First, in spite of what Ms. Wurtzel might have heard in the 80s, Ayers and Dohrn were not representative of the activist politics of the 60s, only of the most destructive, sectarian and authoritarian dimensions of the antiwar movement. Their activities did more damage to the antiwar movement than is widely understood today. Contrast the effect of their violent actions on American politics with the relationship that emerged in Poland in the same period between left wing intellectuals and students and a democratic labor movement – it led to the downfall of the stalinist regime. There were, of course, many thousands of non-authoritarian left wing activists in the 60s and 70s who had to work under the impact of attempts by the right to smear the entire left and antiwar movement with the criminal, desperate and pathetic actions of the Weather Underground.
Second, the debate emerging now about the relationship between Ayers, Dohrn and Obama is not just about the activities of Ayers and Dohrn when Obama was a child. It is about the authoritarian politics that Ayers and Dohrn still espouse today. Ayers, for example, travels regularly to Venezuela, most recently speaking in front of an audience that included Hugo Chavez in late 2006 where he proclaimed that “education is revolution.” Ayers – today – advocates what I consider to be an authoritarian and sectarian approach to education. His work with Obama stretches back to their joint efforts in the Chicago Annenberg Challenge in 1994 and 1995, which was an effort to support the problematic “local schools council” reforms under siege there.
Since the Obama campaign has refused to provide details about the role Ayers plays in the campaign voters are left in the dark about how Ayers’ views might, or might not, be informing the campaign’s thinking on education or other issues. This is a potential tragedy for the millions of Americans who have been motivated, perhaps for the first time, to become engaged in the political process by the hope that the Obama campaign has, indeed, created.