Stanley Fish writes in the New York Times today
about "McCarthyism" and guilt by association as well as its political descendant, "Swiftboating." Since he's a law professor and former Dean at the University of Illinois, I'm going to assume he knows more about this stuff than I do. He's pretty rough on McCain but says Hillary hasn't said anything "wrong or inaccurate." However he does take her to task for something else:
the literature the Clinton campaign is passing around about Obama and Ayers cannot be explained away or rationalized. It features bold heads proclaiming that Ayers doesn’t regret his Weathermen activities (what does that have to do with Obama? Are we required to repudiate things acquaintances of our have not said?), that Ayers contributed $200 to Obama’s senatorial campaign (do you take money only from people of whose every action you approve?), that Obama admired Ayers’s 1997 book on the juvenile justice system, that Ayers and Obama participated on a panel examining the role of intellectuals in public life. That subversive event was sponsored by The Center for Public Intellectuals, an organization that also sponsored an evening conversation (moderated by me) between those notorious radicals Richard Rorty and Judge Richard Posner (also a neighbor of Ayers’s; maybe the Federalist Society should expel him).
I don’t see any crimes or even misdemeanors in any of this. I do see civic activism and a concern for the welfare of children. The suggestion that something sinister was transpiring on those occasions is backed up by nothing except the four-alarm-bell typography that accompanies this list of entirely innocent, and even praiseworthy, actions.
As for Senator McCain, in 2004 he repudiated the Swiftboat attacks against fellow veteran John Kerry, but this time around he’s joining in, and if Obama gets the nomination, it seems that the Arizona senator will be playing the Ayers card. Of course, McCain knows a little about baseless accusations and innuendos, given his experience in South Carolina in 2000. And in case he has forgotten what it feels like, he may soon be reminded; for there’s a story abroad on the Internet that says that rather than being a heroic, tortured prisoner of war, McCain was a collaborator who traded information for a comfortable apartment serviced by maids who were really prostitutes. I don’t believe it for a second, just as I am sure that Senators McCain and Clinton don’t really believe that Obama condones setting bombs or supports a radical agenda that was pursued (as he has said) when he was eight years old.
The difference is that I feel a little dirty just for having repeated a scurrilous rumor even as I rejected it. Apparently Obama’s two opponents have no such qualms and are happily retailing, and wallowing in, the dirt.