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Bill Ayers Tells His Side: 'A Bit Surreal'

Bill Ayers, who stayed quiet throughout the presidential campaign even as he became its central lightning rod, finally broke his silence on Election Day, discussing his experience with a few reporters who knocked on his Hyde Park door.

On Friday, Ayers wrote about his "surreal" year in In These Times.

"Whew! What was all that mess? I'm still in a daze, sorting it all out, decompressing," Ayers begins.

He charges Hillary Clinton's campaign with laying the groundwork for the attacks that would become central to John McCain's campaign:


Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-N.Y.) campaign provided the script, which included guilt by association, demonization of people Obama knew (or might have known), creepy questions about his background and dark hints about hidden secrets yet to be uncovered.

McCain, Ayers writes, "immediately got on message" about him after an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, but it was Sarah Palin who took it "viral":


When Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin got hold of it, the attack went viral. At a now-famous Oct. 4 rally, she said Obama was "pallin' around with terrorists." (I pictured us sharing a milkshake with two straws.)

The crowd began chanting, "Kill him!" "Kill him!" It was downhill from there.

Ayers sees the 2008 campaign attacks in the context of the 1960s:

The idea that the 2008 election may be the last time in American political life that the '60s plays any role whatsoever is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, let's get over the nostalgia and move on. On the other, the lessons we might have learned from the black freedom movement and from the resistance against the Vietnam War have never been learned. To achieve this would require that we face history fully and honestly, something this nation has never done.

Ayers cites Studs Terkel's Huffington Post interview with Edward Lifson, in which Terkel described Palin as "Joe McCarthy in drag," to support his point that McCain and Palin saw this campaign as an opportunity to "bury" the mores of the '60s:

The '60s pushed us to a deeper appreciation of the humanity of every human being. And that is the threat it poses to the right wing, hence the attacks and all the guilt by association.

McCain and Palin demanded to "know the full extent" of the Obama-Ayers "relationship" so that they can know if Obama, as Palin put it, "is telling the truth to the American people or not."

This is just plain stupid.

Obama has continually been asked to defend something that ought to be at democracy's heart: the importance of talking to as many people as possible in this complicated and wildly diverse society, of listening with the possibility of learning something new, and of speaking with the possibility of persuading or influencing others.

The McCain-Palin attacks not only involved guilt by association, they also assumed that one must apply a political litmus test to begin a conversation.