Friday, May 30, 2008

Putting on Ayers

The writer's intent is to defend Obama, who may or may not deserve defense in this case. (In my mind, this is a milieu problem, and I wish Obama had had another four years away from Chicago to make new some friends and learn from them.) But I think there's a dollop of truth in this:

When it became clear even to them that there would not be violent revolution in America, Ayers and Dohrn shrugged and rejoined society in Chicago, where he had grown up. It wasn't difficult. While he was in hiding, his father was CEO of Commonwealth Edison, the big utility. Ayers the elder sat on every Establishment board in town -- Northwestern, the Tribune Co., the Chicago Symphony. Ayers the younger and his wife were welcomed back into the fold.

This is the second insult that emerges from the story of Bill and Bernardine. They set off bombs and talked about killing their parents, and the Chicago establishment didn't even care. The important thing is that he was Tom Ayers' boy. In a way, the joke is on Ayers and Dohrn. For heaven's sake, what does it take to upset these Brahmins? But in a bigger way, the joke is on the rest of us. We thought they meant what they said.

If Obama's relationship with Ayers, however tangential, exposes Obama as a radical himself, or at least as a man with terrible judgment, he shares that radicalism or terrible judgment with a comically respectable list of Chicagoans and others --including Republicans and conservatives -- who have embraced Ayers and Dohrn as good company, good citizens, even experts on children's issues.

It would never work in a free-form, individualistic society like ours, but the classical concept of ostracism, or the still living Amish custom of shunning, seem pertinent in some cases in modern America.