It’s a testament to Dinesh D’Souza’s mettle that he even showed up for his scheduled debate at Dartmouth (his alma mater and mine) with Bill Ayers last Thursday. D’Souza is only recently under what is apparently selective prosecution by the federal government for campaign law violations (see “Amnesty, but Not for D’Souza” by Andy McCarthy) and that was probably some of the reason the pundit/filmmaker seemed off his game.
He fared much better debating the existence of God with the late Christopher Hitchens. But that was in part because Hitchens played fair, enjoying the intellectual jousting and search for truth between two exceptionally bright people. D’Souza’s Thursday adversary, Mr. Ayers — former Weatherman revolutionary and retired professor in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he held the titles of Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar — did everything but.
Allow me to be a bit personal. Despite being a child of the sixties and having participated in all sorts of protests back in the day, this was the first time I had ever seen Bill Ayers talk at length. It gave me nightmares — literally. I went to sleep minutes after watching a video of the debate to dream that I was cut off from my family in some distant Mediterranean village with my car missing. Stumbling on a hidden garage, I encountered a gang (Weathermen?) led by a younger Bill Ayers who had stolen the car and were disguising it unrecognizably. I tried to stop them, but I was outnumbered, kicked in the stomach and groin. I woke up before being killed or maimed.
But I wasn’t relieved. I had a dizzy, depressed feeling that awakened a disturbing, almost otherworldly, sense memory. Then I realized when I had had the same emotion. It was the time several years ago when I stood five feet away from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Yes, it was that bad.
So what was it about Ayers that I found so deeply unsettling? I guess you could say it was the irrelevance of truth. Truth, or even nuance, was just some trivial stumbling block to be overcome on the way to an end. And that end has never changed, ever, not one jot, since the days of SDS.
Bill Ayers is Saul Alinsky on steroids — an Alinsky beyond Alinsky, as it were. During the debate, he rarely responded directly to anything anyone asked or said, only recited a script so old it might as well have been found on some Egyptian tomb painting. But since he has done this for so long, he did it brilliantly, unwaveringly, no contradictory idea or even thought allowed to enter his brain. Victory for his cause was all.