I, too, have been to Bill Ayers’ home. He has been to mine. I have known him 13 years. I have read his powerful prose, heard him speak in public and have had many private conversations with him over coffee. Am I somehow a different person because of this? I sincerely hope so. I am one of an incalculable number of Bill Ayers’ friends, associates, mentees and students who seek his company to be challenged, invigorated, sometimes irritated and often inspired.
I do not condone what Bill did 40 years ago. In fact, I find it impossible to defend.
I do celebrate who he is in his many dimensions, today.
This is what I know: When I spend time with Bill, I see our world as a flawed, fascinating and hopeful place that is rife with ironies and potential. Bill’s curiosity about the world and his abiding respect for its people is contagious. He speaks with passion and eloquence about the lives and futures of children in ways that remind us that this is the most important subject of our times. His belief in the capacities of all people is tenacious, and he has a gift for nurturing individuals’ strengths forward. He is unique in his ability to make lasting friends of strangers in a matter of moments.
I know all this, not from what I hear on talk radio or read in the papers. I know this from 13 years of first-hand experience that has remained unfailing over time.
Steve Chapman argues guilt by association, but if one happens to agree with that premise, perhaps we should expand and revise the argument. I suggest instead that we judge Barack Obama by arguing affirmation by association, with a far more convincing scenario. Look what Obama has done with a little help from his friends: He has put together a campaign that has been able to steer his candidacy from virtual obscurity 15 months ago to where it is today, along with $40 million in the coffers and thousands of new voters now excited about the political process. These people are surely better friends and acquaintances with him than is William Ayers, and they are talented, smart, disciplined and dedicated to his cause. I suggest we look to their organizational accomplishments when judging Obama’s character, judgment and leadership, rather than what Ayers did when Obama was 8.