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.
In the old days (sixties), Ayers did this in a clumsy manner, getting involved in all kinds of counter-productive violent actions that hurt his goals with the public rather then helped them. He is far savvier now, dazzling his student audience with a string of heroic names, some obvious (Malcolm X) and others obscure, I’m sure deliberately, even to me who has been paying obsessive attention to such things for decades. Israel was, of course, an apartheid state and the Iraq War fought for the benefit of Halliburton. Leftwing cliché after leftwing cliché spewed out as if no one could possibly deny these self-evident facts revealed ex cathedra to the gullible young. If you repeat something often enough, it must be true.
Yes, he is more dangerous now than when he was violent post-adolescent trying to stick a bomb in Pentagon restrooms — and not just because of his legendary influence on the president or possible authorship of Obama’s putative autobiography. He is far craftier than that. He took a vastly more potent, and more devious, approach and got his teeth into our educational system.
Furthermore, he had the absolute Alinskyite brilliance — a coup d’Alinsky, you might call it — to assert in front of the debate audience Thursday that our educational system was biased toward rightwing corporations and the corporate rich. I don’t think I’ve ever heard such an audacious lie, considering nearly every university in the country has an ultra-liberal faculty and almost everyone knows this, including, one would assume, his audience.
But that’s the problem. Ayers went right on talking to that audience and they went right on nodding their heads, at least some of them did. And this isn’t just Dartmouth. That college may be better than some places. This is the world we live in.
Back in the thirties, Stephen Vincent Benet wrote a famous story about Dartmouth’s most well known (with the possible exception of Dr. Seuss) graduate, Daniel Webster — The Devil and Daniel Webster. In that story, the devil is not portrayed as a scary figure in horns and a tail but as a more refined gentleman, “a soft-spoken, dark-dressed stranger,” who “drove up in a handsome buggy.” That’s Bill Ayers these days. Watch out.