by Jonah Raskin
Ayers, Bill: Public Enemy: Confessions of an American Dissident, Beacon, $24.95, 228 pages.
[Author's note: I've been a book reviewer for more than 40 years and most of the time I take the books that I read seriously. Now and then, however, a book comes along that boggles the mind and begs to be satirized. That's the case, in my view, with Public Enemy, by Bill Ayers, a retired professor and a former member of the Weather Underground. Ayers hasn't a trace of humor or irony. He really does see himself as Mr. Public Enemy. The review, or rather mock-review, I've written aims to lampoon the book. There are no sacred cows, and no subjects that can't be ridiculed -- in my view. If I succeed in making you laugh just for a moment I will have achieved my purpose.]
(Swans - November 18, 2013) I'll fess up. I'm sorry I didn't rat on Bill Ayers when we were underground together in Brooklyn and in the Bronx and later in San Francisco. I really am. Bad on me! I wish I'd called the FBI and told them where he and Bernardine Dohrn were in hiding in the 1970s. I could have saved him all the embarrassment that came his way in 2008 when Sarah Palin accused Obama of palling around with terrorists -- meaning specifically him -- Mr. Bill Ayers. I could have single-handedly saved the whole organization of fugitives and wanted men and wanted women. No doubt about it. Maybe if I'd been truly courageous and acted on my principles, Ayers would have turned himself in and gone to work for his father and made a name for himself at Commonwealth Edison -- that pristine company. We could have gone places together; maybe we'd be in the Obama administration now in the Department of the Interior, making really important decisions affecting millions of Americans.
We had so much in common, including our common dreams; we were both humble and rejected the limelight. Not once did we ever think about promoting ourselves. Everything we had, we gave to the cause; we supported every good ism under the sun -- socialism and communism -- and fought all the evil isms, like fascism and Americanism, though we were totally patriotic and loved our country and would have died for it.
I hate to drop names, but golly gee, we really have known a lot of movie stars such as Tom Robbins and Susan Sarandon, and some hot-shot intellectuals like Stanley Fish and Edward Said. And speaking of name-dropping, I wanted to say that we've both been terribly persecuted, just like the Commies in the 1950s -- such as Paul Robeson -- but that's the price you pay. I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm proud to be persecuted and so is my comrade Bill.
Now, we're both old men, or at least aging men; we're way past the age of 30 and, of course, you can't trust us anymore, but believe me when I say I'm sorry. I speak for my comrade, Bill Ayers, too. He's sorrier than I am; sorry that he wore that Tie-Dye T-shirt like a uniform, and let his hair grow, which really upset his Dad, and sorry that he masturbated when he was a kid. We both did. And he's sorry that he was sorry about being sorry.
Of course, we're not sorry, either. What do we have to feel sorry about? Sorry about the triumph of our superior civilization? No way! We're not sorry we live in America and enjoy the fruits of democracy and get to see Tea Party folks behave like they were in Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). My comrade, Bill Ayers, and I always enjoy a joke, and we never take anything too seriously, especially when it has anything to do with us. We're cool dudes, man. We know how to keep our mouths shut and not blab, and we always do what Bernardine Dohrn tells us to do, because we're very good boys and believe in democratic centralism. In the 1960s, we both wished we could have been with Lenin in the Kremlin, or Mao on the Long March, or in Bolivia with Che, because we could have given Che a few pointers on guerrilla warfare, and destroyed the CIA and helped Salvador Allende in Chile.
We see eye-to-eye about Todd Gitlin, who really was and still is a wuss and didn't enjoy running in the streets and making Molotov cocktails. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Rioting sure was fun and changing our names and hiding out was fun when we were underground, but it was even more fun when we turned ourselves in and went back to academia and showed that we knew what to do when push came to shove. We love academia and department meetings and we sure did love getting tenure.
Which brings me to my new book about Bill Ayers, which is entitled Public Enemy. I wrote it, though it's published under Bill's name because he's much more famous than I am and more people will read my words and realize that we're right, and right on, too, that we're two righteous revolutionaries ready right now to light a couple of fuses and smash the State. Power to the fucking People! And fucking power to the fucking people! So, do me a favor please. Go out and buy my book, published under my comrade Bill Ayers's name. Hell, buy two or three copies -- for the cause, the good cause that we'll fight until the day we die because we're Public Enemies -- capital P, capital E. We want you to hate us. We're the enemy. And we want you to love us, too, because we're the good guys. After all, this is America where you get to have it both ways, all ways, all the time, 24/7. God Bless America! Hot Dog! And smash monogamy, too.
Jonah Raskin ran the Weather Underground -- with help from Bill Ayers. Bill Ayers didn't pay him to write this review.
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About the Author
Jonah Raskin is a professor emeritus in communication studies at Sonoma State University in California and is the author of Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating and Drinking Wine, The Mythology of Imperialism: A revolutionary Critique of British Literature and Society in the Modern Age, and For the Hell of It: the Life and Times of Abbie Hoffman. He lived and taught in Belgium in the 1980s. He is the editor of The Radical Jack London: Writings on War and Revolution. He also worked in Hollywood in the 1980s and wrote the story for the movie Homegrown. To learn more about Jonah, please read his entry on Wikipedia. (back)