Nathan: For politicans, it’s guilt by association

Yesterday morning, professor Douglas Rae finished his lecture on race and the city early in order to introduce a guest who would speak for the closing 10 minutes of our “New Haven and the American City” class. The guest had worked for an organization discussed in class: former Mayor Richard Lee’s Community Progress, Inc. He has been a model community worker for most of his life — he was, as a member of the Black Panther Party; then he shot fellow Panther Alex Rackley, was tried in the famous 1970 Black Panther trial and was sent to prison.

I wasn’t sure whether to clap as Warren Kimbro stepped up to the podium in LC 102. Until time ran out, he spoke on the role of the community in city redevelopment, his time working for Community Progress, Inc. and his work over the past 25 years as CEO of Project MORE, a re-entry program for released prisoners.

As I listened to Kimbro speak, I kept thinking of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s remarks over the past few days.

In speeches Saturday and Monday, she spoke of presidential candidate Barack Obama’s “paling around” with “a former domestic terrorist who targeted his own country” as evidence that Obama was untrustworthy and dangerous for Amercia. She was referring to Bill Ayers, a member of the now-dissolved Weather Underground, which, in the 1970s, set off bombs in public spaces and on government property to protest the Vietnam War.

Both Ayers and Kimbro, then, are men who have committed crimes associated with and sanctioned by radical organizations. In fact, Kimbro could be painted as the worse of the two. Except for the time it accidentally blew up its own headquarters, the Weather Underground has never taken responsibility for or been proven to be behind any bombing that took human life. Kimbro, by contrast, has admitted to murdering another man.

But there is more to the story. Both Ayers and Kimbro would go on to careers in public service. Kimbro worked as a drug counselor and began his college education while still in prison, was released on parole after four years, completed a graduate degree in education at Harvard and has been running Project MORE since 1983.

If I listen to my politicians, I learn that heeding (let alone working with) a man such as Kimbro makes me unfit for public responsibility — I, too, could be a radical criminal. According to Palin, I shouldn’t be listening to Kimbro. And considering that Professor Rae not only serves on the board of Project MORE but also invited Kimbro to speak in front of his class, I might consider him suspect as well and dismiss the arguments he makes in class as out of hand.

But if I listen to the university, I learn that in the realm of ideas, association doesn’t mean agreement. I learn that repentance and service count for something. And I learn, most of all, that I can listen to a man like Kimbro and make up my own mind about what he has done and stood for.

This election cycle, politicians have taught us to close our ears and distrust; education has taught us to open our minds and judge for ourselves. The university aims to make us better citizens; the politicians have no such noble goal.

I suspect Ayers himself would agree. He is, after all, a distinguished professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Sarah Nathan is a junior in Ezra Stiles College.


  • heartsurgeon

    "I learn that repentance and service count for something"

    your vacuous opinion piece fails to mention that Ayers is utterly unrepentant, and has never provided any "service" that wasn't self-serving, to anyone…

    finally, if Ayers is such a fine fellow, then why does Obama try to downplay his rather extensive involvement with Ayers..

    a disappointingly intellectually light-weight, and uninformed op ed piece for a Yalie. Do better next time.

  • American

    Is KImbro sorry for murdering people? Ayres isnt. Repentance is impossible if you're not sorry for what you've done.

    Also, the Weathermen DID try at least two mass casualty bombings, one at a police station and the other at a dance at Fort Dix, but these plots were foiled by the FBI.

  • brainsurgeon

    "[…] and has never provided any "service" that wasn't self-serving, to anyone…"

    your vacuous, uncapitalized online comment fails to provide any support whatsoever for your assertion above. in fact, that's likely because you pulled in out of your @$$. i realize that as a heartsurgeon, education in urban communities is utterly irrelevant and uninteresting, but the entirety of Chicao and the bi-partisan board members who had served with Ayers beg to differ.

    and why doesn't Obama come and say what a great guy Ayers is. well, a) he doesn't seem to know that well actually (did you read the Times piece?) and b) idiots like you would take the streets, or at least your armchairs, in protest.

    finally, i'll say it for him. Ayers is principled radical who stood up for what he believed in and had the courage to take words and put them into practice.

    a disappointingly intellectually light-weight, and uninformed online comment for a brainsurgeon. Do better next time.

    p.s. that was a well-argued and morally relevant op-ed piece. hopefully, as Yalies — and Americans — we are never too afraid to engage with others in discourse.

  • Alum FamilyDoc

    The analysis is flawed. As far as I'm concerned if the felon "did the crime", and then "did the time" and then repents, he should certainly rejoin civil society and should be encouraged to serve the community. I suspect Gov. Palin would agree, but one would have to ask her specifically about Mr. Kimbro.
    Ayers is another matter altogether, as he is unrepentent about his domestic terrorist activities. He did not go to prison because the wiretap evidence was thrown out on a technicality. He never denied his participation in the activities and said he "wished he had done more".
    The relationship between Ayers and Obama is important in that he raises questions about his judgement and honesty. Obama has said Ayers was just a "guy in the neighborhood", but their true relationship was obviously closer. In his one executive position, Obama was co-chair of the Chicago School Reform Collaborative. This was part of the Chicago Anneberg Challenge. This appointment was made by Ayers. Obama was responsible for distributing charity dollars to Ayers' education initiatives which focused on radicalizing/empowering children, rather than teaching them English and math. Ayers also hosted Obama as he launched his state senate run in Chicago. The New York Times article you cite was superficial at best. It seemed more designed to innoculate Obama against this issue rather than investigate it. For a better analysis, look to work by Stanley Kurtz.
    The concern I have is not "guilt by association",it is that Obama has not been forthcoming about this relationship.When did he learn that Ayers was a terrorist? Before or after he came to Chicago?We still can't get a straight answer. He has written two autobiographies, but did not provide details about this important matter.
    This goes to a troubling pattern of relationships--Ayers, Wright, Rezko, and ACORN. He was a leadership trainer and did legal work for ACORN in the 1990s. In his years in Chicago, Obama steered large amounts of money to ACORN.Now ACORN is literally steering votes to Obama. This is the same organization that has been picking up homeless people in Ohio and driving them to polling places in Ohio to vote for Obama. The FBI recently raided offices of ACORN and found hundreds of fradulent voter registrations.
    Character does matter and Obama should answer questions about his relationships honestly and fully so we can make an informed decision about who should be the next President.

  • Voting for Obama from Carolina

    It's so clear that partisan politics have invaded and behind many of the foregoing posts. John McCain -- a Frankenstein-looking, old white man is running scared and the best he and the affirmative action selection Sarah Palin can do is rehash old tired stories and complaints about Barack Obama. John McCain and Sarah Palin are two bigots neither of whom should ever occupy the highest offices in the land.
    McCain has proven his unfitness in each of the two debates. He's treated Barack Obama like he's less than human by refusing to look at him during the first debate and by referring to him as "That one" during the most recent debate. He has come across as a nutty old man. Who wants someone like that to be president?