The writing was, to use a tired cliche, on the wall last Friday, when White House spokesman Robert Gibbs declined to say that President Obama still had confidence in one his advisers to the Council on Environmental Quality, a longtime activist named Van Jones. Republicans in Congress, seeing an opportunity, had begun promising investigations into Jones past, and on Fox News and over the conservative talk radio airwaves, Jones had become a symbol of nefarious leftist plots within the Obama Administration. The issue was not what Jones had actually been doing in office, which involved such bland works as reaching out to the progressive community in discussions on the House energy bill. The issue was what Jones had uttered in his past: he called himself a “communist” at one point, made impolitic remarks about pollution in minority communities, and once signed a petition raising questions about the Bush Administration’s involvement in the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Late Saturday night, Jones resigned his post, nodding to the grim political reality and saying he did not want to be a distraction for the White House. “On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me,” he wrote, in a resignation letter. “They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide.”
I have been inundated with calls — from across the political spectrum — urging me to ‘stay and fight.’ But I came here to fight for others, not for myself. I cannot in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past. We need all hands on deck, fighting for the future.
Twice in recent weeks Jones had apologized publicly for his past statements, and he had said that he had never subscribed to the belief that the Bush Administration was involved in 9/11, despite his signature on a petition raising that question.
Jones resignation also adds another wrinkle in the ongoing battle between Glenn Beck, a talk radio and Fox News host, and various progressive groups that have organizing a boycott against his show. The boycott was organized by Color of Change, a group that Jones co-founded, in response to Beck’s comments, on a Fox News broadcast, calling President Obama “a racist” who has a “deep seated hatred of white people.”
After a number of corporate sponsors left his show, Beck devoted increasing amounts of time to attacking Jones on air, focusing initially on Jones admission, in a 2005 article, that he had once identified as “a communist.” With Jones resignation, it would appear that Beck has won a round in this sideshow spat. His ratings on Fox are up, though his show is now sponsored not by major brand name products, like Geico and Proctor and Gamble’s offerings, but by ads for gold investments and companies like the “The Scooter Store,” a company that offers motorized scooters, which are sold, ironically, with the help of subsidies from Medicare, the type of government-sponsored program that Beck identifies with a coming tide of socialism.