I’m opposed to guilt-by-association. I’d better be, considering at various times in my life I hung out with the California Communist League, the Black Panthers including Eldridge Cleaver and their Minister of Information Elaine Brown, Abbie Hoffman while he was a fugitive on the top ten wanted list, Bill and Emily Harris of the SLA, Timothy Leary and Chairman Deng Xiaoping of the People’s Republic of China. I was also recruited by the KGB. (Don’t worry. I turned them down.)
I’m not going into the details here. [Blatant self-promotion alert] You can read all about them in my memoir BLACKLISTING MYSELF to be published by Encounter Books in January 2009. Suffice it to say if there were guilt-by-association, I’d be in deep trouble.
1. I am not running for President.
2. I am not trying to hide my past associations. [You’re trying to sell books off them.-ed. Indeed I am.]
I’ve been thinking about the latter point reading the various reports of Barack Obama’s relationship with former Weatherman Bill Ayers. No, I didn’t know Ayers. So I have no personal knowledge of this. But I am troubled by the “cone of silence” around the details of their association, including the “cones” erected by the University of Illinois and the Daley machine that has, despite moments of reform, made the city of Chicago synonymous with corruption in many people’s eyes.
Still, I have nothing to add to that story, which may reveal itself, as the saying goes, in the fullness of time. But I do have some feelings about past associations and what they mean from personal experience. Like it or not, to one degree or another, they are part of our fabric, though not in a simple-minded sense. Knowing communists in the past obviously does not make you one now, or then, for that matter. Nevertheless, the 1972 Roger Simon who gave money to the Black Panthers is a building block of the 2008 Roger Simon who now despises identity politics and thinks it a reactionary betrayal of black people. That past is part of my emotional and intellectual DNA. If I hid that from you, you would not understand my present, where it comes from and what it means. You would be missing important context with which to analyze my current views.
The same goes for Obama, only his past is being shrouded by the institutions and cronies above. No matter what the truth is, this obfuscation makes it worse. Indeed, the obfuscation is the problem, in itself probably worse than almost any possible fact being hidden. (Obama is far too young to have been a Weatherman himself anyway—and, I suspect, far too great a careerist.) As usual, the cover-up is apparently more serious than the crime.
And yet, what if… arguendo… there is something significant buried in those unreleased Chicago documents that is finally revealed after Obama is elected President? The fallout could be highly destructive to our country. (And people thought John Edwards running while having an affair was problematic…) In an era that is at once domestically polarized and internationally dangerous, those Chi-town institutions owe it to us to be as transparent as possible. If past history is an indication, they won’t.