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Van Jones: The Partisan Politics of Mutually Assured Distraction

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In game theory, Nash equilibrium is a strategy that applies to two or more players, whereby each of the players knows the other's assets and deficits and no one can benefit by a unilateral change in strategy. Given the Republican strategy--destroy viable members of the opposition by any means necessary--Democrats return the favor, and the net result is stasis and political inertia.

Mutually assured destruction is an example of the theory at work, where a "poison pill" strategy obviates an unpleasant outcome for both sides: total devastation of both attacker and attacked. So Democrats take out one of their soldiers (we can't think of an example that wasn't in some way justified) and the GOP takes a public servant working for the Democratic Party -- the latest being Van Jones, special adviser for green jobs at the White House Council on Environmental Quality -- and the goals and aspirations of each party are waylaid.

Jones resigned shortly after midnight in the middle of Labor Day weekend. The move was designed, it would seem, to create the least amount of news. While we respect that desire, it's hard to sit idly by as the worst tendencies in American politics are allowed to destroy this country unchecked by at least a modicum of critical rebuke.

Here's what Jones said in his resignation:

On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me. They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide. I have been inundated with calls -- from across the political spectrum -- urging me to "stay and fight." But I came here to fight for others, not for myself. I cannot in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past. We need all hands on deck, fighting for the future.

That is the Van Jones we have come to know over the years. He is 100% committed to creating the conditions for an improvement in society. He is dedicated to progress, and solution-oriented activism. He is a team player. He knows how to follow the leader, and how to be the leader. So it makes perfect sense that he would bow out at this point.

What did he do to get in such a bind? He called Republicans names -- or one totally PG-rated name -- and he signed a petition asking for more information about the attacks of 9-11... The latter is not at all clear. There were a lot of petitions floating around during the years that followed 9-11, and many of those petitions included the title of an August 2001 CIA report titled" "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US." Who wouldn't want to know the whole story? There were questions regarding what the Bush administration knew, and when. And frankly, there still are. 9-11 was Katrina without the satellite imagery.

It could be Jones signed the wrong document. The point is this: It doesn't matter. His field of expertise had nothing to do with the questions raised by the opposition.

Last week I received an email from a colleague. He was passing along a comment from his boss, someone who has been fighting in the cold war-trench war of partisan politics since before my colleague was born. (To be fair, I was probably already in elementary school.) We had posted a satirical video about Glenn Beck with the title: "Fun Fact: Van Jones Is Not A Communist." It was clearly poking fun at the notion floated by WorldNetDaily folks that Van Jones, a pro-business, pro-jobs social enterpreneur, was a card-carrying communist. The note urged us to rethink our framing. A denial was as good as an affirmation in this media climate of factless amplification and dogmatic emotionalism. Our esteemed colleague was right.

The point was well made, and we ignored it. We didn't think Van would resign. Or most of us didn't. We didn't think the right wing natter amounted to anything. It was absurd. I knew this for a fact. My colleague's warning invoked the Nixon "I am not a crook" speech to illustrate why the satirical denial of Jones's political non-affiliation might be problematic. The more you deny, the more folks, it seems, rely on the opposite statement being true. The cynicism underlying the situation is nauseating, but a real part of daily life in American politics.

Van Jones was the best person for the job he just relinquished. He would have helped Republican lawmakers in their districts. He would have created jobs. He would have made a difference. It seems passably clear that the folks who launched the smear campaign against him knew this. They didn't care. Mutually assured distraction is the name of the game, and both sides are expert at it.

The winner? No one. The loser? First and foremost, America. Runner-up: Health care reform, a strong climate change bill, better education, and, for the GOP, the scariest thing on Earth: Obama's brighter tomorrow. Solution: stop playing games with the future of the nation?

Originally published by Air America.

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