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Should Palin Forgive Bill Ayers?

By Sherwood Ross
October 10, 2008

Editor’s Note: One of the ugly aspects of the McCain-Palin exploitation of William Ayers’s minor connection to Barack Obama is that Ayers has by nearly all accounts done a lot for his community since his days as a Vietnam War-era radical.

As Sherwood Ross notes in this guest essay, the Christian tradition is to show some forgiveness, like what John McCain has extended to Richard Nixon’s crooked operatives, including one who plotted to bomb the Brookings Institution:

The desperation of the McCain camp over its sagging fortunes is nowhere better revealed than in its ridiculous attacks on Barack Obama for sitting on the same board of a Chicago philanthropy with William Ayers, a onetime bad boy in the Weather Underground.

Apparently, it means nothing to McCain and Palin that over the past 40 years Ayers has rehabilitated himself from a bomb-thrower to valued member of society.

No matter that Ayers has worked with Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley to upgrade the city’s schools. Or that Ayers in 1995 co-authored a grant proposal that won $49 million to boost Chicago’s schoolchildren. Or that Ayers today is a Distinguished Professor of education, widely regarded in his field.

McCain’s Alaskan attack wolf Sarah Palin has dredged up Ayers’s past in order to smear Obama by association, pure and simple. Palin doesn’t utter a civil word about what Ayers has made of himself. Once a pariah, always a pariah, right?

For Palin, supposedly a candidate wedded to Christian virtues, there is no spark of compassion for Ayers. Isn’t it a centerpiece of Christian theology that when the prodigal son returns to the hearth it is an occasion for celebration?

Indeed, the story of the prodigal son is one of the most compelling parables attributed to Jesus Christ. According to the gospel of Luke, the father tells the good son “thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine” but we celebrate because “thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.”

There is zero indication Palin has read the passages in the Bible where Jesus broke bread with tax collectors and prostitutes, whose repentance he welcomed. At least in Biblical times, if you made a mistake, Jesus gave you a second shot. Not so Palin toward Ayers.

Palin’s gutter campaign raises the issue of whether John McCain might not be guilty himself of associating with former criminals.

Obama seemingly has too much integrity to travel this low road. If he wanted to respond in kind, Obama could point to McCain’s approval of convicted Watergate crook Charles Colson, now the eminent Christian conservative.

According to a Slate article by David Plotz, during the Nixon era “Colson sought to hire Teamsters thugs to beat up anti-war demonstrators, and plotted to raid or firebomb the Brookings Institution,” for which Colson did seven months in prison.

“John McCain and George W. Bush, who agree about virtually nothing, agree about Charles Colson,” Plotz wrote. In a speech, McCain “singled out Colson for praise, complimenting the Watergate felon for his prison ministry. Bush, meanwhile, has given Colson a Texas prison wing to run on Christian principles,” Plotz wrote.

How’s that again? Bush and McCain endorsed a convicted felon who once advocated bombing Washington buildings and urged using Teamsters like Gestapo thugs to beat up anti-war demonstrators? How can McCain forgive Charles Colson and praise his later commendable works when he will not do the same for Ayers?

McCain has also lauded (“I’m proud of you!”) right-wing broadcaster G. Gordon Liddy, a man convicted for his mastermind role in the burglary of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate, and for which he served four years in prison.

According to Huffington Post, Liddy hosted a fund-raiser for McCain and chipped in a few thousand bucks of his own.

If the McCain camp tends to be a little short on forgiveness and long on hatred, we need to ask which religion it is they happen to be practicing.
Christian forgiveness, by their lights, seemingly only pertains to Republicans -- especially those guilty of espionage against Democrats.  Somebody explain it to me. Isn’t it the zenith of hypocrisy for McCain to boast of his associations with Colson and Liddy while his running mate damns Obama for associating with Ayers? 

Sherwood Ross is a Miami-based writer who has worked for major dailies, wire services, news magazines, and civil rights groups. Reach him at

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