The witch-hunt of Van Jones

September 9, 2009

Todd Chretien analyzes the reasons for another surrender to the right by the Obama administration.

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE activist Van Jones' sudden resignation from his post as the "Green Jobs Czar" in the Obama administration says a lot about the continuing power of racism and McCarthyism in America.

It's also an indication of just how badly President Obama and his advisers are out of touch with their voting base.

I wrote an article back in March arguing that, from the point of view of building a radical movement for social and environmental justice, Jones was wrong to go to work "on the inside." I argued that any limited provisions he might be able to achieve would be more than outweighed by his having to publicly support, for instance, the war in Afghanistan.

As a socialist, I did not vote for Obama. Yet I did say back in March that at least Jones' appointment indicated Obama was looking to break with Bush's disastrous environmental policies.

However, I now have to say that I'm surprised at the cowardice on display at the White House--for the shameful way they succumbed to the fanatical, racist right in forcing out Jones in the dead of the night.

Van Jones speaks at a forum in Washington on clean energy
Van Jones speaks at a forum in Washington on clean energy

Who is to blame?

To begin with, Fox News showman Glenn Beck has been campaigning for several weeks to get rid of the "communist, anarchist" Jones, seeing his appointment as another sign that Obama is a clone of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, who "hates white people" and is bent on bringing socialism to America.

Beck worked himself into a frenzy upon hearing a recording of a speech earlier this year when Jones explained why Republicans were opposing legislation to stop global warming. He joked, "Well, the answer to that is they're assholes. That's a technical, political science term."

Now, whatever one thinks of vulgarity in public speeches, Jones wasn't referring to every person who ever happened to register Republican, either out of family tradition, inexperience or ignorance. He was talking about the Republican congressional leadership.

And if the shoe fits...

Besides, remember when George W. Bush called a New York Times reporter a "major league asshole"? Is anyone shocked that people in America swear?

But who cares what Beck says anyway? He's a self-described "rodeo clown" who will do anything to make money. Despite his fat salary from Fox, he's currently preparing a comedy tour.

Seriously, a comedy tour.

He boasts a couple million viewers per day, but they represent the far-right fringes of the Republican Party, the most openly racist and fundamentalist.

A brief browse through comments on the Fox News Web site reveals the way the network is playing on anti-Obama racism to fill its coffers. For instance, one post in the wake of Jones' resignation stated, "Proof Positive that you can send a THUG to and Ivy League school and all you get is and slightly educated arrogant THUG. He only got in by using the school's quota system not by merit..."

No doubt this Fox enthusiast uses a nastier racial slur when talking to his friends.

SO WHY did Obama cave into the pathetic flotsam of the Republican Party?

As Nation writer John Nichols correctly pointed out, "Van Jones' exit isn't [a] right-wing win, it's an Obama surrender." Rather than standing on principle in defense of Jones, whose radical background was no secret, Obama threw him under the bus, just as he did Rev. Jeremiah Wright during the campaign last year.

Rather than rallying the majority of the population that voted for him when he promised substantial change, Obama is pandering to the vicious minority of the minority that didn't vote for him.

Worse, the promised changes in environmental policy that Jones had hoped to champion are rapidly receding into the background, behind rising unemployment, continuing bank bailouts and the escalating war in Afghanistan.

One defense of this drift to the center is that Obama is trying to "clear his plate" in order to win health care reform. Only after that victory, the argument goes, can immigration reform, the Employee Free Choice Act, LBGT equal rights, jobs programs and substantial environmental change take place.

Unfortunately, we will in all likelihood hear Obama offer to bargain away even the weakened "public option" part of health care legislation in his address to Congress tonight. If it does pass Congress, and that's by no means certain, this "reform" will leave the HMO gravy train fully intact.

If this is the kind of "victory" we can expect in other areas, people interested in radical change better prepare to fight.

Upon accepting the post from Obama, Jones acknowledged that he would be forced to refrain from critiquing administration policies with which he disagreed. It was a price that had to be paid, he said.

Having been forced out, Jones will hopefully throw his considerable skills and energy back into building grassroots movements and putting forward his analysis of, for instance, the war in Afghanistan as an imperial project that is a disaster for human rights and the environment.

In his resignation letter, Jones rightly attacked those slandering him. However, he also used his statement to provide cover for the Obama administration's retreat:

On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me. They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide.

I have been inundated with calls--from across the political spectrum--urging me to "stay and fight." But I came here to fight for others, not for myself. I cannot in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past. We need all hands on deck, fighting for the future.

It has been a great honor to serve my country and my president in this capacity. I thank everyone who has offered support and encouragement. I am proud to have been able to make a contribution to the clean energy future. I will continue to do so, in the months and years ahead."

No doubt, Jones will speak out in the future, but when he had the maximum spotlight, he choose to hold his tongue and offer nothing but praise for the president. In fact, the letter sounds more like someone who hopes to get back in, as opposed to someone who is going back to the grassroots.

Time will tell.

Jones is right that "we need all hands on deck, fighting for the future." But as Obama himself was fond of saying during his campaign, "Change comes to Washington, not from Washington." The sooner labor, civil rights and antiwar activists put this lesson into action, the better.

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