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Ron Radosh

Liberals and Van Jones: Why Are They Defending Him?

September 9th, 2009 - 4:14 pm

By now we all know most of what there is to be said about Van Jones. What is most interesting, however, is how so many representatives of mainstream liberalism have no compunction at all about honoring Jones as one of their own, and of condemning Barack Obama for casting him to the wind, as if the administration had no good reason to do so.

First, as one might suspect, is Arianna Huffington. She writes with anger about what she calls the “vile and vicious smear campaign” against Jones waged by Fox News star Glenn Beck. Not one word about what Jones believes and who he is, aside from her claim that he is “a thoughtful leader who knows how to use words to move people to action.” A leader? Perhaps.  But thoughtful?  Maybe she means words like these, spoken by Jones in January of 2008:
“The environmental justice community that said, ‘Hey, wait a minute, you know, you’re regulating, but you’re not regulating equally.’ And the white polluters and the white environmentalists are essentially steering poison into the people-of-color communities, because they don’t have a racial justice frame.”

Of course Arianna is a “good friend” of Jones, so she either overlooks what he believes, or agrees with his unreconstructed radicalism. Reading Huffington, one gets the impression that all he is doing is trying to purse “a clean energy future for America,” and building coalitions on its behalf.  So although she was his friend at the time, she somehow misses his candid description of his own proclaimed strategy, spoken in April of 2008:

Right after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat if the civil rights leaders had jumped out and said, ‘OK now we want reparations for slavery, we want redistribution of all the wealth, and we want to legalize mixed marriages.’ If we’d come out with a maximum program the very next day, they’d been laughed at. Instead they came out with a very minimum. ‘We just want to integrate these buses.’

But, inside that minimum demand was a very radical kernel that eventually meant that from 1964 to 1968 complete revolution was on the table for this country. And, I think that this green movement has to pursue those same steps and stages. Right now we say we want to move from suicidal gray capitalism to something eco-capitalism where at least we’re not fast-tracking the destruction of the whole planet. Will that be enough? No, it won’t be enough. We want to go beyond the systems of exploitation and oppression altogether. But, that’s a process and I think that’s what’s great about the movement that is beginning to emerge is that the crisis is so severe in terms of joblessness, violence and now ecological threats that people are willing to be both pragmatic and visionary. So the green economy will start off as a small subset and we are going to push it and push it and push it until it becomes the engine for transforming the whole society.

The above is a frank admission of Jones’ prescription for a stealth radicalism—making a minimum demand that others will agree with, all for the purpose of achieving the real demand of revolution.  And of course, one does this by never revealing the real goal at the start. Well, at least Huffington doesn’t pretend that he did not sign the 9/11 truther petition, only rationalizing that we shouldn’t let that mistake “define him.” Yes, no one is “foible-free,” as she writes. But Jones is all foible and no merit.

On the same site, the CEO of CREDO Mobile, Michael Kieschnick, calls for “progressives” to understand that the real issue is “how the right wing media echo machine works.” In other words, ignore what Jones stands for. Beck has forced him out; let’s make that the issue.  And let us not let Obama get off the hook for canning Jones. Jones is to be commended for “using strong language in tough times.” Not one word in his blog what that language is. The Right, he argues, denounces “progressives and Democrats with demonstrably false and outrageous claims.” But of course, they were not false; and it was Jones’ statements that are outrageous. Rather than explain what Jones means, he and others simply attack Jones’ critics without letting readers know what he thinks. And we are supposed to believe that it is only the right-wing that is dishonest.

Most surprising, however- and sadly- is the defense of Jones by the usually brilliant writer John McWhorter, who from his perch at the conservative Manhattan Institute, has been for some time now written off by many as a “black conservative.”  McWhorter actually writes “The Republican smears against Obama of late are nonsense, pure and simple.” But instead of trying to prove this, he attacks (rightfully) the ignorance of those conservatives who attacked Obama for his speech to public school children on the first day of school. What, pray tell, does that have to do with any criticism of Jones?

After devoting the next four paragraphs of his article to the education speech, he asks why does anyone have to take criticism of Van Jones seriously? Well, for one, these are different issues. Some conservatives who stupidly attacked the education speech (just as Democrats  and liberals blasted George H.W. Bush in 1997 for his speech to school children) are not always the same as those who attacked Van Jones. And many conservatives in fact attacked those on the political Right who condemned the Obama speech in advance in the same terms as did liberals.

The issue, then, is not a simple “general animus against Obama.” The issue is Van Jones, and why someone like him was given this appointment in the first place.  But McWhorter compounds his defense by even approving Jones signing of the 9/11 truther petition, suggesting that “the charge is plausible enough to require investigation.” Does McWhorter actually believe this? Is it a sufficient rationale to write that “support for that idea is hardly unknown among people of the left.” Precisely. What does that say about people of the left, other than that they can be as irrational as conspiracy theorists of the right?

McWhorter also writes that Jones’ “flirtation with Communism was brief and partly rhetorical.” Really?  Evidently McWhorter has not done his homework. Jones said the following in his 2005 interview in The East Bay Express:

First, he discarded the hostility and antagonism with which he had previously greeted the world, which he said was part of the ego-driven romance of being seen as a revolutionary. “Before, we would fight anybody, any time,” he said. “No concession was good enough; we never said ‘Thank you.’ Now, I put the issues and constituencies first. I’ll work with anybody, I’ll fight anybody if it will push our issues forward. … I’m willing to forgo the cheap satisfaction of the radical pose for the deep satisfaction of radical ends.” His new philosophy emphasizes effectiveness, which he believes is inextricably tied to unity. He still considers himself a revolutionary, just a more effective one, who has realized that the progressive left’s insistence on remaining a counterculture destroys its potential as a political movement.

This is only four years ago. Has Jones ever said he repudiated this statement? It certainly sounds to this reader as a candid explanation of his own way of functioning. Working in the administration was in these terms a new way of fulfilling his unreconstructed revolutionary goals while avoiding the stigma of being a mere movement activist.

How does McWhorter know that Beck was calling Jones out for “inconsequential” things that have “nothing to do with competent execution of his job,” or that the job “wasn’t even a position of any particular power?”  A job with no power is not usually one in which the person holding the job gets to administer a $9 billion budget and can use those funds to finance the activities of the radical activists he favors. At least David Sirota, whom I cited in my last blog, is honest enough to make the case that the dismissal of Jones was important because he was anything but a “low-level Administration functionary,” as McWhorter claims was the case.

The issue is not one of Glenn Beck affecting White House staffing decisions. It is that the administration had no right to give a job to anyone with Jones’ background. That the issue rose to the forefront because of Beck is only a black mark on the failure of the mainstream media to cover the issue at all. What is wrong with our press when it takes a Beck, whom at times does indeed sound a bit crazed, to deliver news that the media blacks out? (Actually, others raised the issue of Jones before Glenn Beck, in particular, David Horowitz, on his own website.)

That someone with the character and brilliance and insight of John McWhorter can write that Obama should have “made sure Van Jones stayed just where he was” is itself a reflection on the sad state of today’s liberalism, in which if someone on the Right makes a charge, it is automatically seen as untrue, and meant to produce a reflex response in defending the person attacked.

It reminds me of the old supposedly unimportant issues of the 50’s, in which some liberals argued that if a right-winger attacked people like Alger Hiss, it was the duty of liberals to defend him and others as innocent. At least then we had brave anti-Communist liberals, who like Hubert Humphrey, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and others formed Americans for Democratic Action, to create a liberal group that understood the old Popular Front alliance of liberals with Communists had to be destroyed. They understood that many condemned by HUAC, like Hiss and others, were not good allies just because it was a group of conservatives who first exposed them.  John McWhorter, a great linguist and writer, should take some time out to study some history.

Update:  Sept.10th, 5:30 pm east coast time

A distinct difference between the two major strands of American liberalism, and the response of their representatives to the Van Jones affair, can be seen in two new discussions posted on the internet today. The first is from Marty Peretz, editor-in-chief of The New Republic, which can be read here. Pointing out that it is a matter of what he calls the “ethics of politics,” Peretz writes: “The fact is that Jones is a communist, an identity (which like “fascist”) carries deep and authentic historical and moral opprobrium. Today’s communists want to ignore the mass murders, the gulags, the ideological strait jackets, the sheer viciousness of their (sometimes subliminal) heroes. But they are vicious enough themselves.”

Peretz understands that Jones “does not wish America well, and all of his rhetoric points to a revolutionary stance.” He also describes Jones as a “racialist” and a man “smitten by the anti-Israel bug.” And he notes Jones’ similarity to both Bill Ayers and Reverend Jeremiah Wright. In other words, Peretz gets it, and in so doing, rescues the reputation of American liberalism from those who seek to allow it to descend into unworthy far left radicalism.

The other is the editorial that appears in the new issue of The Nation, the flagship publication of  the American Left. Titled “The Ambush of Van Jones,” the journal’s editorial. Compare their description of Jones with that offered by Peretz and TNR. They call Jones “an activist, organizer, visionary, and charismatic leader of the environmental justice movement.”

They complain that Jones was made a “right-wing bogeyman” by Glenn Beck, who they assert singled Jones out only because he was getting back at the Obama administration because of  the condemnation Beck received for his stupidly calling Barack Obama a racist. Ignoring all the evidence that has been assembled, the editors say that “the idea that Van Jones…was some kind of crypto-radical bent on subverting American capitalist democracy from the inside has as much relationship to the truth as the assertion that Obama is hatching a plan of mandatory euthanasia for American seniors.”

As for Jones’ signing the 9/11 truther petition, they accept the apologia offered by Jones that he did not then and does not know think that their ideas are anything he believes. They, of course, offer no reason why Jones signed it in the first place. Their real complaint is that “anything smacking of left-wing ideology is beyond the pale” in the Washington DC establishment, or in the Obama administration. And of course, they suggest he was fired because “he’s black.” The idiocy of the last claim needs no comment.

Jones’ dismissal, they write, is a “kick in the gut” to the “environmental justice” movement—whatever that is, as distinct from those who believe in creating a healthy environment. Now they write that Jones joins “a long list of would-be public servants “deprived of public office because right-wing demagogues have targeted them and distorted their views.” The problem they have is that Jones’ critics have depicted his views accurately, citing his own words and even copied on the internet a CD in his own recorded voice. It is not surprising why The Nation does not allow its readers to see examples of just what Jones does believe, and recently so. In their eyes it is just a “fabricated controversy,” meant to pull America further to the right.

Claiming that Jones wants merely an “alternative energy future,” they complain he has ended up being branded “an untouchable radical.” I think that most of us would not want to live in the alternative future held out for us by Van Jones. If that makes me another “hysterical extremist,” so be it.

It is no wonder that the “liberalism” of The Nation is rejected ever more by a majority of Americans.

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