October 7th, 2008
12:10 PM ET

Stop Re-Litigating the 1960s

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John P. Avlon
Author, Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics

The McCain campaign's latest round of attacks on Senator Obama's association with Weather Underground founder Bill Ayers represents an unwelcome return to a constant distraction in American politics over the last 40 years – reigniting the culture debates of the 1960s.

The baby-boom generation's coming of age was tumultuous and at times violent. The counterculture chaos and at times outright anti-Americanism of the far left led directly to the election of Richard Nixon in 1968 and the ascendance of the conservative movement that has won seven out of ten presidential elections over the past 40 years.

It's no surprise then when things get desperate the Republican Party tries to re-litigate the 1960s, sticking a knife in the cultural divide to reopen the wounds and air old grievances.

There was a time when this was appropriate: At the height of the cold war the conflicts between the far left and the right seemed at times central to determining our future as a free and independent nation. In the Presidential election of 2004, it was perhaps inevitable that the competing baby-boomers George W. Bush and John Kerry would escalate that debate seeing as how they were on opposite sides of that generational divide,

But the nomination of Barack Obama promised a break with the politics of the past. Born in 1961, he is not a product of those fights – and that is in part why he's been able to campaign as a candidate of change: not just racial, but generational. Senator McCain, for his part, is part of a pre-baby boom generation that came of age in the 1950s, not the 1960s.

These two men represent different philosophies of governing, but they have in the main been united by a desire to elevate our political discourse and take it in a more honorable direction outside of the gutter fights which have divided us for too long.

With our nation at war on two fronts, facing unprecedented global fiscal crisis, diverting attention to a despicable 1960s domestic terrorist who Obama has not seen or spoken to since being elected to congress, deserves to be seen for what it is – an attempt to distract us by reigniting cultural wars which long ago lost their ability to illuminate. They have become all heat and no light, and we need to move past them if we are to move forward as a nation.

Filed under: Barack Obama • John McCain • John P. Avlon • Raw Politics
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Jordan (Minnesota)

    No, it wasn't the fact that Barack Obama refused to salute the flag in public. No, it wasn't his association with Reverend Wright for 20 years until politics behooved him to distance himself. No, it wasn't Ayers and the fact that Obama downplayed his relationship with Ayers according to the NYTimes. That's the liberal formula, the buck must always stop at a republican. Why else does the mainstream liberal media ignore the 800lbs gorilla, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? The mainstream media covering Obama's relationships during the democratic primary, of course, is scott-free. They probably won't allow this comment either, bury it, and then blame me for igniting a culture war.

    Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac!

    October 7, 2008 at 1:38 pm |
  2. Ranel

    After Senator McCain and Governor Palin's speeches yesterday, I have come to conclude whom should I vote for. Mr. McCain's slogan should be "Campaign First" rather than "Country First." I'm an independent and is trying to keep an open mind in this difficult times. Mr. McCain lost my respect and frankly speaking I don't even know now wether to believe all his so called contribution to our nation is really true. A "hero or a hoax?" A respectable and honorable man much more a hero, does not speak, act or think like Mr. McCain. When he said, "I dont need advise about telling the truth to the American people.." Well Mr. McCain, only a pathological lier will say such words. Please stop insulting the intelligence of the American people. What a disgrace to our country.

    October 7, 2008 at 1:27 pm |
  3. Justin Jones

    John McCain and Sarah Palin are running a campaign that incites racism, and violence. Painting Barack as a "terrorist", and constantly reitterating the statement of Barack Obama "not sharing the values of the American People" to low-information voters is nothing more than thinly veiled racism. I am not saying that John McCain and Sarah Palin are racist, but I think they know what buttons to push with their supporters.

    October 7, 2008 at 1:27 pm |
  4. PCN

    This is not about the 60's. Obama wasn't working to help schools as Anderson stated in his comments regarding Ayres/Obama connection. He was helping to fund radical indoctrination of socialist views. This is just what the muslim terrorists do to their children.

    October 7, 2008 at 1:27 pm |
  5. Ken

    We have a right to know. We have a right to see the influences of those days on today. We have a right to ask are they still influencing today. It is absurd to close that chapter off for political gain. Senator Obama's relationships are important because he is seeking to be the president of the United States. It would be different if it were just an isolated case. His judgment in areas of finance, philosophy, and spirituality are all extremely questionable. This is not a distraction, this is an indictment on his character. The fact that we are "at war on two fronts" is all the more that we have someone other than Senator Obama as the leader of the free world.

    October 7, 2008 at 1:27 pm |
  6. Gd

    On MacCain's attack about knowing about Obama, I just want to say this – "What has knowing George Bush as a person brought to this country ? – a terrible economic crisis, death of sons of america in wars, loss of jobs..... "

    October 7, 2008 at 1:14 pm |
  7. William of Iowa

    McCain veils his desire to call Obama "militant", but cannot do so overtly because of the "race" card. Instead, his surrogates attach Obama to William Ayers and the Weather Underground. Palin's reference to Obama as "terrorist" is another example of associative catagorization. Sad, many American voters will buy into the strategy. One truth that has become evident – the "boomers" of the sixties are today what they were then, phony.

    October 7, 2008 at 1:08 pm |
  8. Carolyn Richards

    I find Anderson Cooper's reporting to be some of the best on CNN...he will actually show both sides of the candidates.

    Why don't we show the Saturday Night Live skit about sub-prime mortgages? It seems this skit has been pulled from the SNL website. It was certainly as funny as the Biden/Palin skit. Or is it not politically correct to put any of the blame on those who took out the mortgages?

    October 7, 2008 at 1:03 pm |
  9. Wendy

    Palin wants to throw the word terrorist around at her rallies but nobody is looking at her ties to Joe Vogler. She is getting a free ride when it comes to her connection to a man that hated America. Her husband was part of his group for years, a group that wanted Alaska to be it's own country & not part of the U.S. The Palin's patriotism should be in question not Obama's. Vogler was killed trying to buy explosives, no doubt what his plans were & yet the media never talks about it. I think people have a right to know who Palin truly is, we already know about the other candidates.

    October 7, 2008 at 12:59 pm |
  10. lucinda butler

    The tactics that the McCain campaign is currently using is extremely dangerous. These methods of fear and smear will incite mob mentality and violence. The purpose can only be to incite protesters who are seeking a scape goat for their anger. Senator Obama should not be the target of these horrific personal attacks nor should the media. When reporters and photographers fear for their own personal safety, our country is in grave danger not from terrorists but from the decay within. There is no room for this type of anger, attacks and lynch mob mentality in this century!
    My God -Did any of the Republican audience members who are shouting threats, insults and false charges read "To Kill a Mockingbird? " Who will step forward and say enough is enough and be Atticus Finch from the Republcian Party?

    October 7, 2008 at 12:58 pm |
  11. Jane

    Besides the obvious reason why Sen. McCain's campaign is highlighting Sen. Obama's shady associations with Ayers, Wright, Phleger, et al, I personally believe it's the patriotic thing for them to do. The evidence shows that Mr. Ayers, an unrepentant terrorist, has meant far more to Obama than simply "a guy in [his] neighborhood". These associations speak directly to Obama's honesty, judge of character, and character of the man himself.

    Thank you Anderson for doing the story on Ayers.

    October 7, 2008 at 12:57 pm |
  12. Rahni, Connecticut

    The McCain campaign is grasping at anything to win the Presidential office but the odds are against him especially his campaign and Sarah Palin accuse Barack Obama running a monk in 1960s with Bill Ayers bombing cars. You all know that Barack Obama was born in 1961 so therefore he couldn't be a terrorist. Once again, the McCain campaign trying distract from the real issue that is our US economy.

    You better watch out Palin, the Alaska Judicial System is running a probe in your honor.

    Obama/Biden 2008

    Rahni, Connecticut

    October 7, 2008 at 12:53 pm |
  13. nick

    Avalon is so correct.

    October 7, 2008 at 12:49 pm |
  14. nate


    Your commentary fails to confront the main issue at hand. Ayers is a criminal who attacked our nations capital, the pentagon and the NYPD headquarters and like OJ Simpson in 1995, was aquitted on a technicality. After his acquittal, Ayers admitted to all three events. The wire tap that was supposed to be the smoking gun evidence linking Ayers to all three crimes was thrown out. To this day, Ayers does not denouce his past actions nor is he remorseful. Ayers, like the Taliban and al Quada should be considered an enemy to the United States. How is this relevant to the Presidential election? The President has a sworn duty to defend this nation against all enemies foreign and domestic. Obama has decided to affiliate himself closely with one of America's domestic enemies. This displays a lack of concern on Obama's part as well as a lack of judgment. The nation should never forget who its enemies are and keep working towards the day that these people are brought to justice.

    October 7, 2008 at 12:46 pm |
  15. Jeri

    A thing which needs to be addressed is Barack Obama is NOT skirting around seeking the friendship of a domestic terrorist! It is safe to say that whatever association there may have been with Ayers stemmed from the fact that Barack Obama was working on urban educational reform in Chicago and Bill Ayers happens to be a respected professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. It seems likely that their paths crossed. Agree with this or not, the fact is the Bill Ayers of today is a college professor. He comes in close association with students, faculty, and Chicago community members every day. Does this make the students who study at this institution, the faculty who work at this institution, the Chicago community members who serve along side of him, supporters of domestic terrorism also?
    No one will ever know if Barack Obama knew of Ayer's past when he worked along side of him, but it is believable that he did not. When you meet a prominent expert in your field, do you race out and research their past? If we are going to judge Barack Obama's character because of this community/professional association, we all better start researching the backgrounds of the hundreds of community acquaintances and professional associations we occasionally come in contact with everyday. Otherwise, we might be linked to some terrible crime they did 40 years ago. This smear campaign is dangerous and frankly unamerican! Whether you plan to vote for Obama or not, we all need to be vocal and scream at the top of our lungs that SMEARS have no place in a honest election!

    October 7, 2008 at 12:41 pm |
  16. Maureen / Newman, California

    McCain is desperate to change the subject away from the Recession and will do or say anything in attempt to do so. This forces Obama to defend himself as he sees fit. Unfortunately Obama can't just take the high road when he is attacked. Too many uninformed voters do not follow the news close enough and sometimes make decisions based only on the headlines or the ads.

    October 7, 2008 at 12:40 pm |
  17. Richard - Manassas Virginia

    McCain-Palin are desparate this kind of campaigning is what we can expect from now until November. I really used to look up to McCain this kind of Rove-ian campaigning ruins politics.

    A maverick would not do such things. Where have you gone McCain?

    Obama-Binen '08

    October 7, 2008 at 12:33 pm |
  18. Pat

    Well put Mr. Avlon. However, I seriously doubt any move by McCain will be of a forward motion! His gears have been stuck in reverse and stall for weeks except for the recent back fire noise choking the life out of the Old Edson. His Lyin Eyes and Nefarious Smear Tactics are traits that only a Mother could find worthy of Redemption! I doubt there is even a Song Writer who would pick up his lines! They'd definitately be R rated by any Recording Studio.

    October 7, 2008 at 12:30 pm |