Wednesday, September 09, 2009

7088: Beating Up The Joneses.

From The Chicago Tribune…

Slinging mud

By Clarence Page

Score one for the right wing. Conservative witch hunters, notably Fox News’ Glenn Beck, are claiming victory for hounding President Barack Obama’s green jobs czar out of office. Yet the victory also highlights a gaping deficit in America’s conservative movement. They’ve become more adept in recent years at trashing liberal ideas than at coming up with some new ones of their own.

Van Jones, a San Francisco Bay Area activist for environment-friendly “green-collar” industries, resigned as the president’s special adviser for environmental jobs after weeks of mud slung against him by Beck and other conservative media pundits. Jones’ credentials are outstanding, but these are politically polarized times. At a time when nervous parents were threatening to pull their children out of school, for example, ironically to avoid hearing Obama speak about the value of education, the outspokenly progressive Jones hardly had a chance.

Jones is a bright, charismatic organizer who came up from a small-town Tennessee childhood to graduate from Yale Law School and become a rising star in the world of environmental activism. He’s the author of a New York Times best seller, “The Green Collar Economy,” and was named by Time Magazine this year as one of the “100 most influential people in the world” and by Fast Company magazine last year as one of the “12 most creative minds.”

Like Obama, Jones has a knack for reaching across lines of race, class and political parties—until now, anyway—to create jobs and help save the environment. At the center of his vision is the creation of green-collar jobs, a phrase he popularized for jobs that can provide family-supporting wages, upward mobility to higher skills and help save the planet too.

”We’re asking questions progressives like but we’re giving answers that conservatives should like,” he said at last month’s National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas. “We’re not talking about expanding welfare, we’re talking about expanding work. We’re not talking about expanding entitlements, we’re talking about expanding enterprise and investments. … We should be able to stand together and be one country on this.”

Yes, we should. But while Jones was calling for “one country,” Beck and Co. were digging into his background like a political campaign’s hit squad to smear Jones as a “communist-anarchist radical.” Yes, Jones dabbled in radical politics in his younger days, but that was then. Beck and Co. don’t think much of political redemption, at least not when it is claimed by someone who is not on their side.

Most embarrassing to Washington etiquette are YouTube videos of Jones speaking his mind before he was appointed to his White House post. They include a well-publicized vulgarity that starts with “a” and has an “h” in the middle. He employed the a-word to describe Republicans during a February meeting. He has apologized, but the flap made him too big a headache for the Obama White House. He also apologized for signing a petition in 2004 that called for further investigation of the Bush administration’s actions before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Significantly, Jones’ remarks hardly ventured further to the left than Beck’s rambling commentaries swerve to the far right. But Beck’s a talk-show host. When he goes over the top and accuses Obama of “deep-seated hatred of white people,” as Beck did recently without offering evidence to back it up, he gets bigger ratings. A presidential appointee would get the ax.

But the larger significance of Jones’ departure is what it says about the conservatives who helped push him out. Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at the conservative National Review, sounds frustrated. “Republicans have a high degree of unity these days, which has been very helpful in opposing liberal initiatives such as the stimulus and the Democrats’ health-care legislation,” he writes in the magazine’s current issue. “The downside of that unity is that it is less helpful in generating new ideas, some of which the party will probably need to retake power and will certainly need to exercise it productively.”

In the meantime, the GOP’s conservative base has legions of talk-show pundits to fire up their hearts, if not their minds.

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