Chesa Boudin, radical chic Rhodes scholar.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Dec. 9 2002 7:22 PM

Weatherson

Chesa Boudin, radical chic Rhodes scholar.

One of the most significant baubles a young American can earn is a Rhodes scholarshipanother would have to be a front-page story in the New York Times celebrating the award. Today the Times lauded Chesa Boudin, 22, for overcoming "striking challenges" to earn this most establishment certification of promise. Boudin's parents, the Times noted, missed his "Phi Beta Kappa award, high school graduation, Little League games" because since he was 14 months old they have been in prison. The article opens by describing how Boudin was not even able to share the news of his accomplishment with them.

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Boudin's parents are Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, who were members of the violent 1960s radical group the Weather Underground. They are in prison for their part in the murder of two police officers and a guard as the result of a robbery of a Brinks armored car in New York at the late, unradical date of 1981. The Times, while having space to describe the origin of Chesa's unusual nameSwahili for "dancing feet"apparently didn't have room for the names of the men murdered. They were Sgt. Edward O'Grady, police officer Waverly Brown, and Brinks guard Peter Paige. You can read more about them at www.ogradybrown.com. Nor does the Times mention the obvious point that the nine children left fatherless that daythe youngest was 6 months oldhave also missed the pleasure of having their fathers see their accomplishments over the years.

Chesa Boudin was raised by another pair of Weather Underground membersBill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn. A Times article about Ayers' memoir of his unrepentant days as a bomber of the Pentagon and the Capitol building ("I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough") appeared, unfortunately for the sales of Ayers' book, last Sept. 11. "Morally clueless" is how Tim Noah described Ayers in a pre-Sept. 11 Chatterbox.

Certainly, Chesa should be judged only by his own words and deeds, not those of his biological or adoptive parents. But both in today's Times article and a January 2001 article in Salon,he seems to share Ayers' obtuseness. In the Salon piece, he manages to describe the indignities of visiting his incarcerated father without giving the slightest nod to what got his father put away in the first place or to the suffering endured by the families of the murdered men. Chesa seems concerned only with the suffering of more worthy people. His application for the Rhodes scholarship, according to the Times, observed: "As a child, I relished my personal freedom and tried to compensate for my parents' imprisonment. Now, I see prisons around the world: urban misery in Bolivia, homelessness in Santiago and illiteracy in Guatemala." It's hard to fathom the connection between his privileged mother's imprisonment for murder (she is the daughter of a prominent lawyer and graduated from Bryn Mawr) and that of poor people in Latin America.

To make clear he has embraced the ideology of all his parents, he observes: "We have a different name for the war we're fighting nownow we call it the war on terrorism, then they called it the war on communism. My parents were all dedicated to fighting U.S. imperialism around the world. I'm dedicated to the same thing." Has no one ever told this young man that communism oppressed millions? Was he too busy reading the profile of his adoptive fatherhimself a terroriston Sept. 11 to understand the significance of that day? Is his really the kind of "potential for leadership"as described by Elliot Gerson of the Rhodes Scholarship Trustthat should be rewarded?

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column.