Thomas Frank's sympathetic profile of William Ayers, the former Weather Underground member who has become a threat to Barack Obama's presidential ambitions, reminds me of a key point Marc Sageman makes in "The Next Generation of Terror," his article for the March/April issue of FP.
Radicalism, in Sageman's analysis, is by and large a scourge of angry young men. As they age, terrorists tend to moderate their views, settle down with families, and just get tired of fighting for the cause. The key to defeating terrorists, then, is not to create new ones:
Radical Islamist terrorism will never disappear because the West defeats it. Instead, it will most likely disappear for internal reasons—if the United States has the sense to allow it to continue on its course and fade away. The main threat to radical Islamist terrorism is the fact that its appeal is self-limiting. The key is to accelerate this process of internal decay. This need not be a long war, unless American policy makes it so.
The fact that Bill Ayers can be a fully rehabilitated, functioning member of the Chicago political scene after his 1960s antics is exactly the sort of outcome we should be striving for with the angry young men who get swept up in the jihadist movement. In a way, Ayers represents the triumph of the American system and its ability to absorb and neutralize internal threats.
Which is why John McCain's comment, "It's not that I give a damn about some old washed-up terrorist," makes a lot more sense than pretending to care whether Obama did or did not have tea with the guy or did or did not serve on this or that board with him. When it comes to the war on terrorism, old, washed-up terrorists are what ought we are striving for.