Saturday, December 6, 2008

Silence is golden better than a kick in the groin

So William Ayers finally talks in the NYT. It seems he thinks all the attention to him in the election and breathless descriptions of him as a terrorist were dumb and overblown because he tried not to kill any actual people. To be fair to him, he's completely right, but don't expect the right wing noise machine to start being fair to anyone any time soon if they think there are points to be scored.

The real debate, of course, comes over his assertion that he didn't try to say any of this in the actual election because he didn't think it would make any difference in the sound bite culture. Would it have? I don't know, possibly not. Obama wasn't in a position to say "but he just damaged some property, he didn't try to kill anybody, that's stupid but it's not terrorism, there's no intent to cause terror," because it would have completely ceded the grounds of the debate. Instead of talking about all the policy issues he was winning on, or even how he had no connection whatsoever to the acts in question, he would have been bogged into a debate about whether the acts officially crossed the line into terrorism, which a) sounds like he's being an apologist for them, which b) makes it sounds like he doesn't think they were actually so bad, and maybe even like he kinda agreed with them. Obama had to avoid this ground like the political plague it was. But would it have raised these same problems if Ayers himself had published this same column 2 months ago?

Probably. If swing voters would have read this article (or heard some bastardized sound bite of it) and gone "oh, he wasn't killing any real people, that's obviously not terrorism, why are you still going on about it then?" that would be one thing. But if his acts fill an ethical gray zone in the minds of politically moderate Americans then it would have framed the issue as "was Obama's guy a terrorist or just a criminal," which is way worse than the more realistic framing of "hey, Obama barely knew this guy, and guilt by association is a skeezy strategy anyway." So, I'm thinking, on balance Ayers did the right thing.

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