Van Jones’ Exit from Eden

Posted September 7, 2009

This morning, I woke up to several friends’ Facebook statuses or posted links telling me that Van Jones, Obama’s Green Jobs “czar” (I need to make an aside here, to say how thoroughly I detest that ridiculous job title… what the fuck are we doing, borrowing that from the Romonovs, the Kaisers, and Roman Emperors from Augustus onwards?), has resigned under fire from right wing bozos.

Okay. To tell the truth, I lead a sheltered life vis-à-vis the American media. I am not a TV snob, per se, but I pretty much stopped watching TV around about the beginning of the second war in Iraq… I was at home, those nights, watching the US bombing of Baghdad, and it sickened me to such an extent that I had to stop watching the news, and then TV in general.

I never really got back to it, and Netflix and the internet are so ubiquitous now that I mostly get my news from a) The Guardian.UK online; b) Livejournal; c) Facebook links; d) Wikipedia. These sources only glancingly reveal refracted views of stuff like FoxNews and the various talking head shows. I don’t know from right wing pundits, honestly. In fact, I absolutely shocked my ex this summer by not knowing who Glenn Beck was. So, now I know what an asshole Glenn Beck is. Fine. But how do such idiotic wingnuts manage to shape loud (if not majoritarian) public opinion via their cretinous radio shows etc?

I have seen clips of the Town Hall meetings and lunatics denouncing socialistic single payer health care. And Obama retreats from his extremely watered down position in the face of their frothing at the mouth, though likely more from the unrelenting pressure of Big Pharma lobby cartels. I mean, Obama does seem to actually know what socialist economic theory and leftist debate IS (cf. pp. 100-101, and elsewhere, in Barack Obama’s Dreams from my Father, which yes, I have read), though I imagine Bill Clinton didn’t remain ignorant of them in college either.

But Obama’s politics are no closer to socialism of any stripe than Clinton’s were. I’m not saying that anyone on the Left is laboring under that delusion, by the way, just marveling at the depth of complete ignorance on the crazy Right.

(It’s interesting to me that Clinton allowed two black women to be forced off the gangplank of his administration – Lani Guinear and Joycelyn Elders [see note at bottom] – while Obama is taking fire for, and refusing to return fire on behalf of, men – Van Jones, Bill Ayers, and Reverend Wright.)

Neither Clinton nor Obama could claim their ground enough to ignore these attacks. I don’t believe that FDR would have allowed his administrative picks to be witch-hunted in the same way. It’s a measure of how weak and centrist the Democrats have become that they cannot weather the tiny storm in a teacup that calling Republicans “assholes” is.

The LA Times piously pointed to Van Jones’ remarks in Berkeley in which he used “… a reference to a lower anatomical orifice to describe Republicans”. Shocking, I declare. I watched the clip. Jones also deliberately protected Obama from the taint of assholishness, while admitting that he, himself, could be an asshole, and saying that that attitude has its uses. You know, I can easily imagine Andrew Jackson using exactly this political rhetoric on the stump.

Anyway, that, plus a description of Bush as a petroleum (crack) addict, plus some kind of odd position on 9/11 from a hastily signed letter five years ago… those are the basis on which a howling pack of wingnut media curs called for Jones’ dismissal. The more staid media are not very far behind – the LA Times describes Jones as a “onetime Marxist” and the New York Times damningly quoted the STORM post-mortem’s self description as “an anti-capitalist, antiwar organization committed to achieving “solidarity among all oppressed peoples” with “direct militant action.” Oh, horrors!

Kasama’s Mike Ely has already made the main point for us as socialists, which is the clear lessons we can continue to draw on the severe limitations progressives have if they choose to participate in Democratic Party structures or administrations. Read his piece on their blog for a great analysis.

The question that is related is one I am thinking about – and which has gotten some play here in the webzine recently – how do we start engaging with activists who were energized by the “Yes We Can” campaign for change last Fall, who are beginning to feel defensive and embattled as Obama fulfills his promises of extending the war in Afghanistan, and of further dismantling PUBLIC education in favor of charter schools, breaking teachers’ unions, dividing and conquering states by linking acceptance of merit pay for teachers to some federal funds, and enthroning standardized tests and standardized curricula? Not to mention abandoning his lukewarm overtures to healthcare reform.

We don’t want to be shrill, told-you-so, sectarian assholes (we can use these terms without being fired for it… thank Darwin, or whomever). We want to continue to recognize the historic importance of the moment of electing Barack Obama as president. Yet we want to firmly point out the inherent logic in his positions. We want to build a visionary, creative, empowered movement of independent activists who can see that electoral politics in either of the two main parties is a dead end.

For myself, I live in the bubble that is the Bay Area, and far from the Florida mother who was told last year that if her daughter stayed home to watch the Inauguration it would be considered an “unexcused absence”, MY County Superintendent of Education, Sheila Jordan (speaking of former radicals and socialists) sent out an edict that all teachers should try to show Obama’s Address on Education to every single student in Alameda County on Tuesday morning. I’m glad to do that. What Obama represents as a symbol to my students – let alone an excellent model of rhetoric and public speaking – is extremely important.

NOTE: Lani Guinear was Clinton’s nominee for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, whose nomination was withdrawn because she was associated in the media with affirmative action and quotas; Joycelyn Elders was Clinton’s Surgeon General, who was canned because she spoke publicly in favor of masturbation and was in favor of contraception being available in schools.


4 responses to “Van Jones’ Exit from Eden”

  1. redchuck4 Avatar

    Great job. Just one point, FDR appeared to have more “back bone” because there was a massive and powerful workers’ movement (city wide general strike, mass picketing and factory sit-ins) that pushed his administration, the Congress and society as a whole to the left. As that movement declined (with the help of the CIO bureaucracy and the largest radical organization of the time– the Communist Party), FDR and Congress moved right, opening the road to the witch-hunt of the late 1940s (began under Truman– a Democrat) and 1950s.

    While I share the general revulsion with the right’s ability to red-bait ex-leftists like Jones out of public life, I think we need to understand how Jones and the majority of the left’s strategy today– working inside (and purportedly outside) the Democratic party– actually strengthens the right!

  2. Maeve66 Avatar

    This is maybe not the most important debate on the Left, and I admit that it is all opinion on my part, but — unlike any presidential candidate of one of the two bourgeois parties before — I actually paid attention to Barack Obama and, as I said, read Dreams from my Father. And in that book, it’s clear he actually struggled with left positions, on race, on nationalism, on colonialism and imperialism. I mean, he actually read Fanon. I imagine he even read Marx, you know? And I mean, read it with attention and even an open mind. Unlike Bill Clinton, who I think would have read theory like this superficially in college, just because one is ill-educated if one doesn’t. But one of the more sort of superstructural problems with the issue of electoral politics — that is, the ideological apparatus of politics rather than the basic economic roots of the two parties in the US — is that what is possible, i.e. “electable” trumps any principle whatever. For that reason, I could not get very far in Obama’s second book, The Audacity of Hope. By that point, he is just all bipartisanship and rhetorical blather, and it’s fucking depressing.

    What is interesting to me is that people of good conscience, who are liberals, keep expecting the Dems to do better, to grow a spine… they keep thinking that there are circumstantial reasons that the Democratic administration can’t sponsor robust health care, like the debacles of Town Hall Meetings on the issue were somehow just tactical errors. I know that activists don’t have those illusions, but they seem very, very widespread. Now do I sound sectarian? I *am* trying to avoid that…

    maeve66 is a middle school teacher in a working class suburb of Oakland.

  3. John B. Cannon Avatar
    John B. Cannon

    Interesting points about Andrew Jackson and FDR – I think you’re right on both counts. With Clinton, it was always possible to say that he was such a crappy, vacillating centrist because in the Democratic Leadership Council he had very explicitly pushed the Democratic Party to the right, and that in later years his “true” DLC colors came out again. This is not true of Obama, so maybe the weakness of this administration does reflect more than anything an inability to recover from decades of an erosion of liberal reformism without strong movements – which would, among many other probably more important things, push him as far or farther than he wanted to go. It’s funny, given the economic crisis, Obama’s savvy, and his background as an organizer, I did expect something of a revival of a more muscular liberalism – and all that seems very much on the defensive now.

  4. Dianne Avatar

    It is extremely shocking to see how the Obama administration is caving under right-wing attacks! In the Van Jones case it will send a chilling message to anyone who might think about attending a demonstration or signing a petition–will this haunt me some years down the road?

    Given Obama’s willingness to concede so much political space around the health care debate, the right now feels it’s on a roll to crush Obama, the Democrats and anyone who demands social justice. Although there is never a mention of race, much of this frenzy is clearly about race.

    There is a Black President and that is abhorrent to these right wingers. They deny he was born in the United States, they claim he has no right to speak to children returning to school.

    The right’s campaign has just begun.