Taking the Movement Out of the Obama White House

by: David Sirota

Sun Sep 06, 2009 at 13:13

I just read the news that Van Jones was forced out of the Obama administration (and let's be real clear, despite the "resignation" billing, the White House's pathetic behavior this week makes clear Jones was forced out by the higher ups). This is a serious tragedy on three levels.

First and foremost, Jones was one of the only movement progressives in a policymaking position in the Obama White House. By that I mean, he was one of the only people in the White House who came out of grassroots movement work and not just political/partisan hack work, and one of the only movement progressives put in a policymaking job, and not ghettoized into a political/tactical job. Whenever I got sick to my stomach at the thought of Obama's Team of Corporate Zombies - people like Rahm Emanuel, Tim Geithner, Larry Summers and Jim Messina - running the show, I was able to at least tell myself that hey, someone like Van Jones is at least in there somewhere fighting the good fight as he always has. No more - and that's a damn shame.

Second, Jones being forced out will not mollify the racists, crazies, tea baggers, Republican congresspeople and other assorted conservative freakshows - it will only embolden them. When lynch mobs in the Old South lynched someone, when a witchhunting band caught a target in Salem, when HUAC "proved" the supposed communism of its victims, that didn't calm them down - it only intensified their bloodlust because it made them believe they could be even more successful in the future. So if the White House's political "gurus" believe booting Jones was the safe and prudent way to mitigate right-wing hatred, then they are as short-sighted and stupid as they've proven themselves to be in mismanaging the summer's health care debate. Seriously, folks - if you think you can appease or mollify someone who takes to the public airwaves and does this, then you are as crazy as that screaming lunatic is.

Finally, the Jones announcement will inevitably create a chilling effect on the aspirations of other movement progressives. Van is a fantastic person who has done fantastic work. He's kept his advocacy real and didn't compromise his principles. And so when he was appointed to a high-level White House job, it seemed to validate that you could, in fact, keep it real and also advance in American politics and government. That is to say, his story seemed to prove that an outsider could also succeed on the inside - and that outside advocacy doesn't automatically prohibit you from one day working on the inside.

Now, though, because of today's announcement, that lesson has been rewritten. Jones being tossed from the White House says that even in an administration headed by a former community organizer, progressive movement activists (as opposed to far-right conservative movement activists who are celebrated in D.C.) probably cannot hope to ever enter or rise in government.* I'm not saying that's an ironclad rule - but that is the message of this particular event, and you better believe that all the movement activists who know Jones or looked to him as a hero will get that message loud and clear. And that's a tragedy.

The obvious rejoinder to these points is that Jones supposedly brought this on himself by long ago making a mistake and signing a misguided petition about 9/11. Obviously, he made a mistake** - and he admitted that. But even if you don't accept that apology or admission of fault, the idea that him signing that petition means he's worthy of removal is just a pathetic argument that highlights the most damning hypocrisies of all. For instance, are we really expected to believe that Jones signing one random petition is a bigger problem than, say, Geithner accepting free room and board for the industry he is supposed to be regulating?  I could make a huge list of such contrasts, including the tellingly different media/political Establishment treatments of "birthers" (cheered on) and "truthers" (totally ostracized) - but you get the point: the entire brouhaha about Jones supposedly awful transgressions is manufactured, considering the genuinely problematic transgressions of so many other White House officials are treated as no problem at all.

Let me just end this post by saying I'm sincerely disappointed about Jones getting kicked out of the White House for all three reasons I've laid out above - and also because I've been personally inspired by the guy. I've seen him speak, read his work and met him at the Democratic convention here in Denver. Out of all the activists and leaders I've met in more than a decade in movement politics, he's really one of the best. And while I hope - and expect - Jones will be back in movement politics soon, losing him as a voice in an Obama administration that is so mobbed up with corporate sycophants and political hacks is a real bummer.

* For the 9/11 truthers out there, let me just say this: Yes, there is ample evidence that the government was grossly - and probably criminally - negligent in ignoring intelligence warnings about 9/11. I've said that publicly before. And yes, there is evidence that the government has not been all that forthcoming about acknowledging that fact. To say that is not controversial at all - it's verifiably true, and to support better efforts to uncover the evidence around 9/11 isn't controversial either. But no, there is no evidence that proves or strongly suggests the government deliberately orchestrated 9/11. The 9/11 Truth movement has tried to aggressively harass/intimidate almost every person in public life - me, Van Jones, and everyone else - in an attempt to force people to sign onto its statements that the government wasn't just negligent, but orchestrated 9/11. These people are absolutely incessant - and their tactics and statements attempting to equate governmental negligence with governmental orchestration is as offensive as it is awful. It's the worst mix of bullying and conspiracy theorism - and it's not merely "controversial," it's unacceptable and it needs to end.

** By the way, that message is especially true for African American movement activists, because let's just be honest - the fact that the right chose to mount a hysteria campaign specifically around an African American, Jones, was no coincidence. The right didn't just randomly pick some mid-level guy working on noncontroversial issues (green jobs) - they were specifically looking for a black guy with movement politics in his background. Remember, he was targeted WAY BEFORE the 9/11 stuff ever came out - in other words, the right-wing started attacking him before those conservative voices ever even KNEW about the 9/11 controversy.

Hence, we can be assured the original targeting of Jones was a calculated move with race in mind - a move designed to fit the criticism into a larger racial backlash framework first perfected in the 1980s. That framework has created a simple reality: In America, governmental advancement is wide open for right-wing movement players, and you can even vaguely hope for a seat at the political table if you are a white progressive former hippe-turned-yuppie liberal. But if you are a black person with any enduring loyalty to progressive movement or social justice activism, the loud and clear message from politicians and the media is that you are not welcome anywhere near the halls of power, because you will be billed as some nefarious combination of Al Sharpton, Huey Newton, Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael and Willie Horton.

David Sirota :: Taking the Movement Out of the Obama White House

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without disagreeing with anything (4.00 / 1)
The flip side is that Markos was wise to ban the 9/11 truthers from Daily Kos.  It is poison, and though  conservatives get away with insane conspiracies we cannot.


New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

9-11 is not an insane conspiracy (4.00 / 1)
and it should be pushed constantly. Pearl Harbor did not get believed until long after FDR was dead and now even in my neon red town it is accepted. Also these right wingers have a lot of people among them who believe 9-11 conspiracies.

At the very least they let it happen by being stupid and ignorant and just plain out of touch. Paranoid people are often fearful of unimportant things and miss the important ones.

Yes Markos was smart in looking after his ass.

[ Parent ]
corporate zombies (0.00 / 0)
David: I share your dismay.  In the past weeks, I've been having this imaginary conversation--probably a sign of incipient something--with the likes Emanuel and Axelrod, asking them if they want to spend these four years making history or whether they're content to be corporate eunuchs.  It's really too bad that they've chosen to prepare for retirement.

well (0.00 / 0)
maybe now he can come home and run for Governor...

not everything worth doing is profitable. not everything profitable is worth doing.

Olbermann asking for dirt (0.00 / 0)
This is kind of interesting in KO's post at Daily Kos

Find everything you can about Glenn Beck,  Stu Burguiere, and Roger Ailes..

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

the obama wh (0.00 / 0)
is showing its true colors and its contempt for the left, but you can be sure that in 2012 they will come calling and promise their love of progressive politics if the left will again pitch in and get obama elected, actions speak louder then words and this wh's actions belie their words on so many levels.  

I say good riddance (2.00 / 2)
I can say that Van Jones doesn't represent ANYTHING that has to do with me.  And you, David, if you keep calling people racists, I'll start to confuse you with Paul Rosenberg.

because I've been personally inspired by the guy

That's just sad.  Lost alot of respect for you today.

Excellent (4.00 / 3)
I don't want respect from someone like you. Thanks.

By the way, if you think race has nothing to do with this, I've got some great real estate and some safe derivatives to sell you. They're really valuable - I think you will love them.

[ Parent ]
You hate green jobs? (4.00 / 1)
Because that was the thrust of his whole career up to this point.  That doesn't represent you?

[ Parent ]
Don't get caught up in the kabuki, David (4.00 / 4)
The righties aren't the real problem here. It's the WH itself. All this media crap about the righties issuing fatwas against Van Jones makes for a nice fig leaf for Rahm and Obama to hide behind. Given the well publicized, and far more egregious, "mistakes" made by Turbo Timmy, Hedge Fund Larry and others (who are still in office), this whole theatrical piece stinks.

"Oh, it's not our fault, it's those nutter Republicans that made us do it." Ya.

Chances are there have been a number of heated discussions about the economy, environment and healthcare... to the point where people like Jones just don't fit in. They're seriously outnumbered by corporate hacks and we all know hacks can't stand to argue with people who are motivated by the public interest. They can't stand the heat and then the long knives come out.

Let's face it. People like Van Jones were hired so party activists felt like there was someone inside who shared their views (and would listen to them). He wasn't hired for his policy acumen. If he was, he'd still be there--it's other people's views they are interested in. I fully expect all the rest of the progressives on the WH staff to be purged as well. After all, how many Bush USAs are still in office for starters? How many Bush appointees are STILL prosecuting Don Siegalman? I guess some mistakes are more heinous than others, eh?

There's one other example of this which bears mentioning, especially since it involves a major conservative whose only real crime is his honesty: Paul Volcker. He's never been a friend of anyone who isn't pretty damn rich, but he doesn't like corrupt policies. So he's been sidelined as well. He's just a name on a web page, a name they can throw around when people get pissed about bailouts, etc.

I'm starting to think Obama's speech on Wednesday could be the Mother Of All Sister Souljah speeches. Jeebus, I hope I'm wrong about that, but firing Van Jones seems like an opening salvo.

Bottom line: the GOoPers have influence well in excess of their numbers, because the WH and RW Dems grant it to them in order to further excuse their unwillingness to do what the voters want them to do... make policy in the public interest. They would much prefer they be viewed as spineless jellyfish than the traitors to their own base that they are.

"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." -Woody Allen, My Speech to the Graduates

Here comes 1994 in spades (0.00 / 0)
And I am hoping for it.

Change you can believe in-NOT! A great bumper sticker BTW.

[ Parent ]
Van Jones will be missed (0.00 / 0)
Having seen him speak, followed his activism for a while now, read his book, and basically signed on as a green jobs activists, I can't begin to describe how much this pisses me off.

And as for his association with the "Truthers", from everything I've read he didn't understand what he was signing, wasn't really very ideologically aligned with them, and despite all that apologized for his mistakes later.

Why the hell do rightists, who never seem to apologize for ANYTHING, never get held accountable while those of us in the movement camp get screwed for shit we've moved past anyway?  Is it because rightists can't conceive of ideological change and development or because they simply have a better bullshit machine.  At this point I'm kind of leaning towards both.

Figuring out how to be a progressive college graduate transplant to Ohio:  http://citizenobie.wordpress.com/

Yup this is too bad (4.00 / 3)
Agree with everything you've written here.

I hadn't even heard of these criticisms of Jones; they must have just been percolating around right-wing media.  It's hard for me to imagine the White House actually giving a crap.

I agree with the commenter above--this was just a fig leaf to force out an avowed outsider.

I'll also add (4.00 / 6)
Van Jones has a unique ability to build consensus around a revolutionary idea--a green economy.  His well-articulated vision for the future of this country is an incredible asset, as is his ability to inspire people on all rungs of the wealth and power ladder.

Vile forces want to marginalize him because they want to marginalize this vision, just like they wanted to turn every conversation about climate change into an Al Gore joke.  We cannot let that happen.  It is inexcusable that the Obama administration enabled this scummy nonsense.

Misguided petition? (4.00 / 1)
I think there's a fair amount of anecdotal evidence suggesting that, if nothing else, the Bush-Cheney regime was deliberately negligent in the months before 9/11/2001.  What reasons they had are for a court of law to decide, but to dismiss the notion is I think foolish.  The video tape of the worthless cretins being warned about the levees not holding, and knowing they took no action, is part of a pattern of criminal negligence.

Yes I agree that every time you give in they get worse-psychology 101 (4.00 / 1)
I too was disappointed but just the other day I put X's (3 of them) through my Obama bumper ticker so I couldn't do it again. I took a lot of shit for that bumper sticker. I'
ve been driving since 1950 and I have never been stopped so many times in my entire driving life as when I put on that sticker. Shit on Obama. I won't lift a finger. I don't hate him like Bush, but I am far more disappointed in him than even Clinton because I expected so much more.

There are people in my neon red town who voted for him and they were Bush people. Their complaints are exactly the same as Sirota's and the rest of the far left. The same. Now swallow that one.

Nice framing (4.00 / 5)
The public option is supported by 77% of Americans, the Afghanistan war is opposed by 2-to-1 in the polls - but I and others here represent "the far left." I guess the majority of America is the "far left"...but then, isn't that "the center" if most Americans agree with those positions?

[ Parent ]
EXACTLY. (0.00 / 0)
For instance, single-payer has always been the REAL centrist, majority position. Everything to its neoliberal right is -- well, right-wing.

The UK's NHS is much further left than single-payer, for instance.

My preference, as a lefty, is fully socialized medicine (not just insurance, as with single-payer): education and training, research, pharmaceuticals & equipment manufacture, hospitals and other health centers, professional staff...all of it.

[ Parent ]
that is the center, you fools (0.00 / 0)
molly ivins, 2006:
    ... The majority of the American people (55 percent) think the war in Iraq is a mistake and that we should get out. The majority (65 percent) of the American people want single-payer health care and are willing to pay more taxes to get it. The majority (86 percent) of the American people favor raising the minimum wage. The majority of the American people (60 percent) favor repealing Bush's tax cuts, or at least those that go only to the rich. The majority (66 percent) wants to reduce the deficit not by cutting domestic spending, but by reducing Pentagon spending or raising taxes.

   The majority (77 percent) thinks we should do "whatever it takes" to protect the environment. The majority (87 percent) thinks big oil companies are gouging consumers and would support a windfall profits tax. That is the center, you fools. ...

[ Parent ]
Just to add (4.00 / 5)
a question, isn't this tied to Color of Change going after Beck's advertisers?  I thought this was pure revenge, though perhaps I'm wrong and they've been after Van Jones for longer than the ad boycott campaign has been going on.

I hope CoC doesn't back down, and if anything escalates their efforts.  Losing Van Jones is a blow, but Beck going off the air would be a much bigger victory.

An eye for an eye, (0.00 / 0)
a scalp for a scalp.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]

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