John Taylor: “Hillary Milhous Clinton”

Roundup: Media's Take

[Mr. Taylor is the executive director of the Nixon Library.]

Andrew Sullivan writes that Sen. Clinton has become Richard Nixon in 1968. What prompted his comment was a Clinton campaign phone call in which aides stressed Sen. Obama’s connection with William Ayers, a former leader in the Weather Underground. During yesterday’s debate, Obama countered Clinton’s comments about him and Ayers by pointing out that President Clinton had pardoned two repentant ’60s terrorists. Quoting Clinton aide Howard Wolfson:

The difference here is that Bill Ayers hosted an event for Sen. Obama when he was running for state senate…This is not somebody that Sen. Obama would just run into on the street. This is somebody who hosted an event for him at his home in a political context. We’re not talking about whether Sen. Obama ran into somebody at an ice cream store in Hyde Park…Bill Ayers is unrepentant of what he did. He is unrepentant about what he did in the 60s and early 70s. That is a difference, of course, with Linda Evans and Susan Rosenberg…If Sen. Obama is not able to answer the questions last night…I think it is absolutely reasonable to ask him for a fuller accounting of why Bill Ayers hosted him at his home for a political event.

The Wikipedia entry on the Weathermen contains these two entries in a long chronology on the rise and fall of the organization:

  • 6 March1970 – 34 sticks of dynamite are discovered in the 13th Police District [in] Detroit, Michigan… During February and early March, 1970, members of the WUO, led by Bill Ayers, are reported to be in Detroit, during that period, for the purpose of bombing a police facility.
  • 6 March1970 – Another group blows themselves up when their “bomb factory” located in New York’s Greenwich Village accidentally explodes. WUO members Theodore Gold, Diana Oughton, and Terry Robbins die in this accident. The bomb was intended to be planted at a non-commissioned officer’s dance at Fort Dix, New Jersey. The bomb was packed with nails to inflict maximum casualties upon detonation.

The Wikipedia entry on Ayers contains this passage:

In 2001, Ayers published Fugitive Days: A Memoir. Ayers’s interview with the New York Times about his book was published on September 11, 2001, and opens with his statement, “I don’t regret setting bombs, I feel we didn’t do enough.” The interview also includes his reaction (in his book) to Emile De Antonio’s 1976 documentary film about the Weathermen: “He was ‘embarrassed by the arrogance, the solipsism, the absolute certainty that we and we alone knew the way. The rigidity and the narcissism.”Ayers stated that by “no regrets” he meant that he didn’t regret his efforts to oppose the Vietnam War, and that “we didn’t do enough” meant that efforts to stop the war were obviously inadequate as it dragged on for a decade.New Politics reviewer Jesse Lemisch has contrasted Ayers’s recollections with those of other Weathermen and alleged serious factual errors. In the fall of 2006, Ayers was asked not to attend a progressive educators’ conference on the basis that the organizers did not want to risk an association with his past.During the 2008 United States Presidential election, a controversy arose over Ayers connection to Democratic candidate Barack Obama, who served on the board of the Woods Fund [an anti-poverty charitable organization] with Ayers from 1999 to 2002.

Sullivan is right about the irony of Clinton taking a law-and-order stand on Ayers after having gotten her start in politics working on Mr. Nixon’s impeachment. It is also ironic that she is running for President as a Democrat even though she had campaigned for Barry Goldwater in 1964, and ironic that an iconic Republican, Ronald Reagan, had once been a Democrat. Such ironies are meaningful only to a certain extent, since people often change their views.

Harder to understand is why Sullivan accuses her campaign of sinking to new depths of opportunism for holding Obama accountable for a willing association with someone who, with his confederates, apparently planned to kill innocent police officers, non-commissioned military officers, and their dates. It doesn’t mean he hasn’t done good things in the years since. But the best thing he could’ve done is repudiate any plans with which he was associated to murder innocent people. Would you serve on a non-profit board with such a person? Would you let him host an event for you in the course of a political campaign? Obama did, and his opponent is right to address it. It’s a perfectly legitimate issue. Of course, so was Mr. Nixon’s issue of law and order in 1968.

Over at “The New Republic,” Michael Crowley notes that Sean Hannity has been “blathering away” for weeks about the Obama-Ayers connection but then concludes that it’s a reasonable question in a primary debate. This begs at least two more questions. If it’s so reasonable, why wasn’t it asked in a debate before now? Why is everybody so mad at ABC because its moderators asked this and other uncomfortable questions? Sometimes Hannity hammers an issue so relentlessly that you want to scream. But sometimes, I guess, it takes a blatherer.

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