Sunday, 19 October 2008 19:00 GFP Columnist - Jack Random

ImageOnce all the votes are cast and counted, it will be time to call a heart a heart and a spade a spade. When the scurrilous charges of guilt by association and character assassination lose the sting of a coming election, we will be able to assess the nature of this presidential campaign in a more objective light.

Perhaps then we will hear from Professor William Ayers. Until the election is over, however, silence is wisdom. By virtue of his participation in the political process, his associations with prominent Chicago politicians of all parties, he has been so vilified by the Republican right that anything he could say in the current climate would be twisted and distorted to dangerous proportions.

In the final stages of a desperate campaign with no other design than to distract the electorate from the most critical issues in modern history, the Rovian Republican machine has resorted to tactics that recall some of the most shameful chapters in American history.

It recalls the Alien and Sedition Acts signed into law in 1798 by President John Adams, which attempted to criminalize dissent and label his political opponents traitors to the nation. Three of four acts were repealed by succeeding President Thomas Jefferson in a critical re-affirmation of the principles of democratic governance.

It recalls the era of Jim Crow in the post-reconstruction South in which African Americans were systematically denied the right to vote by poll taxes, literacy tests, residency requirements, threats, lynching and every conceivable form of intimidation.

Most of all it recalls the era of Joe McCarthy, the Republican Senator from Wisconsin, and the great Red Scare of the 1950’s in which citizens from every strata and facet of American life were subjected to loyalty oaths and labeled traitors to the nation for having the audacity to express dissenting views, for attending meetings or associating with the wrong crowd. Then the communists and socialists were the bogeyman, now it is the radicals and terrorists. Both then and now, it is the rightwing definition of Anti-American opinions and sentiments.

To those who naïvely thought we had reached something resembling universal condemnation of those disgraceful chapters, think again.

As one who was tempted to believe that America had grown sufficiently as a nation that we need not fear a return to the age of official intolerance and blacklisting on the basis of political or religious beliefs, it was with profound shock and awe that I witnessed an obscure congresswoman from Minnesota (the Honorable Michele Bachmann) call for a media-led investigation into the anti-American sentiments of members of congress.

Could it be that a representative in congress is so unaware of her nation’s history that she could invoke the House Un-American Activities Committee without even knowing it?

In the event that the worst happens, that the politics of fear and smear prevail, and we enter a new age of McCarthyism, let me state clearly: I am not now nor have I ever been a terrorist. Not enough? I am not now nor have I ever been an enemy of the nation. Still not enough?

I cannot in good conscience give you the lies that I believe you would require to certify my loyalty and patriotism though I consider myself both loyal and patriotic.

Does advocacy for Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Jean Bertrand Aristide of Haiti or Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of Spain cast doubt? Does opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq place me under a cloud of suspicion? If I stood against the USA Patriot Act, will I fail the test of loyalty? Who is to judge?

My political beliefs and ideology were inspired by individuals who were without question dissidents and rebels dedicated to overthrowing the government. Their names were Jefferson, Paine and Franklin.

There have been occasions in my life when I considered the actions of my own government, from the carpet bombing in Vietnam to the killing of student protestors at Jackson and Kent State universities, nothing less than state sanctioned terrorism, yet there were moments (the withdrawal of Lyndon Johnson from the 1968 presidential race and the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974) when I may have felt a twinge of empathy.

Even George W. Bush, as his administration unleashed aggressive wars against innocent peoples, unraveled the fabric of the constitution, undermined the electoral process and preached the politics of fear and intolerance without shame, has at times appeared a sympathetic character unable to comprehend the depths of the horrors and betrayals delivered under his authority.

By my own reckoning, should I be held accountable for sympathy with criminals and terrorists and betrayers of the American ideal?

I am an American and I claim the right to adopt any belief or system of beliefs that I choose so long as I do not infringe on the rights of others.

I do not advocate violent protest but there are times in history when violent resistance to unjust authorities was either understandable or necessary or both. Fundamentally, I believe that all Americans retain the right embodied in the second amendment to overthrow an unjust and tyrannical government.

By this account, though it pales by comparison to Jefferson’s, should I be considered a dangerous radical? Should I be censured, censored, my voice stricken from the public forum? Should every individual with whom I have associated be held accountable for my beliefs?

While I respect their sense of duty, their sacrifice and courage, I do not believe that the soldiers currently engaged in Bush’s wars are fighting to defend or uphold my rights. In fact the current wars have been used in a concerted effort to diminish my rights.

Does that make me un-American?

As an American I claim the right to attend any gathering and form any associations that I choose. I believe that anyone who asserts that I should be held accountable for every statement or belief expressed by my associates is attempting to deny my fundamental freedom.

I do not know Professor William Ayers but I do know there is no expression of remorse or rationalization that could alleviate the irrational fervor of his detractors in the current political climate. For myself, given the opportunity, I would not hesitate to attend one of his lectures or engage him in conversation concerning the state of affairs in America today.

Agree or disagree, Bill Ayers is an American too. Anyone who would denigrate him for his beliefs or impugn the character of his associates is fighting against the tide of democratic freedom.

The first amendment was not adopted to protect popular mainstream opinions. Such expressions require no protection. It was adopted to protect dissent. When dissent is suppressed by cheap political mudslinging campaigns it impoverishes our discourse and weakens our hold on the American democratic ideal.

Of course, even the expression of anti-democratic ideas is protected free speech. I would no more deny the right of a campaign to engage in the politics of smear than I would my own right to object.

The proper response of all loyal and responsible Americans, however, is to turn it on its head.

William Ayers is no more of a legitimate issue in this election than Joe the Plumber.

Image Courtesy of WikiPedia

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You are here:   The FrontPageColumnistsUnited StatesJack RandomIn Defense of William Ayers: Dissent and Freedom of Expression