UPDATE: Many thanks to professor Jacobson for linking.
Buried behind the headlines about the peons opting out of Obamacare and the Capitol Hill Republicans caving in re government slim-down, there is this: Bill Ayers is releasing a new autobiography subtitled Confessions of an American Dissident (via Insty).
I might be a bit old-fashioned, but when I was growing up, the word “dissident” had a very different meaning. Dissidents were moral giants, they were our heroes; non-violent people — writers, scientists, thinkers — who stood up to the Soviet regime, for human rights and freedom, did so knowing that there was going to be hell to pay, and bravely endured the subsequent prosecution. They wrote banned books and essays, and maybe talked to the Western media; what they didn’t do was fly planes into skyscrapers — or kill people in any other manner. For speaking truth to power our dissidents were punished by the regime. Andrei Sakharov, once a leading Soviet physicist and the father of the Soviet H-bomb, was banished to the provincial town of Gorky (the so-called “internal exile”), Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Vladimir Voinovich and many others were stripped of citizenship, Joseph Brodsky was exiled as well — after being torture in mental hospital, and Natan Sharansky endured 13 years of forced labor camp and torture.
Americans are expected to be opinionated. Everyone is a “dissident” when his guy doesn’t win the White House, which is about every 4-12 years (to construct a more convincing “dissident” persona, left-leaning Americans are advised to register as more exotic Greens or Socialist, in which case their guy never wins). I’m frightened by Obamacare, does it make me a dissident? Of course not. I’m with the majority of Americans who don’t worry about expressing their negative opinion about the healthcare overhaul to various pollsters. When everyone is a “dissident”, no one is a dissident, even those who hate the country and everything it stands for. They are simply Americans exercising their First Amendment rights.
I don’t know when and how it happened, but some Americans caught the dissident fever. I met my first American “dissident” in Berkeley. He was a grad student substitute teaching an introductory US history class at the time Second Gulf War began. He was a painfully uncharismatic man (“painfully” because the contrast between him and the professor Litwack, a skillful propagandist he was filling in for, was stark) with a predictable worldview, thanks to which he already had a tenure track job lined up in another California four-year college. On the occasion of the war, he took the entire class hour to explain to 800 or so students his opposition. The little lecture of his was straight our of NYT editorial page, except that in conclusion, he said that in the Soviet Union, you know, they had their Perestroika, so now he wants one here. He probably didn’t know that Reagan and Thatcher inspired us, and he probably chose not to know that the real dissidents (Yelena Bonner, Nathan Sharansky, Vasily Aksenov, Vaclav Havel) were in agreement with W. From what I understand, the grad student’s position was not affected by the actual substance of the dissident’s ideas as much as the aesthetics of revolutionary change. A Velvet Revolution-type of revolution, in his case.
At the time, the American media developed a habit of calling Bin Laden a “Saudi dissident” because in his view the Saudi royal family was insufficiently repressive. Well, originally the word “dissident” was applied to those involved in religious disputes, so at least there is some sort of rationale there. But still, in the light of recent history, maybe journalists could hit Webster’s to find a different was to describe the terrorist.
American “dissidents” got their “velvet revolution” in the persona of our First Black President, TM. Only it was kind of a boring type of change, no universal struggle of good and evil that we in Easter Europe lived through. American Progressives voted for a black dude with a radical chic name. Next thing you know the black dude moves to curb our liberties and expand federal bureaucracies, all the while embarrassing our country abroad. Meantime Lech Walesa endorsed Mitt Romney for President.
Now Obamster’s mentor is hurrying up to cash in on the Presidential connection while the former is still in office. He thinks he’s a “dissident”. The brat hates America, all right, and he had a brush up with the law, for, among other things, blowing up his GF. Morally and politically Billy Ayers occupies the space somewhere between Sakharov and Bin Laden, but firmly on Bin Laden’s side.