2008 Election, Anton Chekhov, Barack Obama, James M. Barrie, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Palin, Social Class, Social Commentary, The Elect, William Ayers
Sam Schulman, in the Weekly Standard, contemplates the crucial role of class solidarity in this year’s election, concluding that Sarah Palin (the Admirable Crichton of 2008), not Bill Ayers, is the real revolutionary.
A must read.
Mainstream Chicago regards Ayers as rehabilitated—but why? He hasn’t, like Chuck Colson, repented, or paid his debt to society by serving a prison term. He doesn’t even enjoy the prestige of a Clinton presidential pardon. Susan Rosenberg, a fellow Weatherman for whom Mrs. Ayers did go to jail rather than implicate in the execution murders of several cops, enjoys that distinction. What makes the Ayerses respectable is purely a matter of upper-middle-class solidarity. You can see the ranks close around them in the texture of Richard Stern’s elegant prose. Stern, a novelist and a long-serving University of Chicago English professor, reassures us: I’ve been to three or four small dinner parties with Ayers and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, once hailed as the Weather-men’s Dolores Ibárruri (“La Pasionaria”), a fiery, beautiful muse. . . . Dohrn is still attractive, while Ayers maintains an adolescent fizzle in his sexagenarian bones.
Carefully, Stern engages with the glamorous couple on equal terms, before judging them:
At dinner, thirty-eight years later, Ayers and Dohrn did not seem to hold [my criticism of the 1970 University of Chicago student uprising] against me, and I didn’t hold their fiery and criminally violent behavior against them. As in Chekhov’s wonderful story “Old Age,” time had planed down the sharp edges and brought one-time antagonists into each others’ arms.
As the Ayerses’ social equal, Stern can estimate them fairly.
As far as I know, Ayers and Dohrn are loyal to the selves which led both of them to jail (though not for long), but they were busy doing other things, useful things, Ayers as educator, Dohrn as a legal counselor. They’d raised the child of a Weatherman who’d been jailed, they were taking care of Bernardine’s ill mother, they were doing many things educated community activists were doing.
What the Ayerses now teach, think, and do hardly matters as long as they observe good form, the form of “educated community activists.” Stern wants us to hear a mellow Chekhovian tone in their lives (and his prose). Perhaps, but in his moral reasoning I hear Oscar Wilde’s Cecily Cardew, in The Importance of Being Earnest, observing that the Ayerses “have been eating muffins. That looks like repentance.”
Read the whole thing.