Tuesday 18 November 2008
by: Steve Weissman, t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Leave it to Rush Limbaugh. We have just elected as our president an
African-American, who would not have been able to vote in large parts
of our country less than 50 years ago, and we have proved to
ourselves and to the world that we remain a land of enormous
opportunity. Yet, the country's best-known radio talk-show host
wasted no time using our airwaves to attack the president-elect for
preaching "racism" and "socialism," and for creating our current
economic collapse by scaring off potential investors who fear higher
taxes. "The Obama recession is in full swing, ladies and gentlemen,"
Limbaugh proclaimed only two days after the election. "Stocks are
dying, which is a precursor of things to come. This is an Obama
recession. Might turn into a depression."
Limbaugh went on to call Obama "a Chicago thug," and suggested
that the incoming president would take advice, or even direction,
from the 1960s radical Bill Ayers, a founder of the Weather
Underground and the "terrorist" bogeyman that John McCain and Sarah
Palin accused Obama of "palling around" with. "Bill Ayers is a silent
adviser," warned Limbaugh. "Don't think he's not."
Many Democrats will dismiss Limbaugh as a voice of the past, who
is simply trying to boost his audience ratings. But that's just the
point. For all his noxious rhetoric, the motor mouth from Missouri
knows precisely the kind of red meat his listeners crave, and he's
happy to serve it up - just as right-wing broadcasters did against
John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., with results we
know too well. Pray for an era of Kumbaya, if you will. My bet is
that Limbaugh is only an opening wedge for the anti-Obama war still
to come. To paraphrase an earlier column, welcome to the counterrevolution.
As for my friend from the 1960s, Bill Ayers has been anything
but "a silent adviser." Many of you read his fascinating essay here
at Truthout or saw his appearance on "Good Morning America," where he
talked up a new edition of his political memoir, "Fugitive Days," and
tried to set the record straight on just how minimal a relationship
he had with our new president. "I knew Barack Obama, absolutely,"
said Ayers. "And I knew him probably as well as thousands of other
Chicagoans, and like millions and millions of other people worldwide,
I wish I knew him better right now."
Ayers explained that he had hosted one of maybe 20
meet-the-candidate gatherings when Obama first ran for the Illinois
state Senate in 1996, but he did so at the request of a sitting
senator and had not met Obama before. Bill characterized their
subsequent association as "professional," having served together on a
foundation board and school reform group. And why not? Bill is, after
all, a distinguished professor of education at the Chicago campus of
the University of Illinois and was named the city's "Citizen of the
Year" in 1996 for his efforts to improve Chicago schools.
But wasn't Ayers being evasive, asked "Good Morning America's"
host Chris Cuomo, echoing John McCain. "You have to come clean,"
Cuomo insisted. "You have to say ... either Barack Obama sought me
out or I sought him out to discuss my ideas, my radical ideas."
"It's not at all true that he sought me out to listen to my
radical ideas, or that I sought him out," Ayers replied. "The truth
is, we came together in Chicago in a civic community around issues of
school improvement, around issues of fighting for the rights of poor
neighborhoods to have jobs and housing and so on.... So this idea
that we need to know more, like there's some dark hidden secret, some
secret link, is just a myth, and it's a myth thrown up by people that
wanted to exploit the politics of fear."
Bill told a simple truth, that he and Obama had never palled
around and never discussed anything very radical at all. But truth
alone will never derail the fear-mongering that the right wing in
America has always used to divide people. Read any good history of
the labor movement, the inter-racial alliance of poor black and white
farmers in the South in the 1880s, the Red Scare following World War
I, the campaign for universal health care in the 1940s or the
movements for civil rights and against the war in Vietnam in the
1960s. In all of these, the difference between success and failure
for reform movements was often how well they learned to combat the
race-baiting, red-baiting or other smear tactics used against them,
often from within their own ranks.
Nor are right-wing bigots the only ones who have stooped to
demonize their opponents. Long before John McCain tried to smear
Obama with Bill Ayers, no less than Hillary Clinton cast the first
stone, helped mightily in one of the primary debates by ABC's George
Stephanopoulos and Charley Gibson. Happily, the voters saw the smear
tactics for what they were. But, as Rush Limbaugh and the
stone-throwing Sarah Palin remind us, we are a long way from putting
such divisive nonsense behind us.
A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left
monthly Ramparts, <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>Steve Weissman
lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and
television producer. He now lives and works in France.