The end of Van Jones’ brief career as a White House insider, in the semi-obscure position of special adviser for green jobs at the Council on Environmental Quality, is likely good for Van Jones and very good for progressives.
Yes, currently it seems as if Fox News’ Glenn Beck — who spent the past few weeks viciously smearing Jones — has won one. In fact, Beck has done Jones, and all of us, a mitzvah.
And considering that the White House, and for that matter Washington’s liberal establishment, failed to come to his defense in the face of relentless attacks by the right-wingers at Fox (very similar to what Fox did to Barack Obama leading up to the election), Jones’s liberation should make him a happy camper.
Much of Jones’ broad base of fans was excited when word spread that he would be taking his prodigious talents to the White House, working on the inside to spread the gospel of green jobs. Many were surprised and pleased to see Obama, ever the centrist, willing to bring in a firebrand like Jones to shake things up.
But more than a few wondered, “Jeez, how is that going to work?” They knew that Jones, arguably the most effective communicator in Democratic and progressive politics — and yes, that includes Obama — was going to have to control his tongue, and in many cases shut his mouth.
Part of what made Jones popular was telling it like it is. Jones inspired audiences, especially young people, with the notion that a radical vision, combined with innovative ideas and fundamental organizing, could work in tandem with our political system.
And some also wondered, was green jobs enough when it was health care, the banks and economic crisis, the escalation in Afghanistan, and the battles with the right that were dominating the national discourse? We knew he was the “green jobs czar,” but there were 30 czars in the White House — so many that Obama was known to joke about a show called “Dancing with the Czars.”
Why was Jones going indoors, when there were big fights outdoors, all across the country?
As it turns out, the White House may have taken him in with open arms, but apparently was glad to see him go.
FireDogLake‘s Jane Hamsher wrote: “Now he’s been thrown under the bus by the White House for signing his name to a petition expressing something that 35 percent of all Democrats believed as of 2007 — that George Bush knew in advance about the attacks of 9/11. Well, that and calling Republicans ‘assholes.'”
So where are all the statements defending Van Jones by those who were willing to exploit him when it served their purpose? Why aren’t they standing up and defending one of their own, who has done nothing that probably the majority of people in the Democratic Party haven’t done at one time or another? Is he no longer “one of their own”?
So yes, Jones tried the inside, but now he’s back on the outside. Here are five reasons why we are all better off:
1. Now he’s a household name: Beck has increased Jones’ visibility and name recognition immeasurably. Although he has been wildly popular in progressive circles, and a headliner at progressive conferences like Take Back America and the Netroots Nation, Jones was still a relative unknown for the population at large. Now he has a national stage.
2. He’s been rescued from obscurity: Special adviser to the Council for Environmental Quality. Hmm. That doesn’t quite have the ring of power and influence. Jones took one for the team by taking an obscure position in the first place. And he took another one for the team by realizing quickly that the right-wing smear campaign against him was going to be a distraction.
Now Jones is free to climb to a much higher level of visibility and influence millions of people in ways he couldn’t at that White House job.
3. He’s the leader progressives need: Let’s face it. For reasons not altogether clear, there is no single powerful, articulate leader of progressive forces, which include many millions of Americans. It’s time we have such a leader.
With key elements of the union movement squandering enormous resources and time fighting each other, and many issues competing for air space, a credible, charismatic strategic leader like Jones could help to give direction, set priorities and generally give shape to what has so far been an anemic progressive presence in the Obama era.
Those with the most popularity and name recognition among progressives — Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Bill Moyers and Robert Reich to mention a few — can’t do what Jones can do. Donna Edwards and Keith Ellison are emerging in Congress as national leaders, and they will be strong complements to Jones — in fact, the three represent a new progressive generation, one less lily white than the one that preceded it. But Van is the Man.
4. He has a renewed charge to speak the truth: Jones was attacked by the right for basically saying what is true: that Republicans are assholes (but he also said: “I, Van Jones can be one, too.”); that green-jobs organizing has to go far beyond solar panels; that African Americans are victimized by environmental racism by “white polluters, and the white environmentalists are essentially steering poison into the people of color’s communities because they don’t have a racial justice frame”; and the biggie — that the Bush administration had to be challenged on 9/11.
At a minimum, given all the information they had, Bush, Cheney and Co. were colossally, and perhaps criminally, inept leading up to 9/11, and no doubt there is much more to be told about their story.
5. He can provide real vision and organizing framework: Jones’ book, The Green Collar Economy, was briefly a New York Times best-seller, and now it just might make it back on the list (just as Jeremy Scahill’s book on Blackwater has reappeared on the N.Y. Times extended list for the third time due to Blackwater staying in the news).
The liberation of Van Jones will give him the opportunity to fully explain his blueprint on green jobs, but also connect it to the political economy and the need for resources to train young people in the skills needed to bring a green economy to the U.S.
But perhaps even better is that Jones will be free to draw out the complex connections between various issues, such as the huge waste of resources and lives in the war on Afghanistan and how that affects jobs and the environment — here in the U.S. and in that war-torn, abysmally poor country.
And Jones will be free to mobilize people in support of climate-change protection. As my colleague Addie Stan notes:
The right-wing attacks on Jones may well be linked to organizing against Obama and the Democrats’ plans on the environment. GOP Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, who lends his endorsement to Grassfire, an organization that organizes members of the armed patriot movement through its ResistNet site, called on Jones to resign, saying, “His extremist views and coarse rhetoric have no place in this administration or the public debate.
Grassfire is currently organizing ground-level opposition to the clean-energy legislation — especially its cap-and-trade mechanism — supported by the White House.”
Jones Will Be Stronger
Some may think that the relentless red-baiting and piling up of distortions and lies by the right-wing media machine might leave Jones politically wounded. I doubt it.
Fame is a valuable commodity in our society. And now, it is clear that Jones is a celebrity. In a short time, people will have a hard time remembering exactly what made Jones famous, but famous he will be. And he will have a major pulpit — thanks to his oratory gifts and to how the media treats notorious celebs.
There is a long history of political resurrection in America. Remember that the Rev. Al Sharpton was sued for slander and ordered to pay $345,000 in damages after he was deemed guilty for making defamatory statements about the Dutchess County, N.Y., prosecutor, Steve Pagones, after Sharpton insisted in the infamous Tawana Brawley case that Brawley’s fabricated story of rape was true.
And according to Wikipedia, on May 9, 2008, the Associated Press reported that Sharpton and his businesses owed almost $1.5 million in unpaid taxes and penalties. Sharpton owed $931,000 in federal income tax and $366,000 to New York, and his for-profit company, Rev. Al Communications, owed $176,000 to the state. Yet few would disagree that Sharpton is currently one of the 10 most influential African Americans in America.
Consistently, fame seems to trump radicalism and scandal.
Yes, Jones was a leader in the retro-named, radical group STORM: Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement. But that is nothing compared to Germany’s Joschka Fischer. Fisher was able to become foreign minister, despite the fact that Fischer was a leader of a radical group called the Putzgruppe, which had fought in several violent street battles with the police.
A series of photographs taken at a street battle in 1973 clearly show Fischer clubbing a policeman, to whom Fischer later apologized. This was but one of a range of politically radical acts by Fischer.
Seeing what happens next in the trajectory of Jones will be very interesting. But the betting on this end is that Jones will return to his role as visionary leader of progressive forces, and he will be in a stronger position to promote change, provide inspiration and rally the troops.
This piece was originally posted at AlterNet.