Had enough of the Bill Ayers pseudo-scandal? Me too, but it just sparked an exchange between Cass Sunstein and David Frum that is too jaw-droppingly silly not to mention.
First—this isn't the silly part—Sunstein wrote in The New Republic:
Ayers is one of numerous people, in the Chicago area, whom Barack Obama has run across. Obama has much closer relationships with numerous conservatives on the University of Chicago faculty, many of whom have given money to Obama's campaign, and many of whom have talked to him at length and been at social occasions with him.
I know for a fact that Obama has actually played basketball with Richard Epstein, a libertarian on the law school faculty who has written some pretty controversial things on property rights and government regulation. I also know that Obama has had a number of conversations with former law school dean Daniel Fischel, a Reagan Republican who has written some pretty controversial things on corporations and government regulation.
Sounds like a reasonable point to make. But not to Frum:
Obama himself has equated Ayers' record of treason and violence to the intemperate talk of Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn. Now Cass Sunstein goes further still—and compares unrepentant domestic terrorism to libertarian theorizing!
The point of Sunstein's comments, obviously, is not to "equate" Epstein with Ayers, just as the point of Obama's earlier comments, obviously, was not to "equate" Ayers with Coburn. The point is that Obama associates with a lot of very different people and that it's foolish to assume his loose connections to one of them define his politics. Serving on the same board as Bill Ayers doesn't make Obama sympathetic to Marxist terrorism any more than shooting hoops with Epstein makes him a libertarian.
If there's a legitimate story here, it isn't that Obama is one of the many Chicago politicians (even the mayor!) who have interacted with Ayers. It's that Ayers, after playing revolutionary for a spell, has managed to find a place in the Chicago establishment. The Weather Underground was made up of the children of the elite, and after all the shouting of the '60s and '70s died down those Weathermen who managed to avoid prison or self-immolation have often been able to return to high-status professional positions. I'd love to see a Marxist analysis of that class dynamic.