Van Jones is a man who did not censor his political thoughts, did not hesitate to pursue the logical consequences of his beliefs and did not care what others thought of his affiliations. In other words, he is a man who has no business whatsoever serving in government, where such candor knows no quarter, particularly for a man of the left. Mr. Jones resigned on Saturday after it became clear that the White House had no intention of lending its institutional credibility to defend him.
Jones was a mid-level adviser on green energy issues. He was not a critical player; he had no budget authority, nor access to classified information, nor direct access to the president's ear. He wasn't a "czar," although it seems as if the White House was OK with the label as long as admiring environmentalists were applying it. And the stuff of the controversy, regardless of its provenance, was genuinely controversial: even when he was just a former communist with a habit of calling Republicans evil, the White House was OK with him. Then it was revealed that he had (mistakenly?) signed his name to a Truther petition.
And that was that. It may not be fair to Jones, but this is not about
Jones -- it's about Obama, and whether defending a guy who used to be a
communist, who called George W. Bush a lot of really bad things, and
who found himself in close company with people who believe that 9/11
was a government conspiracy was worth whatever Jones was currently
contributing to American policy as a member of the White House. And it
Jones's sudden departure has occasioned the creation of some pretty deep narratives and a few superficial ones.
Politico decided that Jones's departure represents a major political
development of some sort. "Beck Up, Left Let Down, And Jones Defiant."
Some liberal commentators also believe that Obama caved and that the
refusal to fight on Jones's behalf signals weakness in both principle
As a general matter, the White
House has a history of NOT caving, even when the freak show, to borrow
Mark Halperin's term, packs 'em in. Zeke Emanuel may have had some pull
with his boss's chief of staff, but the White House hasn't asked Mark
Lloyd, an FEC adviser, to step down because Glenn Beck and the Media
Research Center have him in their sights. Sonia Sotomayor's remarks
about Latina judges and wisdom? The White House defended her stoutly.
administration hasn't withdrawn the nomination of Cass Sunstein for an
important and powerful OMB post, nor did they ask Rosa Brooks to leave
the administration when she was subject to loud criticism, nor have
they stopped fighting for Dawn Johnsen's nomination to be the key legal
adviser in the Justice Department. Or Harold Koh, who is now the State
Department's chief legal adviser. Or John Holdren, the chief science
adviser, who thirty years ago wrote dispassionately about abortion as a
method of population control. Actually, when it comes to defending
administration officials in key positions who make daily contributions
to policy, the Obama White House defends its own pretty well.
was a comparatively easy target, the political equivalent of
low-hanging fruit. He was barely a "czar" -- his power was nominal, and
he was brought into the administration because many Obama advisers on
the environment and economic policy admired the way he found a neat way
to end the "environmentalism is a job killer" contention. He was a
classic policy entrepreneur, and, arguably, the type of person that
liberals and progressives want as a presidential adviser. But he was
-- and can be -- more influential outside of government than inside of
For the same reasons, triumphalism over
Jones's exit is misplaced. Jones was many things, but he wasn't
the fascist that reactionaries insisted on calling him. And he was
never terribly powerful. In fact, his departure makes it easier for the
administration to press ahead with its Green Jobs initiative -- no
longer do opponents have Van Jones to kick around anymore. That Jones
was even the target of vitriol is more evidence of paranoia; the Bush
administration used "czar" in a tongue-in-cheek fashion; the Obama
press shop was casual in its early descriptions of administration
advisers who were given certain portfolios; suddenly, "czar" became
czar -- as if these folks had actual power and malevolent influence --
and not only that, as if they worked in concert to take over the
government and impose their evil world ways.
Is Jones the victim of a racist conspiracy? There is no evidence that racism motivated opposition to Van Jones.
Jones's departure give ammunition to climate change skeptics? Maybe.
The reason why Jones was the target of any attention whatsoever was his
; David Wiegel of the Washington Independent contends that his "downfall
represented a crucial and possibly educational victory for the wing of
the conservative and libertarian movement that has tried, without much
success, to paint environmental activists like Jones as anti-capitalist
radicals less interested in the health of the planet than in a
well-disguised radical agenda." Jones had given the Green Jobs meme
more than a patina of respect even among Republicans, and because of
these sins, he was dangerous to conservative and libertarian
anti-environmentalists. Obama has been careful not to alienate
environmentalist activists to date, and Jones is a hero to many of
said, had Jones not given his critics such ammunition, he may have
drawn fire, but he probably would not have been shot.
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is a contributing editor at The Atlantic
. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One
, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week