Ayers is merely symptomatic. Academia, the arts, even business have readmitted one former (and a few not-so-former) violent radical after another. Thomas W. Jones, a leader in the armed takeover of Cornell University's student union in 1969, rose to the top of Citigroup and once ran TIAA-CREF, the pension fund of some of the very academics he threatened.
Hillary Clinton had her own brush with violent radical leftists during her years at Yale Law. The New Haven, Conn., trial of Black Panthers - racist paramilitary criminals who had murdered police and civilians in cold blood - was a cause celebre for the Yale Review of Law and Social Action, the journal she helped edit. According to some accounts, Clinton volunteered to monitor the trial to aid Black Panther leader Bobby Seale's defense, and one of Seale's lawyers, a major radical, was sufficiently impressed to offer her an internship.
I don't think such associations should necessarily cost people their careers or place in polite society, particularly if some sort of contrition is involved. But shouldn't this baggage cost something?
Why is it only conservative "cranks" who think it's relevant that Obama's campaign headquarters in Houston had a Che Guevara-emblazoned Cuban flag hanging on the wall? Indeed, why is love of Che still radically chic at all? A murderer who believed that "the U.S. is the great enemy of mankind" shouldn't be anyone's hero, never mind a logo for a line of baby clothes. Why are Fidel Castro's apologists progressive and enlightened but apologists for Augusto Pinochet frightening and authoritarian? Why was Sen. Trent Lott's kindness to former segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond a scandal but Obama's acquaintance with an unrepentant terrorist a triviality?
I have my own answers to these questions. But I'm interested in theirs. In the weeks to come, maybe reporters can resist the temptation to repeat health-care questions for the billionth time and instead ask America's foremost liberal representatives why being a radical means never having to say you're sorry.