The Times approached Ayers again for a Q&A in 2009, in which the interviewer (who identifies herself as the daughter of a couple who were part of Weatherman) refers to him as someone who has engaged in a “long struggle against racism and social injustice.” He jocularly accepts the compliment and says that indeed he remains a radical in the sense that he is always inclined “to go to the root of things.” After badinage about the unpalatable Sarah Palin and what his children are doing, he tells the interviewer that he continues to be “a work in progress . . . living in a dynamic history that’s still in the making.” Giving flip and witty answers to the questions, he is, for the Times interviewer, quite a character.
And then came The Company You Keep, cherry on the whipped cream. The Daily Beast celebrated the opening by doing an interview with Ayers, as if he were part of the movie, noting the “parallels” between him and the character played by Redford. Bill is allowed to blithely distance himself from some of the things he and his comrades did when they were “stupid, naïve and young,” and then to go on the attack against the Obama administration for its overreaction to North Korea. Having delivered his opinions on the continuing sickness of U.S. foreign and domestic policy, Ayers looks back with satisfaction at the past he has worked so hard to reconfigure: “People want me to say I really regret being in extreme opposition to the war, and I don’t regret that. I’m happy for every cringing politician, every restrained bombing mission, and every piece of destroyed military property. I think it’s all worthwhile.”
The Redford film and this je ne regrette rien comprise his victory lap.
Largely because of Bill Ayers, Weatherman, having had its cake, now forces the rest of us to eat it. Like Sharon Solarz in Redford’s movie, Bill would do it all again, even though he and his comrades, in his own version, never did it in the first place. Thanks to his perseverance, his little cult of violence has been reimagined as citizen activism in a legendary time when it was bliss to be alive and very heaven to be locked and loaded; veterans of a foreign war in which they functioned as a postmodern version of the Lincoln Brigade; lone survivors of a brave Thermopylae that sought to stop American imperialism in its tracks.