that is unforgivable. There's no way to defend it, because he was an innocent person and he did nothing, so you're absolutely right but every day that that war went on, well, what was the right action to take?

After the heat was off, Ayers started speaking a bit more freely again. But I don't think the spirit of his defense of his past ever changed. He's an anti-imperialist and a democratic socialist. Here he is talking about how the WU was a "teachable moment" for a Venezuelan interviewer. (The translator is his adopted son, Chesa Boudin, whose ex-WU mother and father are in jail for murders committed during a bank robbery.)

Ayers is a pretty dedicated Chavista, actually, an association that comes as no suprise either psychologically or politically.

All that said, I'm depressed at the ground this is being fought on. It's not hard to portray Ayers as a smug and blinkered trust fund leftist, yet the Obama-Ayers attack usually includes one lie or another—that he talked about planting bombs on 9/11, like the NYT called and asked him for a reaction, or that he talked about it afterward, as if he's an in-kind ally of al Qaeda. If the interview had gone up in the Sunday magazine instead of the Tuesday, 9/11/01 edition, would we have even heard of Ayers this year? Probably not, and that almost jibes with Ayers' argument about American imperialism and jingoism.