In the Weekly Standard, Sam Schulman asks, “Why is Bill Ayers a respectable member of the upper middle class and Sarah Palin contemptible?”
Pour yourself a Johnnie Walker Black and remember. The presidential campaign was going to be about sex–the sex of the inevitable winning candidate. Then it was going to be about race. We dreamed we would atone for slavery and the Berlin Airlift, impress Europe and charm the Arab world. But the undecided voters who will determine the winner are no longer interested in race or sex. They are looking at social class. Which ticket best expresses the values and tastes of the upper-middle-class–and captivates the rest of us who follow the lead of the upper-middles?
The class argument is why the Bill Ayers strategy won’t do. In the sex and race eras, it would have worked nicely. Obama’s longtime working collaboration with the radical educational theorist and retired terrorist would dramatize his carefully but hastily discarded political radicalism. But no longer. The anti-Ayers publicists are quite right about Ayers’s malignity and Obama’s connivance. But when they try to explain what Ayers has done in the past and still wants to do–turn schools into nurseries of revolution, make leftist views a condition for becoming a teacher, promote dictatorship, and glorify violence–they injure not help their cause. Class will always trump politics. Being the first in one’s family to adopt liberal political sentiments or move to New York City means a step into the middle class, for most Americans, and an increase in social status. More extreme political radicalism lifts one a step or two higher.
Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn became Sixties royalty not because of the status of the Ayers family in Chicago, but because of their relish for violence. They attempted to kill, and celebrated the killings of others (like Charles Manson’s victims and the murder of any number of cops), to set an example for the less privileged. “We’ve known that our job is to lead white kids to armed revolution. . . . Tens of thousands have learned that protest and marches don’t do it. Revolutionary violence is the only way,” said the future Mrs. Ayers in 1970. On the other hand, there were the masses of students who merely marched and flashed the peace sign. Socially, they were nowhere. That was the shock of the Kent State massacre–the veteran martyrs of Harvard’s University Hall and Columbia’s Low Library wondered that such a terrible and authentic event could have taken place at a far-away state school to people of whom we knew nothing.
Now mainstream Chicago regards Ayers as rehabilitated–but why?
Schulman’s piece appears to have written before a certain Ohio tradesman became a household name. But the blowback caused by Joe’s walk-on part in the cold civil war reminds us that it is very much a class war–and specifically, the left’s attempts to eviscerate the middle and working classes.
Related: Jennifer Rubin writes, “Suddenly, the race card doesn’t look as important as the class warfare card.”