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

6 09 2009

Picture 4For the last couple weeks, 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 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. But of course, they don’t. 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.

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22 responses

6 09 2009
logan

Josh,

Wow didn’t know how far left you stand. Here are my thoughts

1.You over generalize about conservatives. I do not “have deep threads of racism, fear, and resentment”. (Come on that’s how closed minded you are?)

2.The Republican party has flaws but they are well balanced by those of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party has no direction; they think throwing money at the problem is the solution. The socialist/communist notion that everyone should have the same treatments & opportunities whether or not they contribute equally to society is flawed. How well did Communism work for the soviets? Why do you think the US has become a Superpower? ( I give you a hint, it starts with a “cap” and ends with a “itolism”)

3.Disproportionate taxing of corporations & the wealthy? Come on, who creates jobs? Who creates a higher standard of living? That’s how this country was founded, Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie?

4.Increasing the size of government? The US government is the worst ran business in the US. I would know I am a management consultant and the Gov is notorious for having the most inefficient processes of all of our clients. So lets give more money to them so they can piss it away with their outdated process, corruption, & “leave at 5, do what I’m told” workforce

Im sure you have heard all of this before, just wanted to let you hear it again

6 09 2009
ansel

logan, you’re praising Ford Rockefeller, and Carnegie for raising the living standards and developing this country? Are you serious?

You nailed it right here, Josh: “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?” Yeah. This is what lefties need to do.

6 09 2009
ansel

Err, just to clarify: I’m not saying folks should say foul shit and not apologize. I’m saying we need to be upfront with our ideologies and not try to downplay or minimize important activism/politics just because they appear radical.

6 09 2009
Rahula

thanks for this, Josh. I have to admit I never thought that the wing nut right wing hit job on Van would actually have an impact. The way this has played out is making me very unhappy and uneasy.

also: I know it’s bad form to harp on grammar errors in online discussions, but someone, like your conservative friend above, who is such a proponent of capitalism oughta learn how to spell it.

6 09 2009
Joshua Kahn Russell

Hey Logan,

Good to hear from you. You’re right in that this post over-generalizes conservatives. I actually think if most conservatives actually knew and understood Van’s positions and role, they may disagree with him but certainly not jump into the paranoid hysteria portrayed on Beck, Hannity, and similar shows. No rational thoughtful person, given the real facts would draw conclusions that there is some kind of secret Communist conspiracy overtaking America. But the fact remains that millions of Beck viewers ARE drawing that conclusion.

Its worth asking why are people so receptive to caricatures of the “scary black radical” and its worth questioning the integrity of fear-mongers who play directly into that narrative and set of fearful, resentful, racist assumptions.

The Right is just as nuanced as the Left. Most conservatives I know share my values, but just have a different world view and set of lenses through which they interpret whats going on around them. That’s fine. But if I were conservative in this political climate I would want to be organizing to hold demagogues like Beck and Hannity accountable for giving me a bad name, because the kind of froth-mouthed frenzy that they whip people up into – where people are actually bringing rifles to Health Care town hall meetings – is tearing apart the country, feeding hatred and fear, and destroying rational discourse.

I have a lot of empathy for anyone whose politics is grounded in a genuine concern for the well being of people everywhere – as yours is. But you have to admit that this kind of witch hunt is disgusting and doesnt belong in public discourse.

The rest of your comments are so politically broad they are difficult to respond to in this kind of medium, because its like articulating a whole worldview in a blog comment. To be clear though, I’m neither a Democrat nor a Communist. The Left is also nuanced. Always happy to debate with you and would love to reconnect in general.

Josh

6 09 2009
6 09 2009
VinceP1974

I’m upset Van quit so soon. Even Sarah Palin stuck it out longer than he did. What a coward. Can’t take a little heat from having your own hateful nonsense come back at you? Wow.. for all his big talk he sure did crumble quick.

I wish he was still in the White House so that more Americans can see the type of person Obama is. Obama said during the campaign “Judge me based on who I pick for my team” (paraphrase) Think of how familiar people would be getting with Obama if most of the people in this Center-Right nation saw the hateful things being used again Van (ie: his own words) and then forming an opinion of Obama based on that.

It’s only fair that people come to see Obama for the Far Left Anti-American Marxist that he is and not the phony Trojan Horse of his Rasputin, David Axlerod.

Who knows who the next Comrade to be exposed will be. Pray it isn’t soon, it’s a long time till the next 3-day weekend .

PS: Keep calling everyone you disagree with, a racist. Nothing is making that word completely meaningless like the Leftists who are hellbent on slander.

6 09 2009
VinceP1974

Can I ask you folks a serious question? Seeing how there are almost no examples of this rampant racism that you alledge from the Right…. isn’t it reasonable to assume that had some examples been located that it would have been propagated across the land .. i think it would be. Instead there’s a few isolated stupid comments by local politicians but that’s about it.

But what you do have is plenty of people making an ideologically-based reason for opposition.

A weakness of the Left that I observe is the inability to take people at their word for why they do what they do. instead it seems you folks are determined to come up with your own explanation.. and let me tell you… You guys suck at that. You do not know other people like you think you do.

So why don’t you stop with the political bigotry and listen to what people say for themselves.

6 09 2009
Dominique M

Thank you. To know that some one else cared about this made my day a little better.
It might be hard as hell, but I think we will get there. Hopefully someday soon.

Keep writing…

6 09 2009
Joshua Kahn Russell

Hi Vince. You’d like an example of racism, huh?

Your name is attached to your website: http://home.comcast.net/~vincep312/

Lets start with the first thing we see. The header image on your site is a sign saying “Warning: Muslims Nearby” with an image of a turbaned person and a bloody knife having decapitated somebody.

Um, just to clarify, do you know what the word “racism” is?

6 09 2009
Bill falcone

What is so troubling to me is that what the Right intends to do is rely on the old Mccarthyite tactic of labeling. We are no longer liberal or progressive (I am a fairly old school liberal Democrat)- but Socialist. (Or better yet why not Communist.)
I have been involved in many leftist activist groups through the years and most everyone I have met believes in making a buck for themselves and their family. In fact I know some radical lefties that are actually quite wealthy. So really now..the label just doesn’t fit.
What makes liberals and progressives of my ilk assume that racism is underlying right wingers philosophy is that the demogoguery is so anti-poor people(of which blacks rank disproportionately high.)
Come on now folks-everyone knows that coded phrases like “throwing money at a problem” and “inefficiency” of government programs means over-spending on welfare-meaning blacks.

What exactly is so inefficient about government?-public(free schools) for everyone, postal service, Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security for elderly, and Unemployment Comp. to name a few. The only reason a poor white kid like me was able to go to college was with the assistance of Pell Grants..oops another inefficient government program. Hey what about the G.I.Bill ?-just throwing money at those greedy World War II Vets!

6 09 2009
VinceP1974

Hi Joshua

Do you know what racism is?

Islam is a religious ideology and Muslims are those who profess to believe in it.

It is totally legitimate to criticize a system of religious law which calls for my murder. I certainly have nothing to apologize for.

So back to my question…

6 09 2009
VinceP1974

Bill: Can you explain why Obama says he’s going to wrest half a trillion dollars from existing programs via efficiencies, if saying that something is inefficient means we hate black people?

6 09 2009
Bill falcone

Vince: I’d have to first know what existing programs he is referring to before I could evaluate their value or effectiveness. My hope is that it would be wrested away from the military/industrial complex. I would say you could find tremendous waste and inefficiency in those government contracts(just look at Halliburton and the money they sucked up from us tax payers.)
I think Obama is spending way to much on Afghanistan. (Human and financial.)
Vince- can you honestly say you do not equate welfare with black people?
Also can you explain what is so inefficient about programs such as Pell Grants, the G.I. Bill, Social Security retirement, and Medicare?
Are you willing to not accept your Social Security check or Medicare benefits when you are old enough to qualify?

6 09 2009
VinceP1974

Mr Bill:

>Vince: I’d have to first know what existing programs he is referring to before I could evaluate their value or effectiveness.

I believe he said specifically $500,000,000,000 from Medicare due to efficiencies

Which of course raises the question… is this Govt such a collasal failure that they are allowing $500,000,000,000 to be squandered every year. This certainly isn’t an organization I want to task with doing more and more things. Maybe they need to get a handle on the stuff they already fail at handling.

>My hope is that it would be wrested away from the military/industrial complex. I would say you could find tremendous waste and inefficiency in those government contracts(just look at Halliburton and the money they sucked up from us tax payers.)

I would like to see all money spent in a wise manner… which is why , as a Conservative, I believe the Federal Govt, as per its design, should have itself involved with as few things as possible.

This also limits the potential for lobbyist corruption and eliminates the incentive for bribes.

>Vince- can you honestly say you do not equate welfare with black people?

Yes I can say that. As a Conservative I subscribe to this country’s principle of individuality and individual rights. Not group rights.. not collectivism. All individuals are equal under the law.

When I think of welfare, I think of failure.

I think of Ben Franklin
“I have long been of your opinion, that your legal provision for the poor (in England ) is a very great evil, operating as it does to the encouragement of idleness. We have followed your example, and begin now to see our error, and, I hope, shall reform it.”

and

“To relieve the misfortunes of our fellow creatures is concurring with the Deity; it is godlike; but, if we provide encouragement for laziness, and supports for folly, may we not be found fighting against the order of God and Nature, which perhaps has appointed want and misery as the proper punishments for, and cautions against, as well as necessary consequences of, idleness and extravagance? When ever we attempt to amend the scheme of Providence , and to interfere with the government of the world, we had need be very circumspect, lest we do more harm than good.”

.. and Samual Adams:

“The utopian schemes of leveling (redistribution of the wealth) and a community of goods (central ownership of all the means of production and distribution) are as visionary and impracticable as those which vest all property in the Crown. (These ideas) are arbitrary, despotic, and, in our government, unconstitutional.”

Now I realize there must be some sort of emergency system to help one get back on thier feet. Such systems should be no larger than at the State Level. The Constitution forbids the Federal Govt and rightly so.

To be an American is to believe in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. That is what I have been taught. I dont obsess over who is white and black and brown and this and that. I know the Left is obsessed by it. But I am not, nor are most Conservatives I know. I guess we bought into MLK’s dream.

I guess our lack of pandering and patronizing is sometimes construed as racism. I think the obsession is racism.. to constantly view people as a faceless member of some identity group.. is not very respectful of their individuality

>Also can you explain what is so inefficient about programs such as Pell Grants, the G.I. Bill, Social Security retirement, and Medicare?

No I cant. I’m sure if you’re interested you can research it.

>Are you willing to not accept your Social Security check or Medicare benefits when you are old enough to qualify?

Um… I already accept such programs will long be abolished.

Why do you support systems that are guaranteed going to collapse one day.. leaving people unprepared for that which they thought was safe? I think that is true danger.

7 09 2009
Maia

Hi Josh!

My favorite line of your post is this one:

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’).

I’ve been reading Orwell lately and the parallels are brilliant. Keep up the good work!

Maia

7 09 2009
Zhu Zhu Pets

Interesting content Good.

8 09 2009
rougegorge

Great post, Josh. I, too, am disappointed that the administration has thrown Van under the bus. It just empowers the fringe right to continue. I agree with Joe Trippi, that they are just getting started. It’s disappointing, too, that reasonable conservatives don’t organize to take back the Republican party. They should be trying to add constructive points to the greater debate, not using fear, lies, wedge issues, labels (which show no understanding of the what those labels mean) and obstruction. The Democrats still behave like battered victims, cowering instead of standing proud and strong. They should take a cue from Ted Kennedy who was never afraid to stand up and FIGHT for what he believed and was NEVER afraid to call himself a liberal, but rather proud of it!

8 09 2009
itinerantactivist

Great post, Josh.
I, too, am disappointed that the administration has thrown Van under the bus. It just further empowers the fringe right to continue.
I agree with Joe Trippi, that they’re just getting started. It’s disappointing, too, that reasonable conservatives don’t organize to take back the Republican party. They should be trying to add constructive points to the greater debate, not be using fear, lies, wedge issues, labels (which shows no understanding of what those labels mean) and obstruction. The Democrats still behave like battered victims, cowering instead of standing proud and strong. They should take a cue from Ted Kennedy who was never afraid to stand up and FIGHT for what he believed and was NEVER afraid to call himself a liberal, but, rather, proud of it!

8 09 2009
itinerantactivist

BTW, here’s a good article you may not have seen:

Van Jones: A Moment of Truth For Liberal Institutions in the Veal Pen
by Jane Hamsher over at firedoglake http://bit.ly/3hgfSu

8 09 2009
itinerantactivist

Another article for you on Alternet.org:
5 Reasons Why Van Jones and Progressives are Better Off With Jones Out of the White House http://bit.ly/2llfli

16 01 2010
Sky Captain

Hey Vince:

It seem that watching Faux Noise and being a member of the KKK has wasted your brain cells-what will you do when you can’t think anymore? (heck, you can’t really think now, you’re such a drone.)

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