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Van Jones, Health Care and What’s Next

September 10, 2009

Green jobs czar Van Jones’ resignation on Sept. 5 is a right-wing triumph. Jones is a black Ivy-educated lawyer who has chosen a life of radical activism, fighting the power to make a difference in poverty and environmentalism. Through sheer force of mediated will, the right wing media ruined his opportunity to make a difference from the inside.

In the Bush era, when war protests of hundreds of thousands of people barely got news coverage, and progressive perspectives were distorted, squashed, or worse, Jones made a difference on a local front. He fought police brutality, offered legal services to victims, set up organizations to give political voice to black youth, and in the meanwhile racked up recognition from radical orgs like Time Magazine, Reebok, and the World Economic Forum.

I love people who are able to bridge disciplines and clarify relationships that Should Be. Van Jones is a master of that – making a green economy a centerpiece of his work to fight poverty. He has said:

“There should be a moral principal that says, let’s green the ghetto first…and give the young people standing on the corner the opportunity to put down those hand guns and pick up some caulking guns.”

He sounds like a powerhouse, someone who can navigate many slippery bureaucracies to make his vision manifest. And it’s a sad day when someone with so much gusto gets shot down by that hairless polar bear, Glenn Beck.

Beck has been accusing Jones of being a “911 truther” amongst other things. Like a schoolyard bully, Beck used his strident offensive on Jones, a high-profile but little-power-bearing figure. And got him to step down.

A major loss. Inviting activists like Van Jones to participate meaningfully in government on the issues that they are passionate about was a great move on the part of the administration, but maybe too idealistic. As the right wing grows stronger and the fringes are rattling their cages, the likes of Van Jones is an easy controversy to shake for the administration, who are currently exercising single-point focus on Health Care Reform.

Makes sense, right? You tackle a huge project that is getting a lot of resistance, and you cut the flak. Whatever is not priority is relegated to the back burner, or in this case, turned off completely. The administration has dealt with Jones’ resignation in a typical Obama no-drama fashion.

But what does this mean in the long run? Beck is already targeting another potential Obama appointee Cass Sunstein, whose book Nudge offers some brilliant ideas on how to get people to make the right decisions for themselves as well as for the larger social good, ideas that the Obama administration could definitely use right now. Was Jones a gateway resignation? Or will Obama stand up for the people he has chosen to advise him – the smartest, most visionary people that his administration could rally – as he’s finally, just today, stood up for his vision of health care reform?

Obama’s pattern seems to be that of a tolerant first-time father who begrudgingly gets out the how-to-be-pissed manual when he’s realized that reason, fairness, compassion, and that old Dale Carnegie value of listening are just not working. I hope he doesn’t let other advisers slip away to the frothing Glenn Beckians, and that after he’s fixed health care, his focus on climate change won’t get as derailed by the politics of the absurd.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 21, 2010 7:27 pm

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