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Tikkun Magazine

Van Jones's Resignation: Bad for the Country and Bad for Obama

I signed the same statement on 9/11 that Van Jones signed, and there was nothing immoderate about it.  It didn't say what the Right claimed it said (and the mainstream media chimed in without investigation). I'll explain below.

Jones's resignation is bad for the country and for the Obama administration. It's bad for America when progressive views are an excuse to purge someone from the administration while extremist right-wing views of past administrations were always given a "pass."

Van Jones's forced resignation is a huge defeat for the forces of sanity and humanity, and represents a deep failure of the Obama-ites to understand the nature of the challenge they face from an increasingly fascistic Right wing.

Jones was the first African American environmentalist to have become a national figure (his book became a national bestseller), and was brought into the administration to help enlist minority communities in the struggle to save the environment from decades of abuse.

Right-wingers pounced on him for a speech in which he allegedly called Right-wingers assholes, though he used the same word to describe himself and the Left. But what gave them a supposedly clinching argument was that he signed a statement calling for an objective investigation of 9/11. Scroll down to see the full text of what it really said -- not what the media claimed.
The forced resignation of Van Jones demonstrates the lack of backbone of the Obama administration.

Jones was a rare progressive appointment among the wide array of Wall Street sycophants and inside-the-Beltway pragmatists who have misled Obama into a path that has caused him to lose his initial popularity and severely endanger his presidency.

The notion that Jones's past could have a serious impact on the future of health care reform defies all plausibility -- those who will oppose health care reform will do so just as strongly without Jones's presence in the White House as they would have had he remained. The message being given by the Obama administration is clear: if you on the Right critique us, we will pander to you and abandon our friends.

In conditions of expanding prosperity, this would create the possibility of a resurgence of McCarthyism throughout the society. In conditions of growing economic pain, this kind of mimicking of the worst behavior of the German middle-of-the-roaders during the Weimar Republic sets the stage for the possibility of a genuine home grown fascism in the U.S.

If, God forbid, that should happen, people will look back to the capitulations on health care, human rights, and many other policy areas of the Obama administration, but will give equal importance to the abandonment of Van Jones and the signal it gives to the Right.

As to how Jones could have signed the statement below, let me make clear that neither he nor I, who also signed the statement, signed something accusing Bush of being directly involved in 9/11. I did authorize my name to be used to call for an investigation of the claims of those who deny the official story of 9/11.

Conspiracy Theories and the "Truthers"

I am now and was then an agnostic about what actually happened to make 9/11 possible, but do agree with those who say that there are enough inconsistencies and problems with the official story to warrant an impartial investigation by people not connected to the government of the United States and not bound by political considerations. I think that such an investigation would be a great advantage to everyone.


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I have often found myself surrounded by people obsessed with 9/11 and acting in ways that I would call the behavior of "nut cases" because they are so sure that they know not only what I agree with -- namely that the inconsistencies deserve further investigation --  but also what I disagree with, namely that there is a prima facie reason to believe that President Bush had concrete prior knowledge of an attack on the United States and for political reasons allowed it to happen. Frankly, I don't believe that one bit, but that is one of the reasons why I'd like to see an impartial investigation by people who have no political stake in the outcome of that investigation, and with the power to subpoena all relevant documents. Such an investigation could once and for all put these paranoid types to rest or at least silence them. So that is why I signed the call.

What the Right did, with the help of the 9/11 "truthers," was to distort the intention of at least some of us who were asked to sign the statement. The "truthers" published that statement with their own speculations of the role of Bush, and the way that it appears on their website makes it possible for someone to imagine that the signatories to the statement were all agreeing to their framing--and that is simply not true. Conversely, the Right used that deceptive form of publicity by the "truthers" to affirm something that Van Jones and others made clear we never intended to sign, namely the claim that Bush was knowingly involved. (One reason I don't believe Bush was part of 9/11: it was too well executed for that bungler to have been involved. Even Cheney seemed incapable of pulling off a serious military move, much less something that would have required the coordination and secrecy to make 9/11 happen, and then keep secret the involvement of others for the next eight years. Though it worked very much in favor of their militarist policies, they were far too incompetent to have made it happen.)

I was asked to sign a letter that I was told had four demands:

1. An immediate investigation by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer
2. Immediate investigation in congressional hearings.
3. Media attention to scrutinize and investigate the evidence.
4. The formation of a truly independent citizens-based inquiry. 

I did not authorize my name to be used for all the other stuff that I now see was included surrounding the letter, namely the sponsors of that, and would not have had I been aware that all that stuff was presented in ways that suggested that I agreed with it, and though I do recognize a few of the people I'd consider "nut cases" among the list of signatories, my guess is that most of those who signed were, like me, unaware of the context in which our names would appear.

Some time after signing that, I was asked to be part of a book of people questioning 9/11. In that book I said what I'm saying here -- that I am an agnostic on the question of what really happened, neither believing the official story nor the alternative stories that I've heard presented. However, in that article I made clear that I believe that the people pushing in that direction of trying to make this into a big issue were making a mistake, not because I knew that they were wrong, but because I don't think that progressives or spiritual progressives like myself should be wasting their time uncovering conspiracies.

My own experience with the FBI and other law enforcement groups during the anti-Vietnam-war movement period in the 1960s and 1970s leads me to believe that there are far more conspiracies than most of us would believe, but they are fundamentally irrelevant to what shapes American policies, and hence not worth spending much time on unless one's goal is to become a famous investigative reporter. The uncovering of Watergate, in my estimation, actually served to focus attention away from the structural problems in American politics and economics that generated American need to dominate much of the world, and instead into a focus on the specific criminal acts of Richard Nixon.

I would have been far more interested in seeing the war crimes actions of Dr. Kissinger brought to justice, and the military industrial complex which he represented and the FBI that engaged in illegal acts exposed by the Frank Church investigations into Co-Intelpro in 1994 and 95. So, I've urged these people to stop putting their energy into this focus on 9/11, which is, in my view, a waste of time and energy. Yet, for the good of the country, I would like to see some impartial investigation done if that were imaginable (it certainly won't be generated by the Obama administration or by the current Congress), to answer all the legitimate questions that have been raised and not yet answered.

My guess is that they can be answered in ways that will disappoint those who think that the whole thing was a conspiracy, because most of what seems most questionable or implausible is based on the theory that people normally act rationally, whereas my own experience as a psychotherapist for several decades leads me to believe that what seemed irrational and hence possibly intended for some other purpose (for example, the way so many people ignored the warnings being given to FBI and other intelligence agencies in the months before 9/11 warning about many of the aspects of 9/11) turn out to be just the normal stupidity and lack of attention that one finds pervasive in so many of human institutions and social practices, and not a reflection of a conspiracy to win political advantage!!!
But this kind of complex answer doesn't fit into a sound byte, does it?

The bigger issue remains: how Obama responds to the assaults from the Right. The pattern he sets by allowing his assistants to force Jones to resign (or set by Jones himself in the unlikely case that he made the decision without such outside pressure) is one of capitulation -- and that will only guarantee yet more extreme assaults from the Right. Wilhelm Reich in the late 1920s analyzed the growth of fascism in Germany, and one of his important observations was that the fascists managed to intimidate people because the Left was not in the streets challenging them. Luckily, we are not yet at a point where the Right is scaring people in the streets of American cities, but they are doing so through the media. What is needed is a vigorous challenge in the media from liberals and progressives, and the obvious place from which that should be coming is the Obama administration. If, instead, they wimp out, as so many congressional Democrats have done for the past many years, the Right will be encouraged and tens of millions of decent Americans will become fearful and withdraw from public involvement, allowing a path to power for some of the most hate-oriented forces in American society. Historians may well look back at the Van Jones resignation as an important step in that process of shifting the society, so recently rejoicing at having gotten back on track toward progressive values, toward a renewed McCarthyism or worse.

Of course, I have lots of compassion for Obama and for Jones, because when they peer out into the society they don't hear enough voices speaking out on their behalf. Please read the September/October editorial I wrote on that topic! And I have compassion for many Americans on the Right who have been deeply misled both about the facts and about how to understand them by rightwing media like FOX, and by spineless liberal politicians and media who rarely provide Americans with an alternative context through which they can analyze their experiences and the news. But that compassion should not lead us to inaction, but rather to vigorous advocacy of a spiritual progressive perspective, recognizing that many Americans would actually be quite moved were they to hear such a perspective and see how that could be tied to specific programs to heal and transform our world.

Michael Lerner

Michael Lerner

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine: a bimonthly Jewish and Interfaith Journal of Politics, Culture and Society. He is chair of the interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives, author of 11 books including Healing Israel/Palestine: A Path to Peace and Reconciliation, and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue in San Francisco.

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