Michael Kinsley, writing in his column for Time magazine, reflects on a controversy that’s sure to revive this summer after Barack Obama secures the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party — Obama’s relationship with Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, two former members of the Weather Underground.
Kinsley says it’s O.K. to think that it’s “absurd” to make an issue of Obama’s relationship with Ayers and Dohrn, while also thinking that “Ayers and Dohrn are despicable.”
“In America we believe in redemption and even self-reinvention. And we don’t usually require stagy Stalinesque recantations,” Kinsley writes. “But Dohrn and Ayers test the limits of that generosity.” The two of them “did real harm” to America, but not because they “posed any real threat to U.S. national security.”
“Their victims were liberals: the millions of people who were part of the mainstream antiwar movement and who later voted against Ronald Reagan,” Kinsley explains. He continues: These people opposed the Vietnam War but didn’t hate their country. They were horrified by violence and sincerely wanted the war to end. They believed in democracy, even when dismayed by the result. The slogan of the Underground, by contrast, was “Bring the war home.” For strategic and psychological reasons, the Underground wanted the Vietnam War to go on. They wanted the killing and dying to continue and spread, along with anarchy, dope and free sex.
The notion of doctrinal divisions among opponents of the Vietnam War must seem ridiculously arcane to most people today. But perhaps you can imagine how infuriating it was to the organizers of the big marches on Washington — struggling to keep them peaceful — that there were people of the left effectively in cahoots with the Nixon Administration, determined to undermine all those efforts.