Anthony "Van" Jones

by Glen Ford

"The president behaves as if progressives are his primary problem in forging a grand, ’nonpartisan’ consensus.”

The firing of White House “green-jobs” point-person Van Jones is the latest manifestation of the Obama Administration’s abiding fear of the Right and distaste for progressives – although it is unclear which is the more powerful reflex. This weekend’s dismissal of the veteran activist, author and powerful motivational speaker turned administration functionary cannot but send a chill through the ranks of those who style themselves “progressives for Obama,” in and out of government, who believed they had found a political “home” under the Obama umbrella.

It would be wrong to conclude that Jones was “hounded” out of the White House by Fox News telereactionary Glenn Beck’s charges that the 40 year-old Yale-educated lawyer was a supporter of Mumia Abu Jamal, had signed a letter questioning the Bush Administration’s version of 9/11, and once referred to Republicans as “assholes” (quickly adding that he, Jones, “can be an asshole,” too.) This is pretty tame stuff, considering that the feigned outrage emanates from a crowd that routinely refers to the president as a socialist, an Arab and a non-citizen – epithets of the worst kind in Beck-Limbaughland. Besides, this is an administration whose Treasury Secretary neglected to pay taxes and whose top economic advisors, Larry Summers and Robert Rubin, were key players in setting the stage for the current economic disaster. Walking catastrophes like these men are thought by the administration to need no defense, yet the rising young Black star is cast out of the firmament.

"Jones’ dismissal cannot but send a chill through the ranks of those who style themselves “progressives for Obama.”

If one assumes that color is no hindrance in the Obama White House, then the conclusion is obvious: Van Jones, co-founder of Oakland, California’s Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and the internet activist organization Color of Change, was ejected because of his progressive politics. There is more than a subtle difference between being hounded from office and being thrown to the dogs.

Glenn Beck’s and the GOP’s regurgitated McCarthyism – of which Obama, himself, is the main target – is as transparent as it is vicious. But remember that Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the 1950s Red-hunter, could not personally fire anyone outside his own staff. Neither could the many freelance witch-hunting vigilante outfits of the era. McCarthyism’s many thousands of victims were laid low by employers and college deans and such who acted on the diabolical politician’s charges. Glenn Beck didn’t fire Van Jones, Obama did.

Or, to be more technically correct, the president and Jones’ boss, Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, accepted his resignation. Although often referred to as the White House “green-jobs czar,” Jones was officially a Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, one of nearly thirty special advisors in various disciplines scattered about the White House, most of whom are not required to be confirmed by Congress. Obama’s spin doctors encouraged the media to call these advisors “czars,” doubtless because some, like Jones, represented otherwise under-served political constituencies that the president wanted to feel empowered. Jones described himself as “the green jobs handyman,” and said “there’s no such thing as a green-jobs czar.”

"Jones was unceremoniously discarded so that Obama might reconcile with modern-day McCarthyites."

As is clear in light of events, Jones’ version was much closer to the truth. The Obama administration, thoroughly corporate at its core, guided by the profoundly conservative philosophy that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” has invented new White House positions to give the impression of political diversity, jobs that were intended as a kind of window dressing. With great fanfare, for example, Obama announced creation of the White House Director of Urban Affairs – and then filled the post with former Bronx, New York, Borough President Adolfo Carrion, a political hack whose imagination has never ventured beyond the next campaign check from the real estate industry.

Jones is anything but a hack, nor would he consent to be mere window dressing. In making his now-infamous “Republicans are assholes” remark, Jones declared that “some of us who are not Barack Hussein Obama are going to have to start getting a little bit uppity." The uppity Jones got slapped down by his own president, who behaves as if progressives are his primary problem in forging a grand, “nonpartisan” consensus. Progressives were made unwelcome at White House forums on health reform, lest they spoil Obama’s courtship of Republicans and the drug and insurance companies they serve. Now Jones has been unceremoniously discarded so that Obama might reconcile with modern-day McCarthyites. It is not unreasonable to describe Obama’s White House as an unfriendly environment for progressives, and getting worse.

Jones’ talents are best put to use outside of this “progressive-unfriendly” administration. It is a historically misleading cliché, most often bandied about by Black Republicans and other rascals, that one has to be on the “inside” to effect real change. What is most desperately needed are political instruments to exert pressure on this administration from the Left, especially Black-led instruments. Had such formations existed in sufficient strength, perhaps Jones would not have been so peremptorily dismissed. But then, lots of things might be different if the Black Left stopped behaving like Obama camp followers and groupies, immune to insult. It’s downright racially embarrassing, and earns us nothing but contempt.

Related article :

The Election of Barack Obama Has Paralyzed Progressive Forces in US Politics, by Glen Ford, Voltaire Network; 2 July 2009.