More on guilt by association

Yesterday, I write a long post opining that the attacks against Obama because his friends would automatically trigger in liberals an urge to analogize the situation to the 1950s anti-Communist hearings, which would, of course, raise the “guilt by association” mantra. I also explained why, in Obama’s case, guilt by association is an appropriate charge. First, because the icky people at issue (Wright, Ayers, Dohrn, Rezko) aren’t just ships that pass in the night but are, in fact, long-time acquaintances whom Obama actively courted; and, second, because even if he didn’t seek them out, moderate voters still need to scrutinize closely a candidate who attracts every wacko, anti-American, terrorist nut who is crawling out of the political woodwork.

At the time I wrote the post, I hadn’t actually seen anyone use the phrase “guilt by association.” I was simply paying attention to the MSM’s upset regarding the debate and their horror that Gibson and Stephanopoulos would tacky enough to question Obama about his associates. The media, terrified that Obama might be shown in a bad light, felt it was singularly unfair to ask Obama why he was so comfortable hanging with America haters. The fact that voters might also find that an interesting question didn’t seem to occur to Obama’s media fans.

A perfect example of this showed up in yesterday’s mail, when I received The New Yorker magazine, which had a post-election analysis that is emblematic of the media’s outrage. Hendrik Hertzberg is the lead political commentator for that magazine, so he got pride of place in The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” section. Hertzberg’s writing drips with outrage that Gibson and Stephanopoulos, rather than encouraging Obama to challenge George Bush (whom Hertzberg seems to have forgotten is not running this year), actually asked Obama about his spiritual, intellectual and social buddies. Hertzberg doesn’t explain why this was such an outrage; he just assumes his readers will know — and, since they’re mostly fellow Lefties, I guess they will. You can see what I mean in this passage:

If Gibson and his partner, George Stephanopoulos, had halted their descent at the level of the fatuous, that would have been bad enough. But there was worse to come. In the seven weeks since the previous Clinton-Obama debate, the death toll of American troops in Iraq had reached four thousand; the President had admitted that his “national-security team,” including the Vice-President, had met regularly in the White House to approve the torture of prisoners; house repossessions topped fifty thousand per month and unemployment topped five per cent; and the poll-measured proportion of Americans who believe that “things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track” hit eighty-one per cent, a record. [At this point, I was mumbling to myself, “Ah, Hendrik. It’s not 2004. This election isn’t about George Bush. You’re a Progressive. Look forward.] Yet for most of the next hour Gibson and Stephanopoulos limited their questioning to the following topics: Obama’s April 6th remark about “bitter” small-towners [something that needed to be addressed considering the firestorm that remark created]; whether each candidate thinks the other can win [He’s right; that’s a stupid question]; the Obama family’s ex-pastor, Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. [I love Hertzberg’s neutral language: it’s just Obama’s “ex-pastor.” That phrase really fails to describe a 20 year relationship that Obama cultivated, and about which he boasted, until people learned a little more about that ex-pastor]; Clinton’s tale of sniper fire in Bosnia [Considering voter’s sense that Clinton is a liar, and always has been, this question was definitely appropriate]; Obama’s failure to wear a flag lapel pin [I’ve never connected with this issue, but Obama has been popping that pin on and off as fast as the weather changes]; and Obama’s acquaintance with a college professor in his Chicago neighborhood who, while Obama was in grade school, was a member of the Weather Underground. [Aha! There’s the really sneaky one. There’s the “guilt by association” thing. Poor Obama. This Ayers guy made some bad friends in the 1960s, but why should Obama suffer? It’s perfect sleight of hand, hiding the fact that Ayers blew up buildings, attempted to murder people, aided murders, and is utterly unrepentant.]

Although Hertzberg mere implies the guilt by association argument in the above riff, I wasn’t at all surprised to discover that in his actual blog he develops it at length. (As to my predictive abilities, I know how liberals think; I just no longer believe in how they think). Indeed, Hertzberg even used the same format that I predicted, which is to refer to the 1950s hearings as the starting point for the political horror now being visited on the innocent Obama:

McCarthyism is a term rarely heard since the Cold War ended, but, like “red-baiting,” it used to get tossed around on the left entirely too loosely during the nineteen-sixties and seventies. There were those who failed to understand that it’s not red-baiting to point out that a person is a Communist—if that person really is a Communist. McCarthyism is a little more complicated. It wasn’t McCarthyism to deny a government worker who was a member of the Communist Party access to classified materials. It wasn’t McCarthyism for the A.C.L.U. to bar Communists from membership. It wasn’t McCarthyism to fire a person from a public-school teaching job for being a Communist if that person was using his or her position to propagandize to students. Similarly, it wasn’t McCarthyism to call somebody a “Communist sympathizer” if that somebody sympathized with the salient features of Communism, such as one-party rule, totalitarian repression of alternative opinions, the abolition of civil liberties, and murderous gulags. But it was, and is, McCarthyism to try to comprehensively ruin a person’s life solely because that person was once a Communist (or a Fascist, or a racist, or a radical Islamist)—or even if that person is still a whatever-ist but doesn’t actually do anything about it.

The central feature of McCarthyism, however, was accusing people of being Communists or Communist sympathizers who were not, in fact, either. And one of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s favorite evidentiary techniques for carrying out this particular form of character assassination was “guilt by association.”

Guilt by association is another tricky term. The Communist Party is an association, and being a member of that association does indeed makes you guilty of being a Communist. A garden club is also an association. But being in a garden club with a Communist doesn’t make you a Communist. And being in a garden club with an ex-Communist doesn’t even make you an ex-Communist.

Hertzberg, of course, brings self-righteous heat to his discussion, above, and he’s a very good writer, but it is precisely the argument I envisioned liberals making. He then goes on the explain that Ayers isn’t really a bad guy at all, complete with a numbered list, which I’m happy to fisk:

1. Ayers and his wife, Bernadine Dohrn, were prominent members of the Weather Underground nearly forty years ago, when Barack Obama was a child. They are now, respectively, a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an associate professor of law at Northwestern. [Hertzberg operates in a world where, if you’re a professor, you must be a good guy. In fact, as Sol Stern points out in a much quoted City Journal article, Ayer’s professorial status, coupled with his unchanging political views, does not make him just a harmless old hippie. Instead, it makes him a toxic political activist, whose beliefs have far reaching consequences.] They long ago abandoned the political ideas they supported in their youth, which speaks well for them, but they never acknowledged that those ideas were mindless and vicious, which does not. [This is completely untrue. As both the Sol Stern article and audio clips from Ayers and his wife, Bernadine Dohrn, establish, they are as committed to the revolution as they ever were, with their only regret being that they hadn’t gone further and been more successful.] They live in the same Chicago neighborhood as Obama.

2. When Obama first ran for state senator, in 1995, the incumbent he hoped to replace introduced him to Ayers and Dohrn at a social gathering in their home. Ayers later donated two hundred dollars to his campaign fund. [As I asked in my original post, what it is about Obama that attracts terrorists, including Hamas, and America haters. Even if Obama doesn’t seek them out, Americans should be allowed to understand why they seek him out.]

3. For three years, ending in 2002, Ayers and Obama were both on the board of the Woods Fund of Chicago, a local foundation that gives grants to anti-poverty and arts programs. Ayers is still on the board, which currently has nine members, mostly bankers, lawyers, academics, and businesspeople. [It’s hard to believe that Obama had not figured out by this time who Ayers was. Clearly, either because he’s a doormat, or because he’s utterly unprincipled, or because he agrees with Ayers agenda, Obama was happy to continue in an association with someone who tried then to blow up America and who continues to advocate it now. (And see this Hugh Hewitt column on Obama’s passivity in this regard.) No matter which excuse one offers on Obama’s behalf, he does not come across as Presidential material. Well, maybe President of an anti-American, Marxist, banana republic, but not President of the United States of America.]

4. There is absolutely no evidence that Obama ever sympathized with the politics of the Weather Underground, and there is overwhelming evidence (read his books) that he didn’t and doesn’t. [Well, as to that, we differ, Mr. Hertzberg. Obama has surrounded himself by people who hate America. Brush aside his “hope” and “anti-cynicism” waffling, and you get a man who does, in fact, believe that America is unfair and that its most powerful citizens, whether rich or poor, are racist, gun-crazed, homophobic, xenophobic, money-mad, imperialists. Given this viewpoint, if he loves his country, he’s an idiot; and if he things these problems are legitimate and need to be overturned, he’s pretty much in the same bed as Mr. Ayers politically, isn’t he?]

I find amusing the fact that the most recent spin on Obama’s dismal showing in Pennsylvania is that Americans are racists, which is a profoundly insulting, knee-jerk analysis from the Left. It’s not that Americans are racists, it’s that they’re not fools. Obama is the ultimate oreo, that black pejorative term for a person who has dark skin but who is, on the inside, white through and through. He was raised in a white home, he went to an expensive boarding school, he went to Ivy League undergraduate and law schools, his speech and presentation are those of a white person. There is nothing black about Obama except for his forced, politically oriented self-identification as a black man. His skin color is the least of it, not the most of it.

Actually, Obama isn’t really an oreo — black on the outside, white on the inside. His real color isn’t white, it’s Red. A look at his history hints at an internal political world that goes far beyond mere guilt by association, much as Hertzberg wishes it would just stop there.

Obama isn’t being tarred and feathered for waving at his goofy ex-hippie neighbor in the driveway, or for sleeping through 20 years of boring sermons by his loony, but loving preacher. (And you can just see the sitcom Hertzberg is pretending this whole kerfuffle really is, can’t you?) Obama is a committed Leftist, from his reliance on his father’s political views, to his twenty year mentorship at the feet of a radical, black power preacher (whose politics and religious views are themselves 1960s’ offshoots of Leftism), to his political alliance with a radical Marxist who to this day continues to espouse the same radical views.

They seek him out; he seeks them out. This isn’t guilt by association. This is guilt on its own terms.

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  • Scott in SF

    I feel like you are crossing a line here. The term “Oreo” is used pejoratively to impose conformity on black people. The American ethic demands that we respect the rights of all people to choose and discover through experiment, their own cultural and behavioral affinities. We do not have to respect those affinities, especially if they are idiotic or sadistic, but I’m repulsed by the use of a word which degrades the quest for authenticity itself.

  • Bookworm

    It is a pejorative word, Scott, but it’s an interesting pejorative, because it insults people for engaging in civilized and civilizing behavior. For that reason, I’ve always had a huge problem with it. Thus, the term is used by people who have mired themselves in the pathologies afflicting black culture and resent those who haven’t. (As opposed to being used by people who embrace the fact that they have a black heritage, against those who try to pretend that they’re not black at all. As you may recall, in Jim Crow days, people would try to “pass” by claiming that they were, in fact, white.)

    An oreo, then, is a black person who rejects Ebonics and who rejects the ghetto culture, and who strives to enter mainstream America — to become educated, capable of speaking traditional English, and refusing to engage in the guns, rap, ‘ho, drug culture that is dragging down black America. In that way, it’s entirely distinct from a typical pejorative that sees an outsider trying to “lower” other people. This therefore is that bizarre pejorative that sees a group tries to control its own and prevent them from breaking free. From my point of view, it’s definitely not an insult, and those in the black community who see it as an insult are dragging themselves and their fellows downward.

  • Gringo

    I sympathized with SDS way back when, but left before bombing became the agenda. In my year as a hippie dropout in Berkeley, the dogmatism and “purity” of much of the far left turned me off. Arrogant dogmatic types like Ayers turned me off 4 decades ago. Ayers hasn’t changed.
    Re Ayers: Having been a leftist 40 years ago isn’t the issue It is the fact that Ayers and his mate are unrepentant. One would hope that in 40 years Ayers and mate would have learned something, and exhibited more than just overweening arrogance. Ayes has upper-class arrogance while denying his roots. Ayer’s father “worked for” Com Ed, according to Ayers’ book, but in fact his father headed the organization!
    While a rising politician such as Obama associates with many different kinds, sleazes such as Rezko, crackpots such as Wright, and sectarians such as Ayers have ties with Obama that are too close for comfort. When people like these are Obama’s associates, what does that say about Obama?



    Does “Lie down with dogs, get up with the fleas” help answer the question.

    All of us have chosen friends that have not best served our interests in life, but when one makes it a habit..I’d say that person has some very bad personal habits or a penchant for picking loonies. In either case, if these are the people he chooses for friends or associates, who would he choose to head his cabinet.

  • Mike Devx

    Karl Rove has written an article that summarizes perfectly the case against Obama. If the numbers of people grow who nod in agreement at every paragraph that he wrote, Obama will be in real trouble. He’s got to retool his message immediately, but he won’t.

    One of the most damning concepts in the Rove article is in comparing the ‘Fierce Urgency Of Now’ with Obama’s lack of substantive legislative effort in the Senate. If there is such a fierce urgency, then where has he been for the last three years? If the house is burning, you don’t run for fire chief… you do everything in your power NOW to put out the fire. But he’s been remarkably listless for three years in the Senate. The perception grows that he is a far-leftist totally surrounded by far-leftists. He can’t even unite the Democrat Party; how is he possibly going to unite America?

    It looks as though May is going to be a VERY interesting political month. And possibly once the primaries are done, then the June battle for superdelegates could be even more interesting than that! Given the weakness of the national Democrat party, this fight could go into July and even August… I can’t imagine them allowing that, but weakness has a way of allowing the most destructive of events to simply occur.

  • Mike Devx

    Apologies, the Rove Article: “Is Obama Ready For Prime Time?” is: