Monday, September 7, 2009

The Resignation of Van Jones and the Obama Administration's Failure to Stand Up for Him

If you're not familiar with Van Jones, he's one of the leaders in the green jobs movement, and until Sunday briefly an official in the Obama administration. He is largely responsible for making "green jobs" and "clean energy jobs" part of our lexicon, and for demonstrating the positive economic effect of de-carbonizing our economy (in fact, investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency yields significantly more jobs than the same investment in fossil fuels). His influence on the environmental movement and the Democrats' climate policies has been enormous, to a large degree because he's a fantastic orator. As an African-American, he's brought a lot of black and Latino people into a previously mostly white movement, and consequently provided the movement with a broader perspective. He's been an advocate for low-income people and minorities, not only in terms of protecting them from the pollution they disproportionately face, but in ensuring that green jobs can be a means to economic justice for them.

On Sunday, he resigned from his post in the Obama White House in the face of a campaign by Glenn Beck at Fox News and other far right-wingers who questioned some aspects of his past (see NY Times article here). The campaign was disgustingly based in falsehood and extreme distortion of fact.

I was going to write a long piece on how mad I am that Glenn Beck's crazed far-right campaign against him succeeded. The campaign had many racist aspects to it, which Carl Pope of the Sierra Club summarizes on his blog here. What really pisses me off, though, is that the Obama administration refused to stand up for Van Jones. Why should they heed the calls of an extreme right-winger like Beck who has a large but narrow following of people who wouldn't ever vote for a Democrat anyways? John Nichols of The Nation puts it best here.

Although this controversy may have been a distraction from the health care and clean energy debates, it wasn't a big one. It would have been easy for administration officials to simply rebut Beck's falsehoods and move on. The effects of caving to Beck's crowd is far worse. First of all, it will only embolden the racist reactionaries to continue smearing progressives in the administration and Congress for that matter. Secondly, it shows major weakness on Obama's part. Do you ever remember any liberal media blocking an appointment in the Bush administration that didn't require Senate approval? This makes them look REALLY weak going into these huge legislative battles, primarily within their own party. If anything letting Jones resign without a fight makes victory on health care and climate legislation less likely.

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