He lay low during the presidential campaign, and for good reason. His various connections to a neighbor named Barack Obama would have embarrassed both of them.
To hear Sen. Obama tell it during the campaign, this was just somebody he would occasionally pass on the street in Hyde Park, their upscale enclave back in Chicago. No need to go into detail about the various committees and fundraisers they'd put together for their mutual benefit. It wouldn't do for a presidential candidate to acknowledge the depth or variety of his associations with an unrepentant terrorist out of the literally explosive 1960s.
But now that the campaign is over, Bill Ayers has resurfaced. In the New York Times, of course, where his latest apologia appeared earlier this month. Like so many distinguished old terrorists, he now denies he ever was one. A founder of the Weather Underground, which he once described as "an American Red Army," he now says it was guilty only of "symbolic acts of extreme vandalism."
Euphemism is still the last resort of the violent. The Weathermen, the talented Mr. Ayers explains, were guilty only of "attacks on property, never on people. ... But it was not terrorism; we were not engaged in a campaign to kill and injure people indiscriminately, spreading fear and suffering for political ends."
He could have fooled me. In Weatherman's heyday back in 1969 Chicago, aka the Days of Rage, its members attacked police and civilian targets alike. Is he now saying that they killed and injured people only discriminately?
The rhetorical distance between Bill Ayers' old memoir, "Fugitive Days," and the mild persona he's now adopted on the op-ed page of the New York Times is impressive mainly for its sheer chutzpah. For in his book, which might as well have been a confession in full, he wrote proudly of having "participated in the bombings of New York City Police Headquarters in 1970, of the Capitol building in 1971, and the Pentagon in 1972."
Of the day he bombed the Pentagon, Bill Ayers recalled: "Everything was absolutely ideal. ... The sky was blue. The birds were singing. And the bastards were finally going to get what was coming to them."
There's a lot more of that kind of thing in his rhetoric: "There's something about a good bomb. ... Night after night, day after day, each majestic scene I witnessed was so terrible and so unexpected that no city would ever again stand innocently fixed in my mind. Big buildings and wide streets, cement and steel were no longer permanent. They, too, were fragile and destructible. A torch, a bomb, a strong enough wind, and they, too, would come undone or get knocked down."
Mr. Ayers' earlier defense of his terrorist past had appeared, with perfect timing, in an interview in the New York Times published on the morning of September 11, 2001. The events of that day rather took the shine off his remarks. Or were those terrorists just practicing "symbolic acts of extreme vandalism," too?
Lest we forget, people were killed during the Weatherman's reign of terror, notably three Weathermen including Mr. Ayers' then-girlfriend, Diana Oughton. They blew themselves up accidentally in their Greenwich Village town house while preparing a bomb that had been intended for an Army dance at Fort Dix.
Just because terrorism is incompetent doesn't make it any the less terrorism. As a more honest Bill Ayers once admitted, that bomb could have done a lot more damage if it hadn't killed the terrorists themselves, "tearing through windows and walls and, yes, people, too." Instead, it tore through the terrorists. There is a raw justice in these matters.
But the greatest violence Bill Ayers has done, and continues to do, is to the language. He now presents a campaign of terror as just vandalism, and his old speeches as just a lot of posturing. ("Kill all the rich people. Break up their cars and apartments. Bring the revolution home, kill your parents, that's where it's really at.") Today, thanks to his remarkable forgettery, he can't even remember saying such things.
Bill Ayers may be willing to twist the simple meaning of words, but he can't seem to admit their power, and take responsibility for the effect his own might have had on impressionable young minds. Naturally he's now become a professor of "education" at the University of Illinois. If he couldn't destroy American society in his youth, maybe he can undermine the next generation in his advancing years.
It wouldn't be quite accurate to say Professor Ayers never made an appearance during the late presidential campaign. Fox News sent a camera crew to waylay him outside his nice home in Hyde Park. The newsmen found him wearing a shirt adorned with, of course, a big red star. And he did not welcome their attention. "This is my property," he told them, ordering them off the place. Then the old Weatherman and cop-baiter called ... the police.
The professor would seem to be all against vestiges of the old, oppressive capitalist order like private property unless of course it's his. His guiding philosophy isn't communism, it's hypocrisy. Bill Ayers' politics and maybe life can be summed up simply enough: He's the personification of the spoiled brat as ideologue.
Now that I've written this column, I almost regret it. If I hadn't spotted his self-righteous little act in the New York Times, I might have spared both you, Gentle Reader, and me this brief review of his miserable career. The man isn't worth wasting good time and words on. But attention must be paid, a record kept. So some future innocent won't take his type, and hype, seriously.