The Corner

Re: Thomas Frank & Friends

Ramesh – to add to your post, I think Frank is just deceitful when he writes, “His 2001 memoir is shot through with regret, but it lacks the abject style our culture prefers.”

I haven’t read the book in a few years, and I only read big chunks of it when I did take a look at it. But I don’t recall it being shot through with regret about being wrong. To the extent its shot through with regret, it’s regret about not being more successful. Of course he laments the deaths of his friends, about tactical mistakes and the like, but there’s nothing like actual repentance in the book that I can recall. But since my memory is hazy and my judgment biased against radical leftwing domestic terrorists, I went and looked to see if reviewers agreed with Frank’s assessment. So far, I haven’t found anything like that. Here’s the very leftwing Michael Kazin writing in the American Prospect:

Meanwhile, the “free people” in the Weathermen group kept themselves busy perfecting a variety of crafts: blowing up federal restrooms, evading arrest, and writing turgid pamphlets praising themselves as the “vanguard” of the American left.  A jibe circulated through the movement they had left behind: “You don’t need a proctologist to know who the ass-holes are.” It is remarkable that someone with Ayers’s political talent and experience didn’t realize that he and his fellow subterraneans were just wasting their time — and risking their lives and those of others in the process.  Weatherpeople didn’t become coldhearted killers of government officials like their counterparts in Italy and Germany in the 1970s.  Perhaps the stark memory of JFK’s assassination held them back.

   The middle-aged memoirist seems to have scant regrets about his fugitive days.  “I didn’t know yet how domesticating and cruel and stupid ideology could become, or the inevitable dependency it would foster in all of us,” he writes, recalling the birth of Weathermen.  But then Ayers (who is now a professor of education at the state university in sweet home Chicago) goes on to celebrate the delusion that fueled his militant sect in the first place — the notion that “armed struggle” was a fitting, even noble response to the terror the United States was raining on Indochina: “Terrorists . . . kill innocent civilians, while we organized and agitated.  Terrorists destroy randomly, while our actions bore, we hoped, the precise stamp of a cut diamond.  Terrorists intimidate, while we aimed only to educate.” Life underground was full of thrills, but Weatherpeople educated and organized hardly anyone but themselves.

   Ayers retains some of the arrogance that plagues many a revolutionary stuck in a conservative land.  He sneers at the memory of Mayor Daley’s “white and fleshy” corpus and the blubbery girth of a racist co-worker, as if sleekness were a sign of political virtue.  And he still views middle-class Americans through the mirror of his childhood in the 1950s, an era most people experienced as prosperous and pleasurable.  “I remember everyone sleeping the deep American sleep, the sleep that still engulfs us and from which I worry we might not awake in time.” It’s hard to win over people whose lives and opinions fill you with contempt.

And, if Ayers is really so regretful why didn’t he market the book that way on his book tour? The famous New York Times profile of Ayers was headlined “No Regrets for a Love of Explosives.” Did the New York Times completely miss what Ayers was saying? He added (Via Ron Radosh’s must-read review of Fugitive Days.): “I don’t regret setting bombs. I feel we didn’t do enough.” When asked if he would do it again, he replied, “I don’t want to discount the possibility.” Or, as writes in the book: “I can’t imagine entirely dismissing the possibility.”

Sure doesn’t sound like a guy saddled with deep regrets.

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