John McCain’s desperate culture war

"I’m not going back to Woodstock for awhile," Canadian hippie rock star Neil Young sang no less than 35 years ago now. "I’m a million miles away from that helicopter day."

If only the same thing could be said about our political process.

As the presidential race enters the final month, an increasingly desperate John McCain is turning to the same culture war tactics that have served the Republican Party so well for the past generation.

McCain has attempted to link Barack Obama to former 1960s radical Bill Ayers, who as a member of the Weather Underground set off several bombs that did some serious property damage. None of the bombings Ayers was involved with killed anyone, but several years later other members of the group took part in an armed robbery in which two police officers and a guard were killed.

Ayers has been characterized as an unrepentant terrorist by McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin. At a campaign rally earlier this week Palin accused Obama of "launching his campaign inside the living room of a domestic terrorist."

In fact Obama doesn’t appear to have met Ayers at any time in the past six years. When Obama was running for the Illinois legislature in 1995 Ayers hosted a fundraiser for Obama at his house, and they later served on the board of a community anti-poverty group. Obama claims, quite plausibly, that when he met Ayers he was unaware of Ayers’ radical past.

For what it’s worth I’m about the same age as Obama, I went to law school at the same time, I also practiced law in Chicago in the early 1990s, and I’m very interested in the history of the 1960s, but I didn’t recognize Ayers’ name when the GOP started flogging Obama’s supposed connections to a domestic terrorist.

Here’s a name I’m sure Obama, McCain, Palin, and everyone interested in politics is very familiar with: Henry Kissinger.

Indeed, Kissinger is honorary co-chair of McCain’s New York campaign, and a foreign policy adviser to McCain himself.

And here’s a very simple question that almost no one in the media seems to ask: if we’re going to make the crimes of the radical left in the 1960s and 1970s a campaign issue – a time period much of which Barack Obama spent in elementary school – then how about the crimes of the radical right?

And make no mistake: Henry Kissinger has done things that, morally speaking, make Ayers’ actions, deplorable as some of them surely were, look like the equivalent of jaywalking.

An abbreviated list of the events which have made it dangerous for Kissinger to travel overseas, because of the possibility he would be arrested as a war criminal, include: covertly sabotaging Vietnam peace talks in 1968, in order to help get Richard Nixon elected; playing a key role in convincing Nixon to launch illegal wars in Laos and Cambodia (the latter action helped create the conditions that led the Cambodian genocide); helping to plan the overthrow of Chile’s democratically-elected government, which included numerous assassinations funded by the CIA (again, all this in direct violation of international law); and helping to facilitate the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, which may have killed as many as 200,000 civilians.

Kissinger appears to have had every bit as much contempt for the law as Ayers, with the difference being that his brand of contempt led to millions of deaths.

The other difference is that playing a key role in a radical political movement that manages to take over the United States government is much more likely to get you to continue to be invited to swank dinner parties on the Upper East Side of New York, no matter how much blood may be on your hands.

That social fact doesn’t make Henry Kissinger more respectable than Bill Ayers.



(Paul Campos is a law professor at the University of Colorado and can be reached at Paul.Campos(at)