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My Friend Bill Ayers

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Once wanted by the FBI, he's since become a model citizen.

By Thomas Frank
The Wall Street Journal

"Waving the bloody shirt" was the phrase once used to describe the standard demagogic tactic of the late 19th century, when memories of the Civil War were still vivid and loyalists of both parties could be moved to "vote as they shot." As the years passed and the memories faded, the shirt got gorier, the waving more frantic.

In 1896 the Democrats chose William Jennings Bryan as their leader, a man who was born in 1860 and had thus missed the Civil War, but who seemed to threaten the consensus politics of the time. In response, Republican campaign masterminds organized a speaking tour of the Midwest by a handful of surviving Union generals. The veterans advanced through the battleground states in a special train adorned with patriotic bunting, pictures of their candidate, William McKinley, and a sign declaring, "We are Opposed to Anarchy and Repudiation."

The culture wars are the familiar demagogic tactic of our own time, building monstrous offenses out of the tiniest slights. The fading rancor that each grievance is meant to revive, of course, dates to the 1960s and the antiwar protests, urban riots and annoying youth culture that originally triggered our great turn to the right.

This year the Democrats chose Barack Obama as their leader, a man who was born in 1961 and who largely missed our cultural civil war. In response, Republican campaign masterminds have sought to plunge him back into it in the most desperate and grotesque manner yet.

For days on end, the Republican presidential campaign has put nearly all of its remaining political capital on emphasizing Mr. Obama's time on various foundation boards with Bill Ayers, a former member of the Weathermen, which planted bombs and issued preposterous statements in the Vietnam era. Some on the right seem to believe Mr. Ayers is Mr. Obama's puppet-master, while others are content merely to insist that the association proves Mr. Obama to be soft on terrorism. Maybe he's soft on anarchy and repudiation, too....(Click here for remainder).

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