THE BLOG
10/23/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Despite Van Jones Controversy, Credibility is President's Key Asset

The abrupt midnight resignation of Van Jones a week before
the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks illustrates how the entrenchment of
conspiracy theories from all sides of the political spectrum can hamper a
president. Jones, a blunt, highly accomplished left-wing policy advisor and
Yale Law graduate, quit an advisory position on the environment for the Obama
administration over Labor Day weekend after his past ties to Marxism and his
signature on a 9/11 “Truther” petition surfaced.

 “Truthers” contend that the Bush administration either
purposely allowed 9/11 to occur or worse yet, committed the atrocity for
political advantage. Jones became the target of attack by conservatives after a
group he co-founded, ColorofChange.org, caused over 30 advertisers to abandon
Fox News commentator Glenn Beck’s show.

Beck has his own disturbing media record. He vigorously
accused President Obama of being a “reparations” seeking “racist” and ties
former Vice President Al Gore to the eco-terror movement. Notwithstanding, the President’s
white mother, Beck, sounding a lot like David Duke, also charged “This president has exposed himself as a
guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white
people, or the white culture, I don't know what it is.” As over-the-top as
Beck’s disgusting outbursts are, President Obama, already under attack from
meritless falsehoods and smears, could not successfully deflect conspiracists
on the outside, while appearing to harbor, even an apologetic, one on the
inside.

President Obama faces two kinds of nasty, but related
smears, one for who he is, and the other on the issues. The first kind of
conspiracy smear relates to the President not being a genuine American due to
citizenship, religion, or political extremism. These include “birthers” who
bizarrely maintain that the President was not born in Hawaii, despite a state
generated birth certificate and his 1961 birth announcement in two Honolulu
newspapers. Another related and debunked theory says he is a secret Muslim
adherent who is part of a wider plot to destroy America. Last, are those who
maintain he is a communist or at the very least a full-blown anti-capitalist
socialist. As Florida GOP head Jim Greer initially said about the President’s
much ado about nothing “study in school” address: “I
am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President
Obama's socialist ideology.”

The tentacles of these theories, just like the condemnable
9/11 Truther theories, often, but not always, intertwine with racism or
religious bigotry. These varied conspiracy theories, whether they involve race,
religion, or accusations of Marxism, serve the critical and nefarious purpose
of denying Obama his legitimate title as president. Once a president is wrongly
deligitimized, detractors are absolved of the essential responsibility of
actually debating real policy issues and underlying credible facts. His
policies are horrendous, not so much for what they are, but because he is an
enemy who can’t be trusted

The full court deligitimization effort against Obama, or any president for that matter, threatens the processes of our democracy. Americans
to be sure have always made their president a target of bare-knuckled political
brawling and criticism. And in recent decades Vietnam, Watergate and corruption
make real skepticism a necessary part of the political landscape. However,
healthy skepticism becomes poison when lies masquerade as facts in a wider
effort. When an amorphous paranoid hatred metastasizes to cast unfounded doubts
on our institutions and democratic processes themselves, true discourse and
investigation withers. President Obama is not the only recent target.

The left’s initial battle over President Bush’s razor thin
Florida electoral victory is understandable, even commendable—but the extreme
left’s fixation after both mainstream Democrats and independent news analysts
confirmed his victory was not. Similarly, thoughtful criticism of American
policies is commendable, but the embrace of wacky 9/11 conspiracy theories for
political expediency is disgraceful, except for true believers—who can plead
insanity. Comparisons of Bush to Hitler, by fringe leftists right down to
swastika bumper stickers, helped lay the groundwork for mainstream right-wing
radio hosts to now to do the same to Obama. All these meritless anti-Bush
efforts deflected attention from factually credible criticism of the alarming
expansion of executive authority and material erosion of fundamental
constitutional protections. Don’t forget earlier conspiracists who blamed the
1995 Oklahoma City bombing on the Clinton administration. While these desperate
tactics may sometimes even result in short term political victories, the
stunning and continuing degradation of mainstream political discourse is
troubling.

President Obama’s past tenure as head of Harvard Law Review,
author and law professor has given him a deserved reputation for deliberative
fact based approaches in analyzing important issues—even among many who
disagree with him.  Unlike
President Bush, who appeared to lead by a combination of instinct, connections
and a moral conviction shaped by his faith, Obama seems more studied. As his
defense secretary noted to CBS News 60 Minutes, Obama, more than his predecessor is eager to get
the opinion of everyone in the room.

As the President dodges increasingly bizarre attacks and
tackles complex issues from health care to Afghanistan, his agenda of “change” must be viewed by the keystone
political middle as being both trustworthy and based on a credible command of
the facts. Unlike many of the other downright wacky shots the administration
has faced, the Jones controversy was a self-inflicted one. Jones supporters
will rightly point to his weighty intellect and the probable change in
perspective his new position would have yielded. However, at a time where truth
is the most critical currency to the defense of this administration’s policies,
the cost of a perceived apologetic or even reformed “truther” is one this
President can ill afford.