Friday, April 18, 2008

To Err is Human, To Forgive Is Divine, To Forget Is Wrong

Bernardine Dohrn,William Ayers. I remember those names. I don't know why. Bernardine was the face and leader of the Students for a Democratic Society(SDS)splinter group the "Weather Underground." Ayers was one of it's founders.

The "Weathermen" as they were called were militant and violent. Although their bombs killed no one but themselves, that was due only to their incompetence. They were meant to kill others, many others, innocent others. They eschewed the non violent protests that were so powerful in the 1960's and turned to bombing people and things. They were despicable. That they thought their views were so right and so justified, is just the hubris of their privilege. For all their protests and their call for violent overthrow of our government they were, in fact, cowards. When their hideout was blown up (they screwed up in building a bomb and it detonated and destroyed the hideout and killed three of the members including Ayers lover Diane Oughten), they ran "underground." Many of them lived phony lives for many years. In those years they married one another and slowly found ways to fit in. They still held many of their views, but they had found different ways to express them. They were for all intents and purposes "rehabilitated," in the most loosely defined way. To my knowledge both still think their actions in being involved with trying to kill others was justified because they wanted to kill a few conservatives to save the lives of the thousands who were being killed overseas (Vietnam.)

The reason their names come up today, is that it turns out Ayers and Dorhn are neighbors, and in some instances colleagues and even advisers to Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton, has suggested that Obama's relation with these people is at the very least poor judgment. His acceptance of campaign money from them a major sin. I think it is no worse than her husband's decision to accept money from Mark Rich's wife and then granting the SOB a pardon.

I am writing here today though because the lesson of this is important to both me as an individual, and a lawyer, and my message to others as to how and what we offer to those who have created great havoc in our society and what we do with them after they are "rehabilitated."

Dorhn and Ayers are now "educators." Both are tenured Professors. Dorhn is a lawyer by training and a Professor of Law at Northwestern Univ School of Law. She has been denied the privilege of becoming an attorney at the bar. She cannot practice Law. I am told by others she has done a wonderful job in teaching others how to best protect children and families. I am also told she is no longer a threat and is really a good suburban mom who fits into the fabric of her tony community. I am glad that she has found a way to contribute, I am just as glad she is not allow to practice law, even though it probably a loss to the profession in some ways if her colleagues are to be believed.

Now I can see many of my friends shaking their heads and wondering why I am being so "vindictive" toward a rehabilitated person. I even asked that of myself. I mean after all, I am in favor of not holding someone's past against them in employment opportunities and in living situations. On the other hand, I am completely comfortable with Dorhn never getting to practice law. It appears on its face to be a hypocrisy. It is not, although until I thought it through for this blog I thought it might be.

You see, at first I thought my view was borne out by the fact that I found the Weathermen completely detestable as a youngster. (Oh yeah Barack I was only 10 when they blew themselves up. I still remember them.) As a teenager at Tufts their were still remnants of the SDS chapter at the college trying to avoid ever entering the "real" world of employment or finishing Master or Phd's on the 20 year plan.

In reality, while I find everything they did a juvenile response to political questions which explains why the "establishment" did not take their views seriously, I do not think them any worse than any other criminal. Except for Dorhn...

You see she was a lawyer already when she started the Weathermen. She wrote their manifesto. She was their face and spokesperson. She was older. In her late 20's. She was from a prominent family and had opportunities denied most criminals. Nonetheless she completely ignored the realities of what she was advocating. She forgot that the bombs her group was throwing into the homes of Judges and into the Pentagon, would kill people. The last bomb, the one that killed three of her cohorts on March 6 1969 was meant to be detonated in a crowded room filled with servicemen and their dates at an NCO Dance at Fort Dix. Many of those guys did not want to be in the service. They were draftees. Many were against the war they were going to fight in. They signed up anyway, because they understood that you didn't fight injustice by being unjust.

After Dohrn came out of hiding, she plead guilty to her crimes and then refused to testify against one of her colleagues in crime. Not being a snitch is one thing, repudiating a life is another. Finally she refused to supply a handwriting sample to the FBI for comparison. This is not in keeping with the concepts that I have of being rehabilitated. This appears to be further defiance of government.

Now I am not one to quibble with a lack of respect for authority. I think it is our responsibility to question Authority. I believe that a healthy distrust (if not disrespect) of government is not only in the American spirit, but is also a very good thing. I do agree with Ronald Reagan, one of the biggest lies ever told is "I'm from the government I'm here to help." Nevertheless, the Constitution and the law, especially in 1969 provided ample ways to do the things Dohrn and her cronies wanted to achieve without their petulance violence or avarice. That she could be an attorney and still argue that the ends justified the means bewilders me and makes me wonder about her judgment. That she is of the same opinion still makes me sure she should not be allowed to practice law now.

So how do we deal with someone who has been a felon in the past but has served their time? Well I guess young people do make errors. Sometimes those errors are horrendous. I believe that we need to mete out punishments that fit both the severity of the behavior and which provide an opportunity to correct the behavior in the future. When that has occurred I believe we do forgive. We do not ostracize, we do not shame, we do not deny rights to those that have paid their penalty. On the other hand, we do not forget that there was once a severe lack of judgment on their part. We stand watch over them and the things they do a little more. We also test to see if the rehabilitation has become full, partial or not at all apparent. We act accordingly. In the case of Bernardine Dohrn, based on what I have read and been told, her rehabilitation is partial. As long as she truly believes what she did and what she advocated was justified, I give her all of her rights, including the one to have any opinion she wants. I just wouldn't feel comfortable granting her the privilege to practice law.

Does that make sense, or does it make me a hypocrite?


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