Van Jones Should Stick It Out
When news broke yesterday that White House advisor Van Jones had once signed a “truther” 9/11 petition, my heart sank. Jones was already public enemy number one to the Glenn Becks of the world, who, in the paroxysms of their imaginations, made Jones out to be a dangerous anti-American radical, more comfortable with Karl Marx than Thomas Jefferson. The right-wing activists who have smeared Jones have done so without giving a second thought to the substance of his good deeds and fine intentions. In their anti-Obama fervor, they were willing to put a destroy the career of a man who had done much to empower nonwhite communities and brunt the force of environmental degradation.
But the petition to which Jones was a signatory in 2004 likely spells the end of his career in the White House. It argues that “people within the current administration [then the Bush Administration] may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war.” It was, in short, an insane petition, predicated on paranoia and an allergy to simple facts. The revelation that Jones signed makes resignation his only option, politically speaking. But I think Jones should stick it out. I find the truthers’ claims abhorrent and offensive, and of course logically absurd. Yet you don’t have to agree with them–indeed, you can detest them–to realize that Jones’ departure would represent a body blow not just to environmentalism, but to the special promise of the Obama Administration.
Some on the right, including John McCain in the waning days of his presidential campaign, have turned concerns over Obama’s radical past, and the radicals pasts of his associates, into an obsession. Here’s the thing, though: those radical pasts are real. More than any other president in American history, Barack Obama comes from a world in which the interests and arguments of the radical left are real. That doesn’t mean Obama and his team subscribe to them. On the contrary–and this is important!–they’ve moved beyond them. Obama himself admitted familiarity with Marx as an adolescent and young man. We all now know the names of William Ayers and Jeremiah Wright. Jones, too, has been in close proximity to such circles, much more recently like Obama.
But like his boss, the president of the United States, he chose to leave the radicals behind, and enter the world of mainstream liberalism. This, for Jones, was always a risk. The radical left believes that true change and progress are not possible within the narrow confines of the political system. Liberals, on the other hand, believe that our system is great and good, and great change can be enacted within it. As a liberal, I was hopeful that an Obama presidency would do much to dispell the most dangerous myths of the radical left. An Obama presidency would bring the most virulently anti-American radicals, against all they had believed previously, back into the fold of the body politic.
Or so I hoped. If Jones is forced to resign, I imagine that their previous anxiety will only be renewed. See, it isn’t possible, they’ll think. We were right. So: Jones should get out in public and accept responsibility for his actions. He should say that his previous beliefs were misguided; his deep opposition to the American government, signaled as much as anything by his decision to sign this petition, has been overcome. He’s chosen to work with our government, because he believes in it. He works for it now. We need Van Jones, and we need his compatriots, on the inside working out, rather than the other way around.