On Van Jones’ Resignation, Glenn Beck, and Right Wing “populism”

posted by Josh Ran

Cross Posted from Praxis Makes Perfect, Sept 6
Van Jones was a board member of Rainforest Action Network

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For the last couple weeks, American Patriot and movement leader Van Jones has been demonized by Fox News in a paranoid racist red-baiting witch hunt to continue to 1) scare white Americans into the idea that “their country is being stolen from them” 2) tie Obama to Left radicalism (since they can’t find it anywhere in his policies, they’ll continue to do the guilt-by-association thing).

The initial response from much of the liberal blogosphere was a defensive attempt to distance Van from actual statements he made (yes, Van actually was part of a socialist organization called STORM, yes he did do radical community organizing), in a way that plays into right wing frames as if having a Left background disqualifies someone for office, rather than allows a breadth of political perspective grounded in values of peace and justice. It’s worth noting that despite the unfortunate and hasty but also reasonable and benign signing of the 911 petition (the Truther’s are in fact wingnuts), Van never said anything that wasn’t true. Beck on the other hand made up all kinds of fantasies.

Picture 2Of course this isn’t about Van. Its been clear in this experience and in the health care backlash that right wing pseudo “populism” has become a renewed, coherent and compelling force in this country – complete with Orwellean Newspeak (‘Obama is a Racist’, ‘Health Care is Death’, ‘Socialism is Fascism’).

A good reality check on how big some of the fights ahead of us are and how important a coordinated and thoughtful Left is. It has interesting implications for those pursuing an ‘inside/outside’ strategy in confirming the long long history in this country of the Establishment left jettisoning anyone they think is too progressive (aka delegitimizing) to be palatable…whereas the Right goes as far right as it wants to.

Have you noticed how people on the right say all sorts of foul shit and when they are called on it, they just OWN it and are like WHAT? yeah I said it WHAT! and then it goes away?

I don’t know what happened inside the White House, but I do naively wish the administration (or the Liberal institutions) had the courage to say yes, this is what we believe and in fact, this is a positive vision that we’re organizing around. By this stammering and backpeddaling, it confirms to the American people: yes, you are right to be afraid of these ideas, they are scary. Its a losing strategy that validates all of the crazy paranoia that is skyrocketing across the country right now. It emboldens the extreme Right to go even further (you know, when we run campaigns, and our targets respond, we always say ‘look, its working! lets keep going!’ – this can only have the same effect for Glenn’s followers.)

Progressives of all stripes would do well to fortify themselves with the knowledge that we have BIG BIG fights ahead of us, and the Right will play as dirty and deceptive as possible. They have much larger megaphones, and the luxury of playing into deep seated national mythologies and origin stories of this country.

I think David Roberts’ Thoughts on Van Jones’ Resignation piece on Grist offers some useful thoughts that I’ll share here:

Van Jones had to resign. It became inevitable when Gibbs offered no support.

Much of the blame for this incident lies squarely on the White House. The information used against Jones was freely available on the web. All it took was a search. I thought by hiring Jones they intended to take a chance on a real left progressive, but now it appears they were simply caught flat-footed. Either Valerie Jarrett—Jones’ champion in the upper echelons of the administration—didn’t know much about him or didn’t widely share what she knew. They certainly seemed disinclined to mount a vigorous defense with Glenn Beck gnoshing on his favorite new chew toy and the health care reform battle about to heat up again. No distractions.

For the record, Jones isn’t a truther. Five years ago, at the end of a busy paternity leave, he was asked to support the calls of 9/11 families for further investigation of the attacks (reflecting the concerns of millions of Americans). He agreed and his name ended up on a petition that contained language he didn’t support. Three others who signed the petition have also come forward to say they were deceived about its final contents. But the truth of it hardly matters at this point. Jones has always spoken freely, not in the clipped, narrow confines permitted of those who aspire to public office. He talks real talk, in colorful, provocative language. There’s plenty in his copious past writing and speaking that can be demagogued. This isn’t a civic discussion among people who care who Van Jones really is or what he really believes, after all. It’s a head hunt.

On substantive grounds, the resignation is not that significant. Part of the absurdity of all this is that Jones was basically a low-level functionary. By yesterday the dimwit conservative hack Dick Morris had him “in charge of running the cap-and-trade legislation”—ignorant on too many levels to catalog—but I doubt if Jones has ever so much as been in a meeting with Obama. By all accounts he was frustrated by the difficulty of getting even the smallest things done from the bottom of a massive bureaucracy. Even if he’d had the hidden intentions Beck and his pant-wetting audience attribute to every black liberal, he couldn’t have done anything about it.

But policy, reality, that’s not what bottom-feeders like Beck care about. The right governed the country for eight years and ran it into a ditch. Conservatives have no plausible health care solution, no climate solution. They have nothing to offer in response to the nation’s pressing problems. What they have is affect. They have the amygdala, the fight-or-flight reflex. They have deep threads of racism, fear, and resentment.

In other words, they don’t care what Van Jones does, they care what he is. Beck peddles a message that’s been around since America was born: They’re taking your country away. They—the non-white races, the immigrants, the urbanites, the communists, the elites—are stealing the country from nice, simple white Christians. They’re taking what rightfully belongs to us, to Real Americans.

This basic, gut-level fear of loss, fear of tribal obsolescence and irrelevance, is all the 25%-and-shrinking right has left. It has been overwhelmed by its most paranoid, bigoted elements. Not activists, not online petitioners, but U.S. senators and Republican thought leaders say the president wasn’t born in the U.S.; that he wants to kill old people; that he is not fit to speak to school children. They are banging drums and chanting just outside the campfire circle of rational civic discourse. Their din makes it impossible to think, to plan, to govern. They can not lead, but in their twisted fear they can prevent the rest of us from going anywhere either.

Our civic immune system has grown weak. There are no filters, no longer shared standards of evidence, truth, or decency. The poison courses unhindered through the body. Nothing, no matter how factually insane or morally repugnant, can be repelled.

Like I said, Beck’s more greasy huckster than true believer. He went after Jones to get revenge on Color of Change, a group Jones co-founded, for targeting his advertisers (which are dropping like flies). Rupert Murdoch will only put up with the stench as long as money’s coming in.

But make no mistake, it’s racial resentment that blew this story up. The worst outcome of all this is that it will validate Beck and his long history of paranoid conspiracy theories and repugnant allegations. It will be like chum in the water, almost as invigorating to the crazies as bagging Dan Rather. Much, much more ugliness will ensue, and it will become that much harder to focus on the multiple crises converging on the country.

The White House will find someone else to tend green job-training programs; Jones will go back to his much more effective role as an activist. He will do much good in the world in his life, far, far more than a pissant charlatan like Glenn Beck. But I’m not as sanguine about the direction the country is headed.