MSNBC’s Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski has applauded calling Newt Gingrich a “political pyromaniac,” and suggested Sarah Palin was to blame for the Gabby Giffords shooting. So it was a bit shocking to see her fawning over Pentagon bomber Bill Ayers on Monday morning.
Ayers is selling a new memoir called "Public Enemy: Confessions of an American Dissident," but Mika threw softballs and let him discuss how he has to put his grandkids to bed at 7:30 pm. She left the heavy lifting to Mark Halperin, who quickly found that much like unrepentant Rev. Al Sharpton's morning visit last week, Bill Ayers has no regrets about bombing the Pentagon or the U.S. Capitol. (Video, transcript below)
Halperin began with light MSNBC humor. "Page 195, you say Chris Matthews is the most fun and entertaining interviewer you’ve ever experienced. We can do two hours on that [laughter], but we are not. We don't have enough time to do all the facts, but it’s a memoir, a lot of rich stuff here." Then he grew serious:
HALPERIN: Page 174, you say, and I’m just reading here, and then I’ll do the context, ‘I’m sorry I engaged in extreme tactics to oppose the war and I’m sorry I destroyed war materials and government property. But you say you won't say that. Right?
HALPERIN: You won’t say those things. Why won't you say you are sorry you engaged in extreme tactics to oppose the war and destroy government property?
AYERS: Well, you know, as I say in the book, I am 68 years old. You can’t be 18, let alone 68, and not have a lot of regrets. So everyone has regrets. What I don't regret and what people intensely want me to say that I'm sorry about is destroying property, destroying war material. And the reason is because the war in Vietnam was a horrendous crime against humanity. 6,000 people a week were being murdered. And in that context, in my family, I'm a middle child of five, one of my brothers joins the Democratic party and tries to build a peace wing. One ran away to Canada. One deserted the army. These were all things that people did. What I did, I don't make much of a claim for it, but it was in opposition to a genocidal war.
HALPERIN: So there’s lot of ways to ask about this. I’m going to ask an extreme hypothetical just to tease out what your critics are concerned about. If you could have assassinated the Secretary of Defense, would you have done it?
AYERS: Absolutely not.
HALPERIN: Why not?
AYERS: Because we had made a decision early on, that while we were willing to engage in extreme tactics, we were not going to harm human life, and we never did. Three of our own people died in the beginning in the Weather Underground and that's an unbearable grief that goes on and on. But that was it. We never hurt or harmed anyone. We destroyed property.
One of the reasons our particular action, or our activities, is so much alive today is because we as a country have not come to terms with the truth about Vietnam, and I do argue in there, it would be great. I see now that I’ve met Mika, I think you would be a great organizer for this. As we come up on the 50th anniversary of that war, wouldn’t it be great to assemble everyone from Henry Kissinger to John Kerry to Bob Kerrey to me to Angela Davis to Bernadine Dohrn and Jane Fonda. Have us all say what we did and what we regret. If we all did it together and everyone took responsibility for what they did, in that company I would be fine saying what I’m sorry about.
Mika asked "What regrets do you have, though?" Ayers said he was too cocky: "The regrets, the big regrets that I talk about in there are the regrets in the heat of the political battles and becoming quite self righteous and quite certain we knew everything. And if I’ve learned one thing over a long life, it’s when i feel self righteous, I know I'm wrong. Even if I'm on the right side. Self-righteousness is deadly, and we did it."
BBC’s Katty Kay then asked if he was “prepared” for the “firestorm” of conservative outrage over his relationship with Obama in the 2008 campaign. Ayers said no and complained “it was really an attempt to create this guilt by association. And that is a deadly stream in American politics. Because Obama knew a wide range of people, he should somehow be held accountable for their politics? Absolutely not. So I think that was a dishonest narrative.”
PS: MSNBC also posted a helpful book excerpt from Ayers on its site, describing a dinner party that Tucker Carlson bought in an online auction, which allowed Ayers to say kind words about dinner companion Andrew Breitbart. There was this snippet about a chat with Jamie Weinstein:
When Jamie complained that none [of the 2012 GOP presidential candidates] was a bona fide conservative, I asked him to define “conservative” for me.
"Small government,” he said.
“That’s it?” I asked.
It certainly makes thinking easier, if not completely beside the point. I pointed out that Somalia, to take an obvious example, was a small-government paradise.
It all makes you realize how snugly his self-righteousness fits with the MSNBC folks.