Thank you, Glenn Beck. By helping force the resignation of Van Jones, you have done a great service to your country. But in the exact opposite way than what you intended.
Your vile and vicious smear campaign has helped reverse one of the worst examples of miscasting since John Wayne took on the role of Genghis Khan in The Conqueror.
Don't get me wrong: Van Jones was the best person for the job he just gave up. But the job was not the best use of Van Jones.
Contrary to the media caricature, the real Van Jones is a thoughtful leader who knows how to use words to move people to action. To stick him behind a desk, working out the details of tax credits for green jobs -- incredibly important though the job is -- was never the best use of his unique and abundant skills.
This is not an attempt to put a positive spin on an ugly episode. I've actually been feeling this way ever since Van told me he was taking this job.
I remember going to the White House this spring for a briefing of journalists by David Axelrod. Before the meeting, Van and I met for a quick coffee and I was hit with the same overwhelming thought: how much we were going to miss his voice on the outside.
Now, thanks to Glenn Beck, we've got that voice back. No longer tied to his desk with a sock in his mouth, Van is now freed to do what he does best: inspire and energize groups around the country. Student groups and labor groups and small business groups and middle class Americans everywhere who are losing jobs and losing homes and losing hope. He's free to push with all his might and insight for the vision tens of millions of Americans tirelessly worked for during the presidential campaign -- the vision they voted for in November -- but which is now in danger of being drowned in the fetid political swamps of Washington.
If Glenn Beck had any sense at all, he would have done everything in his power to keep Van Jones right where he was.
But he didn't. And for this we should all be grateful.
Full disclosure: Van and I have been good friends for many years. We've worked together on a number of projects, I've written about his efforts to fight abuses in the criminal justice system, he's blogged on HuffPost since soon after we launched, and I've watched him hold an audience spellbound at a wide range of events -- from progressive gatherings to the World Economic Forum.
And I've never failed to be impressed by Van. He is a remarkable man. One of the things I've always found so impressive about him -- and something completely lost in the partisan mudslinging -- is his ability to build coalitions and create unlikely alliances. In pursuit of a clean energy future for America, Van has successfully brought together urban youth with clean-tech entrepreneurs, labor leaders with business leaders, civil rights activists with environmentalists. His skill in this area is exceptional, and much needed in America today.
Yes, he might believe that the foundation of the GOP's legislative prowess can be found below the belt and to the rear, but that never stopped him from looking for ways to reach out and bridge the political, economic, racial, and social chasms that continue to divide us.
Back in 2002, I wrote about how the staid and anything-but-radical heads of the World Economic Forum had invited him to their conference and honored him as a "Global Leader for Tomorrow." Jones had been protesting the World Trade Organization in Seattle and the International Monetary Fund in Washington. But that didn't keep him from exchanging ideas with the rich and powerful at the Forum, or from keeping an open mind.
"The people I've met here," Van told me at the time, "are much more thoughtful, complex, and concerned about social issues than either the left or the media portray them to be."
That's a sound bite you're not likely to see being endlessly replayed on Fox News. But that's the real Van Jones, not the caricature the Fox echo chamber has been pummeling for the last few weeks.
The real Van Jones has been lauded by the likes of Meg Whitman (she was very much for him before she decided she needed to be against him) and the editors of Time who named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world and one of the nation's "Heroes of the Environment." Or Fast Company magazine, which placed him on its list of the "12 Most Creative Minds."
The real Van Jones is the speaker who told a crowd at last month's National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas: "We're asking questions progressives like but we're giving answers that conservatives should like" (another sound bite you won't see looped to death on Fox). He went on to stress the importance of enterprise, innovation and entrepreneurship in solving our economic and environmental problems.
More full disclosure: I despise 9/11 "truther" conspiracies. Indeed, one of the guidelines for bloggers on HuffPost is a ban on posts putting forth those kinds of theories. And it was stupid of Van to put his name on a very stupid "9/11 Truth Statement." I've spoken to Van. He doesn't believe that the Bush administration orchestrated the 9/11 attacks or allowed the attacks to happen in a cold-hearted attempt to gin up support. The 9/11 "Truthers" are fringe-dwellers and Van was completely wrong to allow himself to be associated with them.
But that mistake should not define him. Indeed this episode, besides putting Van back in the right role, will provoke a conversation about how people's past should impact what they are able to do in the present.
If the sliming of Van Jones is an indication of how things are going to be, a lot of 20-somethings posting to their Facebook pages as we speak better start worrying about the digital crumbs they are leaving behind for the future Glenn Becks of the world.
Isn't it time we acknowledge that no human being with any passion and deeply held beliefs ever emerged flawless into the world? And that if every mistake, misstep, boneheaded decision, or error in judgment becomes an automatic disqualifier for public service, then we're going to be left with a political landscape filled with nothing but wrinkle-free, foible-free, passionless automatons who have never made a mistake because they never took the risk of having an original thought.
Van Jones is not foible-free. He's human. And ardent in his desire to effect change. In fact, his journey from radical activist to someone who came to see that the solutions we need in this country are ones not easily categorized as right or left is what has made him such an effective leader. If we continue to obsessively see things through that right/left prism -- and use those differences as weapons with which we attack our perceived enemies -- it is going to be infinitely harder to move the country to where it needs to be.
Glenn Beck has taken Van out of his in-the-shadows position and thrust him into the spotlight. I told Van after his resignation that I hope he will take the extra attention and energy Beck created for him and, like a jujitsu black belt, turn the blow into an opening, an opportunity to transform the negative attack into something positive for himself and for the country.
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