Van Jones Exit Isn't Right-Wing Win, It's an Obama Surrender

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The Nation

Van Jones Exit Isn't Right-Wing Win, It's an Obama Surrender

The decision of Van Jones to resign as President Obama's "green jobs" czar is not a victory for Republicans who griped about the White House environmental aide's willingness to call them out on their extreme partisanship.

Nor was it a victory for right-wingnuts like Glenn Beck – who waged a bitter campaign against Jones, highlighting his history of activism on behalf of environmental justice, racial reconciliation, global solidarity and an inquiry into events leading up to the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

It was an unnecessary and unwise surrender by an Obama administration there is neither ready nor willing to fight "those who spin lies for profit" -- as National Association for the Advancement of Colored People president Ben Jealous described those who smeared Jones.

Jones made a gracious exit from his key position in an administration that was unwilling to stand up for him, issuing a Labor Day weekend statement that said: "On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me," Jones said in his resignation statement. "They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide."

Jones said he had been "inundated with calls from across the political spectrum urging me to stay and fight." The NAACP and other groups had initiated campaigns to keep Jones in his position as White House Special Advisor for Green Jobs.

Few doubt that Jones would have stayed on, if the president and his aides had been willing to defend the ablest advocate for green jobs.

Nor is there doubt among those of us who have known and worked with this remarkable man over the years that, when Jones signed a petition or spoke at a rally, he did not always agree with every detail of what was being said – anymore than a Republican congressman who speaks at a teabagger rally agrees with the signs in the crowd that call for acts of violence or a conservative talk-show host agrees with callers who claim President Obama was not born in the United States.

Those heirs to Joe McCarthy who have been waging a campaign to discredit and dismiss high-ranking African-American appointees of the Obama administration have highlighted the fact that Jones' name appeared on a petition calling for an aggressive inquiry into whether Bush-Cheney administration aides failed to take necessary steps to prevent the 9/11 attacks.

While some who circulated that petition may have believed the worst about members of the former administration, Jones clearly and unequivocally stated the more extreme position "certainly does not reflect my views, now or ever."

Jones wanted a more serious inquiry, as did many mainstream Democrats and Republicans who worried about the constrained and ineffectual approach of the 9/11 Commission and a Bush-friendly Congress. As the NAACP's Jealous says, "I have known Van Jones for more than 15 years. In that time he, as is characteristic of great public servants, has continuously grown and increased his capacity for improving the condition of humanity. Throughout, he has been guided by a powerful sense of patriotism and love for all."

Jones' Republican critics knew this.

His Fox TV attackers were fully aware that this was an ugly smear campaign designed not so much to embarrass Jones as to undermine the administration.

They just wanted to get rid of Jones, who has for many years been among the savviest and most effective advocates for green jobs – and whose appointment to the green jobs" position was one of the strongest signals that the Obama administration was serious about both environmental protection and job creation.

President Obama and his aides let the right spin a fantasy about a man who led the highly-regarded Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and was recently listed as one of Time magazine's 100 most influential player's of 2009.

In so doing, they allowed Glenn Beck to define the administration.

This won't make the Obama presidency stronger; nor will it position the president to work more effectively with Congress on issues such as health care reform – let alone "green jobs" initiatives.

The right now knows they can make this administration blink. And they will keep poking and prodding White House aides and appointees until Obama and his inner circle push back.

That's how Washington works.

Republican strategists and the echo chamber in the media understand this.

Unfortunately, the president and his aides do not.

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