He's tall, trim, with shaved head, a confident demeanor, wearing a dark turtleneck, kind 'a funny and Yale Law School. Cool. Co-o-o-l. Or maybe even wow!
He's Van Jones, and he resigned on Saturday as what the White House called its "czar" for the environment. There are actually many czars at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in this administration, and I wonder why the historical resonance of the word doesn't just give the Obama crowd the creeps. Unless, of course, they want to govern like czars ... and czarinas.
To be sure, Mr. Jones did not have an option even though Valerie Jarrett was his admiring pal. But my admired pal Rahm and his partner David Axelrod must have known from the get-go that Jones would have to move on. If they had seen a serious vetting of the professional agitator he wouldn't have been allowed to cross the threshold of the presidential palace.
Now, the get-go began with Glenn Beck. I am not embarrassed to confess that until this ideological donnybrook broke out I'd never ever even heard of Glenn Beck. You see, I don't watch FOX. But, then, I don't watch any television.
So I came in on the Jones saga in the second act or maybe even the third. To be absolutely truthful, TNR online was my introduction to the contretemps. And, let me say in retrospect and with all respect to my colleagues (Kate Sheppard, John McWhorter, and especially my friend Brad Plumer) they missed the point, virtually the whole point. Jon Chait did better. But even he dealt with Jones as a matter of sheer politics.
It isn't. If it's a matter of politics at all, it's a matter of the ethics of politics. 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.
No, Jones is not a member of the party... if the party still exists today. Yet he does not wish America well, and all of his rhetoric points to a revolutionary stance. Which also demonstrates how stupid he is. If he thinks that the American people are eager, or even willing to take a revolutionary road to their future he might, for his own better sake, be placed in a funny farm. No, not a prison at all. (That's what he wants for his enemies.) How about a fantasy spa or a kurhaus, and maybe it should be The Magic Mountain?
Of course, Jones is also a racialist, yearning in a curious and ugly way for a time when American blacks received zero respect either as individuals or as blacks. As someone reminded my old friend and colleague Skip Gates at mid-summer, he lived in a country of which a black man was president, in a state (the Bay State) of which a black man was governor and in a city (Cambridge) the previous mayor of which was a black gay man and the present mayor a black lesbian. Old grievances are also passé. Certain reflexes just don't work any more. Sorry.
And last but in this case least: Wouldn't you know it? Jones also has been bitten by the anti-Israel bug. In the old days, when the Russians grasped that Zionism was the one force that could compel the exodus of British power--they called it imperialism--from the Middle East, the communists were for the restoration of the Jewish nation to its territorial home. As soon as the British left, the communists wavered in their support of the return and then they stopped wavering. All the way down to today. Jones' vulgar hatred of Israel is, alas, also a hatred of Jews.
A letter in Wednesday's FT responds to a news story in the paper's September 7 edition asserting that Jones was relieved of his post because he accused Republicans of abusing their congressional majority in the past. Nonsense, to be sure. The correspondent, writing from San Francisco, sets the context correctly: "Mr. Jones was forced to resign when it became clear that he was a complete crackpot who has for years and years said a lot of really crazy, stupid loonie-bin stuff. Very much like the kind of stuff, in fact, that Barack Obama's former pastor used to say each Sunday."
This raises an awkward issue. Part of the electoral enthusiasm for Obama came from just such people drawn to loonie-bin politics. That happens in every campaign. The difference is that, say, in Bill Clinton's race they were marginalized. And they certainly were kept our of office after the electoral victory, maybe even by Rahm Emanuel. And you didn't have to be from the far-far left to be shunted aside. Take Peter Edelman, politically respectable (he'd been an important aide to Robert Kennedy) and very smart. Or Lani Guinier, also very smart, maybe a little less politically respectable. With Jones, we were dealing with someone more like Bill Ayers or Jeremiah Wright. And an utterly ignorant Rashid Khalidi, which is an unimaginable Khalidi, a family so distinguished that I am almost intimidated when I write a word against this Columbia professor.
Below are some video clips of Jones (and some others) speaking. They were assembled by the distinguished American historian Ronald Radosh, a scholar who addresses significant matters from which others shy away.
Exhibit A: Van Jones argues that “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."
Exhibit B: A CD entitled “Wartimes: Reports from the Opposition,” produced by the Ella Baker Center. Mumia Abu-Jamal delivers the introduction and Van Jones begins speaking around 3:50 of this amalgam of excerpts from the CD.
Jones calls for: “The end of the occupation. The right of return of the Palestinian people. These are critical dividing lines in human rights. We have to be here. No American would put up with an Israeli-style occupation of their hometown for 53 days let alone 54 years. US tax dollars are funding violence against people of color inside the US borders and outside the US borders.”
Exhibit C: Van Jones delivers the keynote address at Powershift ‘09
Jones: "What about our immigrant sisters and brothers? What about people who've come here from all around the world who we're willing to have out in the field with poison being sprayed on them because we have the wrong agricultural system, and then we're willing to poison them and poison the earth to put food on our table but we don't want to give them rights and we don't want to give them dignity and we don't want to give them respect. We need to get down on our knees and thank these Native American communities but also the Latino community, Asian community and every other community that's willing to come here and help is out because we obviously need some help. We need some wisdom from some place else because what we've come up with where don't make no sense at all. ...
"This movement is deeper than a solar panel! Deeper than a solar panel! Don't stop there! Don't stop there! We're gonna change the whole system! We're gonna change the whole thing! [...] And our Native American sisters and brothers who were pushed and bullied and mistreated and shoved into all the land we didn't want, where it was all hot and windy. Well, guess what? Renewable energy? Guess what, solar industry? Guess what wind industry? They now own and control 80 percent of the renewable energy resources. No more broken treaties. No more broken treaties. Give them the wealth! Give them the wealth! Give them the dignity. Give them the respect that they deserve. No justice on stolen land. We owe them a debt.”
Exhibit D: A profile of Jones by Eliza Strickland in the East Bay Express, published in November 2005.
“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."
Judge for yourself, dear reader.