JOHN MCWHORTER SEPTEMBER 7, 2009
With the Obama Administration letting Green Jobs czar Van Jones resign, questions as to whether these people have any spine are becoming sadly legitimate. What, precisely, would have been wrong with letting Glenn Beck and the others keep screaming their heads off about Jones’ purported radical intentions? Why not do a Glinda and dismiss this nonsense with a breezy “You have no power here”?
After all, we are faced here not with serious charges. There are no modern-day Whittaker Chambers in this crowd. The Republican smears against Obama of late are nonsense, pure and simple.
Example: now that we know what the President has had to say to our kiddies about education, it is clear that last week’s uproar over the supposed horror of Obama “indoctrinating” children with socialism was a cartoon.
The speech, a no-nonsense call to work hard, could easily be a Republican tract. “Pay attention those teachers, listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults, and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.” “If you quit on school you’re quitting on your country.” The circumstances of your life are “no excuse for not trying.” “Whatever you resolve to do I want you to really work at it,” Obama says.
I would be interested to see just what point Obama makes in it Rush Limbaugh would disagree with – in its assumption that an unlevel playing field is eternal and cannot be an excuse for failure, the speech likely offends many radicals as settling for the status quo.
And here’s the point: who really thought the speech would be otherwise? Obama has made “get tough” speeches before, for one thing. Who among Obama’s detractors seriously supposed that he had composed a speech teaching children to rage against the machine and overthrow the suits?
None of them. They were pretending to have such a vision, out of a general animus against Obama. It was, in a word, a tantrum from people out of power and feeling their grip on the Zeitgeist slipping away. Or, among ordinary citizens bristling at the prospect of a speech by the President urging kids to work hard, an unfocused, underinformed brand of partisan hostility.
So why when the same sorts, out of the same gestural, performative brand of animus, start dogpiling on Van Jones is there any reason to take them seriously? To allow sandbox trash talk like this to hound a man out of his job is, indeed, to take it seriously.
Jones was wrong, actually, in disavowing his support for 9/11 conspiracy theory. He signed the document, which can only mean that he supports the idea that 9/11 was planned, or that the Bushies knew something more than they have said, or at least that the charge is plausible enough to require investigation.
But support for that idea is hardly unknown among people of the left – and often gestural in its own way; look one of these types in the eye and ask “Do you really think George Bush and his cabinet engineered the murder of thousands and have kept the secret for eight years?” and watch the nervous pause and the look off into the distance. Speculations in this vein hardly meant that Jones was not sincerely committed to working within the government to do good.
As for Jones calling Republicans idiots, the way things are lately plenty of Republicans are doing that too, and quite a few of them are hardly above making the charge of Democrats. And Jones’ flirtation with Communism was brief and partly rhetorical. There are genuinely committed Communists, but Jones’ life story gives no indication of his being one. I knew quite a few “Communists” in college who are now mowing their lawns and working as management consultants.
All of which is to say that what Glenn Beck was calling Jones out for were things inconsequential, having nothing to with his competent execution of his job. Jones’ job wasn’t even a position of any particular power.
Therefore – even if Glenn Beck and assorted websites had been screaming about this low-level Administration functionary nightly for the next six months, how would it have mattered in any significant way? Sure there is a health care bill that needs to be worked out – but which Congressmen’s votes would have been affected by what right-wing radio hosts were saying about the Czar of Green Jobs?
As to voters, how many would stop supporting Obama because of a paranoid characterization of Van Jones? Pragmatics matter, of course – but at what point does this Administration let principle win out regardless?
Not too far back, I argued that going crazy and having earnest national “discussions” every time some hooligan hangs a noose somewhere only encourages the perpetrators, as making a stir and offending people is just what they want. Silence would be a more potent weapon in such cases than many consider.
In that vein, Glenn Beck should not be able to affect White House staffing decisions. There were people who hated Franklin Roosevelt just as implacably (and even recreationally) as some do Obama now (a book that graphically gets this across is this one). Likely many of them didn’t let their kids listen to Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats. That almost sounds like something from the Onion, and fittingly such people had little effect on what Roosevelt did. They’re dead now; life went on.
The Obama Administration should have acted like the victors they are and made sure Van Jones stayed just where he was. I understand that Obama can’t rule as the outright lefty many of his fans would prefer. But Jones’ presence was a laudable representation of progressivism in the Administration – and a quiet one. Some would even suggest that it was largely symbolic. If the Obama folks are going to throw even people like this off the train just because some silly people make some silly noises, then the bloom really is off the rose.
Sometimes, after all, the best thing is to just let the baby scream.