It is difficult to believe that McCain and Palin are using the connection between Obama and William Ayers to assert that Obama "hangs around with terrorists." It's absurd to think that a passing connection to a political activist could concretely link Obama to events that took place when he was only eight years old. What's more, the rhetoric that Palin and McCain have generated about the connection between Ayers and Obama is an obvious attempt to politicize (and over simplify) a critical period of our history.
Like many of my generation, I was deeply affected by the Vietnam War, which erupted during my college years. At the time, most students were sincerely concerned about the war. Many were involved in the peace movement and acted on their beliefs in silent vigils on campuses and in front of National Guard facilities. When these measures went largely ignored by the government and college authorities, some of us took our frustrations and channeled them into political action.
This resulted in a tumultuous political atmosphere, the effects of which I often witnessed first-hand. I was a member of Eugene McCarthy's "children's crusade," campaigning and canvassing in primaries across the country. I was in Los Angeles when Robert Kennedy was murdered (just a few months after the assassination of Martin Luther King). In August 1968, from a hotel window in Chicago, I saw the Chicago Police and the Illinois National Guard indiscriminately bash the heads of protesters, convention delegates, and reporters.
After 1968, many of us withdrew from political activism, while others of us pursued a more radical course of action. The founders of the Weathermen were of the latter group, initiating violent protests in 1969. Anti-war activist like myself, who had always opted for non-violent protests, were angry at the actions of the Weathermen. Not only did we object to their violence, but we could see that they were alienating the rest of the population at a time when public opinion was beginning to swing against the war.
Ayers was one of those who chose a radical path. He co-founded the Weathermen and was involved in violent activities. He was arrested, but most of the charges against him were dropped due to prosecutorial misconduct. Such an event only further underscored what was already obvious to most Americans: that the 1960's were a turbulent time for our country.
Obama, however, was not actively involved in the turbulence of the 1960's. He was only eight years old in 1969. Obama's association with Ayers did not come until the early 1990's, when the two came in contact through an anti-poverty organization. To use this passing association between Obama and Ayers to assert that Obama "hangs around with terrorists" is not only absurd, its opportunistic. Such a maneuver capitalizes on the tumult of the 1960's, attempting to stir up old emotions associated with that era without concretely linking them to contemporary politics.
There were many casualties of the 1960's: soldiers who were drafted and didn't come back, people who fled the draft and left the country, and civilians and servicemen who never recovered from the psychological wounds of that era. To turn my generation's emotional connection to the 1960's into a political opportunity, to take advantage of this critical period of our history, is unconscionable. Palin and McCain's attempt to do exactly this is despicable, and dishonors both the veterans of that war and those who protested it.