Concerning domestic terrorism

Sarah Palin, who won’t call abortion clinic bombers “terrorists,” has a nerve complaining about Barack Obama’s association with William Ayers.

I’m glad to know that there haven’t been any completed murders of abortion workers in the U.S. in a decade, though there have been a stabbing, two bombings, and twenty-three arsons since then.

One reason for the reduction of anti-abortion violence resembles the reason for the reduction of killings of Sunnis by Shi’a in Iraq. Just as Sunnis have largely left the areas where they were most likely to be killed, abortion clinics have shut down in most of the areas where they were most likely to be blown up. (Since 1982, the number of providers has shrunk by more than a third nationwide, and four out of five counties in the U.S. – accounting for a third of the population – have no provider at all.)

In any case, deadly threats aimed at abortion providers – unlike, for example, bombs planted in opposition to the War in Vietnam – remain a live fact about life in the United States. So when Sarah Palin refuses to call clinic bombers “terrorists,” it’s hard to take seriously her pretended moral outrage about the fact that Barack Obama served on a foundation board with someone who had been an anti-war bomber (never involved in a fatal incident) thirty years earlier.

h/t Glenn Reynolds, who as usual misses the point

Footnote To be clear: I think the fact that Bill Ayers, due in large part to his connections with the Chicago economic elite (his father ran the local electric utility), was allowed back into what passes for decent society there reflects badly on the morals of elite Chicagoans. But shunning the practitioners of political violence has never been as strong a norm as I would like it to be in American politics. For example, there has never been a clean line between Cuban-American politics in Miami and anti-Castro terrorism in Miami, but that didn’t keep every national office-seeker from kissing Jorge Mas Canosa’s ring. Going back a little further in time, how many Southern Governors of the 1950s and 1960s had clean hands with respect to the terrorist campaign against the civil rights movement, and how many of them were shunned by their peers?

In this context, to try to make Obama’s failure to play holier-than-thou with respect to Ayers into a “character issue” about Obama is really a long stretch.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: