The son of four (count 'em) Weather Underground members tells his tale.
By Mark Hemingway
June 10, 2009
About halfway into Gringo: A Coming of Age in Latin America, young
writer Chesa Boudin's new memoir-cum-South-American-travelogue, he
describes his experience working for Hugo Chávez's Venezuelan
government. However, his friend and liaison in the Venezuelan
government was making things a bit awkward for him:
Marta had introduced me to her friends as "the son of political
prisoners in the United States." I wasn't entirely comfortable being
introduced this way; certainly it wouldn't have been one of the first
things I told someone about myself. In hindsight, however, I realize
that Marta's approach made sense given the context.
Political prisoners? Boudin's parents, Kathy Boudin and David
Gilbert, were Weather Underground members who participated in the
robbery of a Brinks truck with the Black Liberation Army, a militant
Marxist Black Panther offshoot. The robbery resulted in the deaths of
a security guard and two police officers. Kathy Boudin served 17
years in jail for the crime; Gilbert remains in jail and unrepentant.
In order to understand Boudin's views, perhaps it would also help to
know about his other parents. Because Kathy and David were in jail,
he was raised by their comrades-in-arms in the Weather Underground,
Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn.
Indeed, Boudin's four parents are probably the only reason anyone
would care about his thoroughly underwhelming book and why an
otherwise unremarkable academic has been profiled by the New York
Times and managed to date Natalie Portman.
Now, you might recall, there was a good deal of controversy about
President Obama's long association with Ayers. While pretty much
everyone condemns Ayers's terrorist actions as a member of the
Weather Underground, there is some disagreement as to how repentant
Ayers himself is, and as to whether he was reformed by the time Obama
was working closely with him.
For what it's worth, if Gringo is anything to go by, Ayers managed to
raise a boy who is thoroughly anti-American and prone to bizarre
justifications for the use of violence (or at least, for the use of
violence in the service of left-wing causes). These justifications
start with his parents "certainly violence is illegitimate when it
targets civilians or intends to cause generalized or widespread fear,
but my parents never did either of those" and permeate his entire worldview.
As it happens, Boudin is studying abroad in Santiago, Chile, on Sept.
11, 2001. September 11 is also the anniversary of Pinochet's coup in
that country, a coincidence that Boudin flogs for all its meaningless
significance by recounting the vehement, anti-imperialist,
blame-America tirade one of his Chilean professors used to mark the
occasion. Of course, even on this day, Boudin recalls his shame at
Boudin observes that Pinochet is responsible for the deaths of over
3,000 political opponents. Pinochet is certainly guilty of any number
of atrocities that should not be excused. (Indeed, Boudin's left-wing
professor narrowly escaped death at the hands of Pinochet's regime.)
But Boudin refuses to disentangle these crimes from the policies that
American economists promoted in Chile, and when he writes of
left-wing regimes, he fails to mention that they've committed similar
(and worse) atrocities.
Boudin observes, "My guilt by association with the government of my
country seemed all the more intense because of the way [Professor]
Vitale narrated the history, making explicit the connection between
the United States government and Pinochet. Was the eagle on the crest
of my navy blue passport the same one crushing peasants in its
talons?" Boudin's professor explains that Pinochet's regime was awful
not just for its torture and killings, but because Pinochet "quickly
rewrote the constitution and dismantled the socialist economic
policies of his predecessor. There was no more free milk in schools
or subsidies for bread."
First of all, describing Allende's economic policies in such
favorable terms is a bit rich. One of the conditions that fomented
Pinochet's coup was that Allende's feeble attempts at centralized
economic planning had resulted in widespread food shortages.
But more important, it was Pinochet's economic policies, enacted
under the guidance of U.S. economists, that solved this problem and
helped to rebuild the country's infrastructure and economy after
Allende basically destroyed them. And yet, Boudin is ashamed by his
professor's singling him out as a "Chicago Boy." Boudin is from
Chicago, and "Chicago Boys" is the nickname for Milton Friedman and
the other University of Chicago economists who turned Chile's economy around.
Just a few pages earlier, Boudin himself praised the country's
transportation infrastructure: "It was only matter of weeks before I
learned to appreciate the country's travel infrastructure and public
transportation system." Who does he think created this infrastructure?
Meanwhile, Boudin all but brags about his grandfather's work as a
lawyer for Castro's regime, and about how respected his
Marxist-theorist uncle is in Cuba. (Boudin is also the great-nephew
of left-wing journalist and Soviet spy I. F. Stone he's red-diaper
royalty.) Has Boudin ever thought about the fact that Castro's body
count dwarfs Pinochet's? Or that Castro has impoverished a
once-prosperous country for half a century?
But the book's hardest-to-understand sin is that Boudin whitewashes
his own experience, purporting to tell how the other half lives.
Boudin sometimes admits the facts of his life in Venezuela working
in Hugo Chávez's presidential palace, where he helps organize
conferences for the country's distinguished visitors, such as former
congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and actor Danny Glover. But elsewhere
he's under the impression he's living "in solidarity with the working class."
And according to Boudin, it's too bad that members of the working
class don't seem to know how good they have it. When he first arrives
in Guatemala as a teenager, Boudin observes with regret that "many in
the town aspired to a consumer lifestyle like the ones they saw on
television." No one who says such a thing disdainfully has logged
many hours washing his clothes on a rock, or spent his life eating
meat once a week because he can't afford more.
Boudin also does a great deal of thumbsucking about the other
"contradictions" in his life: "Life's incongruities were not merely
between theory and practice. Much of the left-wing politics took
root, despite the exclusive networks and institutions, because
prisons can be a great equalizer." Hate to break it to Boudin, but
it's obvious to anyone who's set foot on an Ivy League campus in the
last 50 years that left-wing politics result from time in elite
institutions; they don't occur in spite of it.
Boudin's book is, frankly, terrible a fact that even liberal
publications such as the New York Times have admitted, to their
credit. It illuminates the contemporary thinking in Bill Ayers and
Bernadine Dohrn's household. And the overall interest in Chesa Boudin
serves as a depressing reminder that far-left politics, no matter how
discredited and repugnant, continue to be romanticized rather than condemned.
Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.