Target Rich Environment: Professor Ayers at UMF
When Otto von Bismarck heard that a million Germans expected the millennial end of the world in the year 1900, he said in that case he would move to Mecklenburg. He figured everything happens 10 years later in Mecklenburg.
Maine is kind of like America’s Mecklenburg. Consider, bill-to-back baseball caps were mandatory adolescent chic in New Jersey by 2001, yet such adornments remain uncommon here still. Ten years ago Timothy Noah, a liberal columnist for Slate.com, wrote about “Radical Chic Resurgent” featuring William Ayers. Ten years later Distinguished Professor Ayers comes “resurging” up to the University of Maine in Farmington.
There are two important things to know about Distinguished Professor Ayers. First, he was one of the founders of the Weatherman Underground which issued a “Declaration of War against AmeriKKKa” in May 1970. Second, that Professor Billy is so darn cute he makes a kewpie doll look like the statute of Ozymandias the Grim.
William Ayers, described the Weatherman Underground as “an American Red Army,” and succinctly summed up its ideology as “Kill all the rich people. Break up their cars and apartments. Bring the revolution home, Kill your parents.” Professor Billy tells us he doesn’t remember saying anything like that and, if he did, he was just kidding around. How cute is that?
And here’s Bernadine Dohrn, now Mrs. Billy, talking about the Manson murders: "Dig it. First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them, then they even shoved a fork into a victim's stomach! Wild!" Now she tells us she was just making fun. Bernie and Billy, a cute couple.
Billy achieves the acme of cuteness in his memoirs when he explains the 12 bombs he detonated (or maybe didn’t) weren’t intended to hurt anybody. He just wanted to break windows and blow up toilet bowls. A cute non-violent bomber you see; sort of the Mahatma Ghandi of bombers. Sure, a girlfriend and two comrades blew themselves up preparing a shrapnel bomb for a dance at Fort Dix, but that had nothing to do with him.
Naturally I was expecting a flashy display of Cute when I attended his lecture at UMF. Its title was pretty darned cute: “Lesson One: I Would Sing. (Re)Framing Education for Democracy and Liberation” and the subject, “...the formation of public citizens; where students and teachers alike can find socially meaningful work to do...” looked promising.
Big disappointment. All the Dist. Prof.. had to offer was a drearily familiar string of educationalist banalities sparsely adorned with cutesy anecdotes about cutesy kiddies. I fled the scene before my pulse stopped and awoke the next morning from a nightmare about being back in the ranks attending a conference on student retention. You know you’re getting old when you have nightmares about being bored to death.
I’d been hoping to hear about the progress of scientific socialism, once so dear to the man’s heart, but heard socialism described as road-building. The 1970 Declaration of War spoke about guerrillas operating in a sea of alienated youth so I was expecting a discourse on revolutionary grade school kids. Instead I heard warmed-over Rousseau. One of the lecture’s sponsors was Peace Activists in Training so I looked forward to a philippic against American Imperialism. All he had to offer was some routine political interjections that you might hear from any moderately glib San Francisco Democrat.
Groucho Marx was right. History repeats itself three-fold, first as tragedy, second as farce, third as a bore. The chances that his rapt audience will remember a single thing he said by the weekend range from null to nil. The bomber bombed.