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.
A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France.