I don’t remember what prompted me, but in 2008 I read Fugitive Days by Bill Ayers. Perhaps I saw Hunter S. Thompson’s comment that this was “a very good book about a terrifying time in America.” I ordered a copy through Abebooks. The jacket told me that Ayers was the author of A Kind and Just Parent and other books on education, and was a Professor of Education at the University of Illinois (Chicago). This book, a memoir, describes Ayers’ journey from a “normal” American childhood into campus protests against the war in Vietnam, and then deeper, much deeper, into a life on the run as a member of the Weather Underground. Studs Terkel, the author of Working and The Good War, described it as “a memoir that is, in effect, a deeply moving elegy to those young dreamers who tried to live decently in an indecent world,” and adds, “Ayers provides a tribute to those better angels of ourselves.” Ayers’ book is an honest book; his path was not mine, but I admire his candor.
That said, Ayers has suddenly become something of a celebrity, because, as a person active in the Chicago community, he has met Barack Obama, even served on a committee with him. Obama was just eight years old when members of Ayers’ Weatherman group blew up a bathroom in the Pentagon. No one was hurt (the bomber had called Pentagon’s emergency number, the local police and The Washington Post before the explosion), but Richard Nixon called this the act of “cowardly terrorists,” and today, because Ayers and Obama have met and talked, political opponents are saying that Obama “has been palling around with a terrorist.”
I wonder how many people I’ve met, even worked with, who, if I chose to run for office, would be pulled to the front of the crowd and held up as my pals. I know more than one person who has gone to jail. I know people who have killed other people, or at least tried to. Heck, I was in the U.S. Air Force from 1968 to 1972, when it was dealing out death wholesale. I even know and like some conservatives; you can’t be a true liberal without having at least one conservative friend. I accept these people; I didn’t go through what they went through; I don’t know if I would have done any less or more than they did. I’m told this makes me naive; I expect the Karl Rove’s of this world would make short work of me. But since I will never run for office, I probably won’t learn who my secret pals are. So it goes.