An old college friend recently asked me what my connection was
to Van Jones, since I work at the Center for American Progress and he was a
Fellow here prior to taking his post at the White House. I told him that, while
we had not interacted at work, I had contacted Jones many years ago when I was
an Internet advocacy consultant looking to do some work for the Ella Baker
Center. While that
project never materialized, I kept up with his work there as I continued to
talk with his communications staff about possible projects.
I also mentioned my distaste for the hatchet job Glenn Beck and
others had done on him to drive him to resignation.
My old friend’s response was quite revealing about just how
effective the hatchet job on Jones was. He replied that he thought I had gone “stark
raving mad” and that “There was no ‘hatchet job.’” He went on to call him a “complete
loon,” a “truther,” and that his own words describing himself as a communist
and leader of STORM were “downright scary.” He then wrote that the president
was an “idiot” for not knowing this stuff (or worse, if he did know it) and
still choosing Jones to be “in charge of billions of fed dollars for ‘green
jobs’” and that it was no wonder his approval rating was 45 percent.
He then wished me well, calling me his “communist-sympathizing amigo.”
Good friend, but sadly misguided.
is my response to my old friend:
be clear, do not construe anything I say to mean I am anything but a mainstream
American. Like the majority of the people in this country, I favor the free
market except in areas where it does not work, namely the production of public
goods (clean air, clean water, national defense, contract enforcement, law
enforcement, and public health, to name the big ones). In those cases, I
believe government is the only actor that has the capacity to produce public
goods at sufficient levels.
I am describing is consistent with Adam Smith's work, as well as Keynes and the
vast majority of economists.
Van Jones was a communist by his own admission may be true, but to say that
makes him a loon or unfit for public service is as ridiculous as saying a pure
free marketer is a loon or unfit for public service. In both cases, the
evidence to support their positions ain't there. In both cases, they defend a
system that has never existed in the modern developed world. There are, and
have been, no pure communist, nor pure free market countries. Even in the
heyday of the American industrial revolution, monopolies and oligopolies ruled
the market (until government regulation created a mixed market economy). And in
the Soviet Union and China,
what was implemented was far closer to state capitalism and fascism than it was
to Marxism or communism.
let's get that out of the way.
I stark raving mad? Not even close. Don't forget, I have made detailed studies of
politics and policy since our school days. I have a Ph.D. in political science
and I have been a professor and policy professional for 20 years. I am steeped
in research and make my conclusions based on research.
also believe in the Constitution, all of it, especially the rights of all
Americans to have and express diverse opinions.
also believe in the free market of ideas. This means I believe that a
government assembled only of like thinking people is doomed to make mistakes
due to closed mindedness. I would much rather see policy advisors drawn from
across the spectrum than from the same team. The results will be better.
for the hatchet job, it is well documented that Beck, Hannity and crew are out
to take down Obama any way they can, in part by railing on his “czars.”
Sean Hannity explained, "We got rid of one [czar], and my job...is to get rid of every other one.
I promise you that." Neil Cavuto claimed last June that Obama's czars
should actually be called "evil despots accountable to no one." Glenn Beck, referred to Obama's appointment of special advisers as
a "power grab."
find the “power grab” argument particularly hypocritical because 1) Bush/Cheney
bragged about doing many worse things to grab power for executive than
appointing czars, 2) Bush had at least a dozen "czars," himself, 3)
some of the people Beck is calling czars, like Cass Sunstein, are unaccountable,
as they are going through Senate confirmation process as part of their appointment,
4) even Karl Rove was Bush's domestic policy czar by Bush's own words, 5) the
president has always had a full set of policy advisor within the White House
and separate from the Cabinet departments and agencies, even if they are not
called “czars” (that is why we have the West Wing and two Executive office
buildings, built long before Obama was sworn in), and 6) even Republicans in
Congress complaining about the czars, like Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana),
actually voted to create some of them when Bush was president (for example the
Intelligence Czar/Director of National Intelligence).
regardless of whether you can find particular justification for the attacks on
Van Jones, those attacks were clearly and deliberately part of a hatchet job to
undermine the president. Further, don't you find it ironic that the people who
are orchestrating this campaign against the president are the same guys that
called those of us who criticized Bush unpatriotic and worse just a few years
for your comments about Truthers, I am not one. I do not believe the president
knew about or orchestrated the 9/11 attacks. But I do know that Bush had close
personal relations with the Saudi royal family and that Bush, Cheney, and many
of their principle supporters and advisors are from the oil industry and have
close relationships with Arab oil magnates, including the bin Laden family.
Given all we do know, it is fair to ask if Bush might have underestimated the importance of signs that should have warned him of the threat. Further,
I am sure you know that in the 48 hours after 9/11 when all fights over the US were
grounded, the Bush administration arranged for all members of the bin Laden
family to be flown out of the country. Even if you stop short of believing Bush knew
about the attacks in advance, there are still a lot of important and unanswered
questions about the whole affair.
you condemn Jones for signing the 911 Truth petition, you should probably read
it and see who else signed it.
While there are some questions on the list that may cross the line, there are
several more that are perfectly reasonable ones to ask. And while I am sure
some of the signatories are going to fit your definition of loonies, not all
also recommend you familiarize yourself with the scope of Jones' work at the Ella Baker Center
before reducing him to a label based on the latest attacks. His body of work is
most impressive and relevant to any character assessment you might make of him.
for the president's approval ratings being at 45 percent, that is one poll and
by no means the consensus. In fact most polls still have him at 50 percent
approval or more, and most of the rest have him at 47+ percent.
But if your source is the Fox Advocacy Network or Newt Gingrich for this stuff,
you are going to get misled.
given the big issues the president is tackling, all the political science
research would predict that it would push his approval down. That is the nature
of taking on hard issues. But it is not a basis for dismissing the value of the
policies being pursued.
as for Obama putting Jones "in charge" of billions of dollars for
Green Jobs, he was an advisor, not in charge of the budget. That budget would
be administered by the appropriate cabinet departments. Jones was there to help
craft the policy. As for the Green Jobs policy, while Jones has been a major
thinker in the area, the green jobs focus has been fully developed by the
Center for American Progress.
that is the gist of my reply to my old friend. It is by no means the definitive
answer, but I think it begins to provide real context to the controversy and
focuses on the underlying substance instead of the politically charged hatchet
job rhetoric you get from Beck, Hannity and the crew at the Fox Advocacy
Network. What do you expect from them, they are flawed and biased?
Follow Alan Rosenblatt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drdigipol