In the Arena

On Van Jones

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He had to go, no question. And it wasn’t just that he signed a “truther” petition, which suggested–ridiculously–active Bush Administration complicity in the events of September 11, 2001. (I believe there was Bush culpability, but it was passive–a consequence of Dick Cheney’s inability to understand or credit the Al Qaeda threat, despite vehement warnings from outgoing Clinton Administration officials like Sandy Berger.)

Anyway, Jones: He has, in recent years, done some valuable work trying to steer green jobs into poor communities…but there is a bright line in American political life: Self-proclaimed “communists” need not apply. Communism is too odious and foolish a philosophy for anyone reasonable to believe in, or even to use as red-flag hyperbole, as Jones did after the Rodney King riots of the early 1990s, when he said that he’d been a [black] nationalist, but was now a communist. It’s sort of like a Republican President appointing someone who had said, “I used to be a white supremacist, but now I’m a Nazi.”

So, good riddance. The work of this presidency is too important to be side-tracked by a too-angry blowhard spouting foolish radicalism. The American people voted to give liberalism a chance in the 2008 elections, after 30 years of conservative dominance. If the liberal project is to succeed, it needs to build trust in a populace that–as we’ve seen this summer–can easily be manipulated by right-wing demagogues. That means the President’s personal small-c conservatism is an absolute necessity. It also means that left-extremists have to be clearly rejected. It also means that, even with a Democratic Congress, major policy changes like health care reform have to be implemented carefully–incrementally, if necessary. If the first steps are solid, the pace of reform can pick up over time. There will be missteps along the way; there are in any Administration. A Van Jones or two will slip through the cracks and be given jobs. But if the President can keep his eyes on the prize–at the moment, the moral imperative to provide health care for all Americans–he will probably succeed.