UPDATE: Van Jones has resigned, and the Obama administration has accepted his resignation. It's an extraordinary moment. Van was not accused of breaking the law, flouting the Constitution of the United States, accepting bribes, condoning torture or other violations of international law, or going on tax-payer funded junkets to conduct adulterous affairs. No, Van was brought down for a couple of things he later regretted saying over the course of an otherwise remarkable career.
Were the attacks really about the Color of Change petition to get advertisers to stop sponsoring Glenn Beck's program on Fox? Was it a case of taking down a rising star who had the audacity to lead while black? Or was it the opening round of the battle to come over clean energy/climate legislation? In any case, it's a sad day for America and for the Obama administration.
Van Jones is the target of the day for the right-wing attack machine. Will they succeed in driving him from his post as a green jobs adviser to the White House?
Van was a contributing editor for YES! Magazine from 2006 until he went to work at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, so I've had a chance to see how he works. He is among the most patriotic people I've met. I've seen him inspire young inner-city youth and elderly retirees with his focus on solutions that are in the best interest of all of us, and when he speaks, he shows his passion for the people, natural environment, and values that make our country great.
Van is a bridge builder. He implores disaffected urban youth to not only fight for their own jobs and futures, but to work for a green and clean future that can sustain us all. Then he reminds environmentalists that there must be a place for everyone in their green future, including those who need jobs today. He's led efforts toward what may be our best hope--building the momentum we need to avert climate catastrophe while rebuilding our economy.
"The smartest things we can do in the short term pay for themselves," he told me in a November 2008 interview. "If we were to weatherize and retrofit millions of buildings in the United States, the energy cost savings would let you pay for that work in two to four years. So we literally are wasting money, time, and our planet when there are cost-effective, revenue-positive answers here that would put people to work."
This interview with Van Jones took place shortly after the election of Barack Obama and the overwhelming victory of Democrats in Congress, a time when progressives could easily have been gloating over their lopsided victory. Instead, Van Jones invited everyone, especially fellow progressives, to put aside differences and self-righteousness and work with all Americans.
"I think that we've gotten ourselves into a bit of a logjam of accusation and blame on all sides of American politics," he said. "It's time for some of us to give up the addiction to being righteous, being victims, and having the right to be mad at somebody. ... There's still more good in each and every person than there is bad—there is still more reason for us to work together than for us to fight."
A "vast left-wing conspiracy"
Glenn Beck of Fox News is going the other way.
As part of his attack on Jones, Beck claims to have uncovered "a vast, left-wing conspiracy" among those who care about the environment, about working families, and about people of all races.
"All right. You know, what we're uncovering here on this program is complex, and it is--it takes a lot of our day just to figure out how to explain it to you," Beck said in his July 28, 2009 broadcast.
"And it's complex by design--you know, it's the vast left-wing conspiracy. The Apollo Alliance combines environmental policy--the green movement--with labor and social justice."
A shocking notion, indeed, that we might all work together! Of course this effort is hardly a conspiracy; it's been happening right out in the open; YES! Magazine, for one, has been covering this movement for years. And there's nothing conspiratorial about smart energy policies that make us less dependent on foreign oil while providing Americans with jobs that can't be sent overseas.
But Beck is correct that it is "vast." It's so big because so many people get on board when they realize that they can be part of a movement that offers all of us a hopeful future.
So here's the choice point. If President Obama caves in to the right-wing attack machine with its conspiracy theories and over-the-top accusation, he would not only lose a leader with deep integrity and enormous respect among those who worked so hard for the 2008 election victory. He would also lose a brilliant policy adviser on some of the most important issues of our time. And he will be throwing red meat to the sharks who will inevitably attempt to pick off his top people--the attack machine is already at work on White House climate science adviser John Holdren.
Caving in to these unfounded charges means, in other words, giving up hope of making real change on the issues that matter: health care, climate change, economic restructuring--the very things that the majority of Americans elected Barack Obama to do. We'll soon see if President Obama and his top staff have the strength to stand up to the right-wing attack machine and if they will carry out the agenda Americans elected them to accomplish. We face devastation of the natural world and violence in human communities. There's a way to solve both these crises.
Get to know Van Jones better
- Van Jones: Beyond the Politics of Confrontation Meet the man who's convincing the country, and the new President, that the next economy needs to be green and just. Interview by Sarah van Gelder.
- Two Crises, One Solution
- David Korten: Who is Van Jones?
- A former employer who knows Van Jones well corrects the record
- Thomas Friedman's New York Times article about Van Jones
- Van Jones on the Colbert Report