We all know that one of the basic logical fallacies is “guilt by association.” I suppose on some level this “birds of a feather flock together” argument is persuasive. For example, if someone were married to a member of an organization that preached armed insurrection against America, that would be cause for concern.
But the current, pathetic attempt by McCain, Palin and the rabid pack of right wing attack dogs (Hannidy, Malkin, Limbaugh and all the other usual suspects) to link Obama to the “terrorist” Bill Ayres is simply laughable.
I mean that literally. I laughed out loud when I first heard the accusation. I laughed because I had a flash of recognition. I, too, knew Bill Ayres. I, too, have “paled around with a terrorist.”
Ayers is a noted academic who has written a number of well respected books on education. I have even used his book, “To Become a Teacher: Making a Difference in Children’s Lives,” as a supplementary text in classes I have taught. I have attended a number of conferences where he spoke or was a fellow attendee. I have met him, talked with him and, at the 2006 annual conference of the American Association of Educational Research in San Francisco, had lunch with him. Even though I am old enough to remember the “Weathermen,” I never on any of those occasions made the connection between Dr. Bill Ayers, educator, and Bill Ayers, the “terrorist.” So, for me at least, it makes no sense to naturally assume Obama knew of Ayers’ background when they served on a board together in Chicago.
But, the deeper issue in this whole sorry Obama smear is why it resonates with so many Americans. I think it does so because it reflects a moral code that has come to dominate the thinking of many of those on the right. It is a mindset that refuses to talk to, listen to, or negotiate with “the enemy.” It is a simplistic, black and white, good vs evil, morality that sees a world made up of “us” and “them.” This is a morality that refuses to believe “bad” people might change over time or ever engage in positive, constructive behavior. This is a mind set that identifies “evil empires” or nations that comprise an “axis of evil” and refuses to speak to them. It is a morality born in fear. If I talk to the “evil one,” I might be tempted to commit evil myself. I will be corrupted just by associating with the “other.” And, of course, it results in the bizarre spectacle of a Presidential debate where one candidate refers to his opponent as “that one” and refuses to look him in the eye.
I was unaware of Bill Ayres’ “terrorist” past when I met him or heard him speak. But, had I known and refused to read his book, hear him speak, or have a conversation with him, I would be the worse for it. When it comes to the subject of education, teaching and learning, I found him to be an inspirational writer and a thoughtful and insightful speaker. And, I am guessing, he had some valuable contributions to make while a member of the the Chicago Annenberg Challenge board. He was, after all, named the Chicago Citizen of the year in 1997.
Of course, none of this will convince the far right. They are even willing to “up the ante” and discount the “Citizen of the Year” award by declaring the entire city of Chicago evil and corrupt. They have already set that precedent by condemning New Orleans (shiftless African American wefare recipients) and San Francisco (home of gay pacifists), so it was an easy step to take. As McCain’s campaign becomes more and more desperate, the only American community guaranteed to be immune to the “guilt by association” charge will be Wasilla, Alaska.