Facts and opinions, though they must be kept apart, are not antagonistic to each other; they belong to the same realm. Facts inform opinions, and opinions, inspired by different interests and passions, can differ widely and still be legitimate as long as they respect factual truth. Freedom of opinion is a farce unless factual information is guaranteed and the facts themselves are not in dispute. In other words, factual truth informs political thought just as rational truth informs philosophical speculation. Hannah Arendt

A colleague, Professor Doug Rossinow, recently published an op-ed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. An American historian who specializes in the 1960s, Doug has written extensively on the New Left. In his column, “Flash: ’60s radicalism predated Obama,” Rossinow unmasks an unscrupulous campaign tactic of guilt by association: the linking of Barack Obama to a former member of the notorious Weather Underground.

The day his column appeared, I sent an e-mail to our university community with the subject heading “Prof. Doug Rossinow exposes campaign ‘Swiftboating’ in today’s Star Tribune.” I also pasted the op-ed into the e-mail with the following preface: “Doug Rossinow provides Minnesotans an invaluable civic service in today’s Star Tribune. In the best tradition of a citizen-scholar, Doug exposes a presidential campaign fiction that the news media has failed to adequately fact check. He has done Metro State proud.”

As the old saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished. I received several irate e-mail responses. The following message was the most cogent.

“Opinions are opinions. Facts are facts.”

Hi Mr. Bute,

While I’m not sure that a broadcast political message to faculty colleagues is an appropriate use of MnSCU/Metro State resources, I’ll let that rest for now. Remember that Professor Rossinow’s article is an opinion piece, not news and if you wanted to alert your colleagues to the article, you might have done so without repeating the content.

There is room for disagreement in the article, and I quite readily admit that I do disagree with several of Rossinow’s (and by extension, your own) conclusions. Allow me to be clear, up front. I have been a committed Democrat since my first campaign in the Fifties–1950s not 1850s. I have been very active in every election since 1992, holding office in the local DFL organization and being campaign treasurer for four legislative campaigns.

I am not a committed Obama supporter, nor am I a committed Hilary supporter. My choice didn’t make it past Super Tuesday. I am fully prepared to support whoever emerges from the Convention as the nominee, flawed though he or she may be. While Rossinow may be a scholar of the Sixties and I am not, I lived through them. That should allow me to view the times through my perspective.

Professor Rossinow talks about the Weathermen as if they were “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight.” I admit they were no Al Qaeda. A group who knowingly planted bombs and set them off, perhaps killing anyone who happened to be in the vicinity, is, to me at least, a violent and threatening group.

Rossinow writes “[Bill] Ayers and other Weatherveterans may have become wholesome, productive citizens since returning to polite society.” Sara Jane Olsen became a productive citizen but is sitting in a jail cell today. There is evidence that she was a “brainwashed” pawn. Ayers was a militant leader in a terrorist group.

Rossinow soft-pedals their actions but does not the term “terrorist” fit? They were not teens hopped up on testosterone doing stupid things they were dangerous terrorists trying to overthrow our government by violence, or at least trying to get newspaper space and their message out. With Al Qaeda’s money and today’s technology, how dangerous could they be now?

Rossinow continues, “Hillary Clinton–at long last, having no shame–suggests that Ayers’ comment that ‘we didn’t do enough,’ in an interview published on 9/11, was an endorsement of Al-Qaeda’s attack on America. She certainly knows that Ayers’ interview was done before 9/11. Whatever he meant, the timing of the interview’s publication was simply unfortunate.”

Wait a minute. Two conjectures, both wrong (in my opinion). Rossinow cannot deny that Obama’s relationship with Ayers was a continuing one. More than just being a neighbor, they served together on a Board of Directors. They appeared together on at least one public panel. Rossinow’s implication that Ayer’s comment “We didn’t do enough” was innocuous because it was uttered before 9/11 is flat out stupid.

What did Ayers mean? Did he mean “We didn’t plant enough bombs?” “We didn’t kill anyone. Maybe we should have?” However he meant it, a former terrorist who says that, even before 9/11, doesn’t regret what he did do, he regrets what he didn’t do. Those aren’t the words of a “wholesome, productive citizen.” Anyone who knows history or lived through the Sixties should be shaken by that comment.

The fact that Obama sees nothing wrong with their association shows poor judgment on his part at best. Personally, I’d stay as far away from Ayers as I could. Hillary’s comments on the association are fair game. Can she claim Obama was sympathetic to terrorists in the Sixties? Of course not. Can she imply that Obama’s continuing and voluntary association with a Sixties terrorist who apparently has no regrets for his past actions show poor judgment on Mr. Obama’s part? Hell, yes!

Did Hillary know Ayers’ interview was before 9/11? I don’t know that. Maybe Rossinow does. If she knew it and still tied Ayers’ reference to 9/11 that was wrong. Shameful? I don’t know that.

The point of this all? Opinions are opinions. Facts are facts. Professor Rossinow doesn’t let the facts get in the way of his opinions. The article should be read that way.


“Factual truth informs political thought.”


First off, I sent out that e-mail with pride; a Metropolitan State University faculty member had a column in the state’s premier newspaper. One distinguishing characteristic of Metro State is that our faculty tries to communicate not only with specialists in our fields but with the well-informed public as well. As a faculty member at a university that gets little or no respect, I admit I am quick to point out our achievements.

Second, it’s interesting that you insist on identifying Professor Rossinow’s op-ed as a “political message,” which you deem as inappropriate for ‘broadcast” on a workplace e-mail system. Internal communication about faculty achievements is quite common. Harvard, Princeton, and Yale are only too glad to have their faculty’s op-eds in the New York Times, Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal identified with their respective universities. They don’t make such a sharp distinction between “fact” and “opinion” because this line of demarcation is far murkier than you allow.

You seem to have an ideological criterion for distinguishing “fact” from “opinion.”  I read Rossinow’s column as an example of solid investigative reporting: he busted journalists for passing off “opinion” as “news.” He exposed the new media’s failure to vet a planted story.

As for William Ayers, no matter how odious his behavior in the 1960s, he is, and has been for years, a professor at Illinois State in Chicago. Until this story broke, I doubt that most of his colleagues were aware of what he had done 40 years ago. It is also unlikely that Barack Obama knew of his background as a leader of the Weather Underground.

Over the past 40 years, I have served on numerous boards and spoke on many panels. No doubt some of my fellow board members or panelists have committed past transgressions that I have no knowledge of–just as some of them would be startled by some of my activities in the Sixties. The point being, one is not guilty by association with someone whose previous behavior we have no knowledge of.

Yes, the Weather Underground would be, by today’s standards, a “terrorist” organization. Yes, they were a physical danger to innocent victims who might have been  injured by their bombings. Your next assertion, however, is a perplexing equivocation: “They were dangerous terrorists trying to overthrow our government by violence, or at least trying to get newspaper space and their message out.”

You got half that sentence correct: yes, they were self-promoting caricatures of media-inspired fantasies; no, they were not real revolutionaries who were trying to violently seize power. A pathetic lot, they had almost no support, even among radicals of the day. Further, they did not have the foggiest notion of how to make revolutionary change. And even if we were to allow that they were “dangerous terrorists,” what does that have to do with Obama, particularly if he had no knowledge of Ayers’ ancient history?

By failing to ”fact check” these spurious claims made by Hillary Clinton and Republican operatives, the mainstream media has been engaging in “opinion.” If the Obama-William Ayers’s story is not a case of media complicity with “Swiftboating,” I would love to see evidence for your explanation of these events.

In conclusion, I remember reading the September 11, 2001, issue of the New York Times. When I finished the Ayers’ interview that morning I thought, “what an unreconstructed moron that guy is.” Only later in the day, after the terrorist attacks, did I recall the Times interview. I saved that issue and, to this day, it sits on display in my office. If Hillary’s brain trust did not realize that the interview had occurred days before publication, they are too stupid to be in the White House; if they did realize it, they are too treacherous to be in the White House.


I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crises. The great point is to bring them the real facts.  Abraham Lincoln

Does Lincoln’s 19th century faith in the people’s ability to discern truth and to confront national crises extend to the American polity of the 21st century? The answer to that question may depend upon whether we can “bring them the real facts” before November 4, 2008.