Carl Bernstein has a long post up over at the Huffington Post. The first thing worth commenting on is Bernstein’s hilariously odd picture. As best I can tell, it’s a boudoir portrait for the Sexiest Men of the Buena Vista Retirement Community Calendar, but it’s cropped so you just see Mr. October’s head.
More relevant is the fact that Bernstein illuminates an under-discussed fact of the campaign. Hillary Clinton’s ties to 1960s radicals are far more serious than Barack Obama’s (no news to readers of my book). Yes, Obama knows William Ayers, and I for one think that’s not insignificant. But Hillary’s history with the radical left is much more profound. Bernstein is absolutely right to criticize the Clinton campaign’s hypocrisy for attacking Obama about Ayers, while airbrushing her own past. But Bernstein also wants to make the case that Clinton’s ties are entirely irrelevant too. His case in this regard rests almost entirely on assertion. It’s just not a big deal because I say so.
The one attempt he makes to draw a meaningful distinction between 60s radicals and Hillary is that she rejects their faith in revolutionary violence. Okay. Fair enough and bully for her.
But does that mean that so long as you reject radical violence in favor of “working through the system” your roots in sixties radicalism are completely irrelevant? I think many liberals would agree with Bernstein and answer, “Yes.”
This is of a piece with establishment liberalism’s general approach to 60s radicals like the Weathermen and the Black Panthers. They ritualistically deplore their tactics, but they quickly start spouting sympathy for their goals, even their idealism. We’re told that the only real sin of these would-be revolutionaries was that they “cared too much.” This was certainly the attitude of many Great Society liberals in the 1960s and I think its the attitude of countless liberal sixties-nostalgists today. But surely it says something about your views about America and politics in general if your only serious difference with Marxist radicals is one of means rather than ends. Do I think Obama’s relationship with Ayers disqualifies him for the presidency? Of course not. Do I think it says something about the milieu he emerged from? Yes I do. Likewise, I don’t think Hillary’s affinity for the Black Panthers nor her work at the most “important radical law firm of the day” (Bernstein’s words) should disqualify her from public office. But I think Bernstein & Co.’s attempt to make any consideration of these facts into “McCarthyite” guilt-by-association is undiluted hogwash.
Sixties radicals weren’t just tactically misguided, their aims were wrong too. Of course not all of them. They were right about racial equality. They were out of their gourds about much else.
And, while it’s not a new point, it should be noted once again, that this is hardly a standard liberals apply to conservatives. Republican politicians who have tenuous unsavory relationships and associations with various confederate, racist or otherwise “extremist” groups do not endorse violence either, and yet liberals routinely find such associations relevant. Heck, Bill Clinton tried to blame the Oklahoma City bombing on Rush Limbaugh & Co., that was real McCarthyite guilt-by-association.