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Posted by on Sep 6, 2009 in Health, Media, Politics, Religion, Society, War | 30 comments

Obama Advisor Van Jones Resigns: Poor Vetting By Administration

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White House environmental adviser Van Jones has now resigned in the latest installment of the nearly frenzied partisan skirmish between the Obama administration and political foes who are clearly battling it and Barack Obama himself every centimeter of the way. But can this one be blamed on the administration’s foes — or on poor, incredibly amateurish vetting by an administration which needs to grasp how 21st century politics operates or be prepared to see its clout and efficacy shrink sooner then when it reaches its half-way mark?

In some news stories and weblogs, Van Jones’ exit is being portrayed as one more example of a Democrat being relentlessly hounded because of a right wing jihad to find something — anything — to cut Obama and his administration down to size. But the key is finding something — anything. The shocking part about this controversy is that Van Jones didn’t disclose it or forgot to disclose it and the administration didn’t know it or knew it and felt it wasn’t that big a deal. The Washington Post:

White House environmental adviser Van Jones resigned Saturday after weeks of controversy stemming from his past activism.

“On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me,” Jones, special adviser for green jobs at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said in a statement announcing his resignation just after midnight Saturday. “They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide.”

He continued: “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.”

Jones issued two public apologies in recent days, one for signing a petition that questioned whether Bush administration officials “may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war” and the other for using a crude term to describe Republicans in a speech he gave before joining the administration.

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) called on Jones to resign Friday, saying in a statement, “His extremist views and coarse rhetoric have no place in this administration or the public debate.”

[UPDATE: Read the summary on the genesis of this controversy by the LA Times’ Andrew Malcolm which has a link of a video that made Jone’s position even shakier.]

[UPDATE II: Beck has now asked his followers and fans to try and find out what they can about some more potential Obama administration targets.]

And there are more outraged (it’s outrage 24/7) quotes from Republicans. Snark and outrage now seems to be that party’s permanent mode and tone (Obama gets a burger and puts Dijon mustard on it; Obama goes on a date with his wife to New York; Obama talks to school kids about staying in school). But, even so, it doesn’t obscure the utter Amateur Hour nature of something like this existing and some folks assuming it was no big deal.

The AP video also points out one fact: just as in the case of the furor over Obama’s speech to school kids, this is a controversy partially propelled and escalated by Fox News’ Glenn Beck, who now seems to rivaling Rush Limbaugh in his influence mobilizing Republican activists. Beck is losing advertisers due to a boycott but his whopping audience is growing. (Those who expect Fox to axe him may have to wait for as long as it takes for the Easter Bunny to hand deliver them eggs.)

The New York Times:

Republican blogs and conservative talk show hosts, notably Glenn Beck of Fox News Channel, seized upon Mr. Jones’s statements and associations. Mr. Jones apologized on Wednesday for derogatory words he directed at Republican opponents of Mr. Obama’s Congressional agenda during a lecture in February, calling his remarks “inappropriate” and noting that they were made before he joined the administration. Mr. Jones has also said in the past that the Sept. 11 petition did not reflect his views.

“I cannot in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past,” Mr. Jones said in a statement announcing his resignation that was released early Sunday morning. That message was followed by another from Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, affirming that she had accepted his resignation.

ABC News gives some background on Jones — which again raises the question of how, given the way 21st century politics operates, the Obama administration didn’t see this coming:

The tipping point for the White House appeared to be Jones’ admission earlier this week that he had signed a petition in 2004 calling for congressional hearings and an investigation by the New York Attorney General into “evidence that suggests high-level government officials may have deliberately allowed the September 11th attacks to occur.”

In a statement issued Thursday evening Jones said of “the petition that was circulated today, I do not agree with this statement and it certainly does not reflect my views now or ever.”

NOTE TO ASPIRING POLITICIANS: Be careful what petitions you sign. Unless you can prove that a professional wrestler twisted your arm, you will be held to the contents of the petition you signed. And if you expect it won’t be discovered by your opponents, you are in for a surprise.

An administration source said Jones says he did not carefully review the language in the petition before agreeing to add his name.

But after that admission, asked if Jones enjoyed the confidence of the president, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs would only say on Fridat that Jones “continues to work in this administration.”

A former civil rights activist in the San Francisco area, Jones told the East Bay Express in 2005 that the acquittal of Rodney King’s assailants in 1992 in that infamous police brutality case changed him significantly.

“I was a rowdy nationalist on April 28th, and then the verdicts came down on April 29th,” he said. “By August, I was a communist.”

Jones and other young activists in 1994 formed a group called Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement, or STORM, rooted in Marxism and Leninsm. Two years later, Jones launched the Ella Baker Center, an Oakland, Calif., based “strategy and action center” which states that it tries to “promote positive alternatives to violence and incarceration.”

It was many of the associations formed around this time that served as fodder for conservative critics. In a New Yorker profile of Jones from earlier this year, Jones described his modus operandi as “traditional activism, the politics of confrontation and outrage. I was proud to be hated by the city fathers on both sides of the Bay.”

ABC notes that over time he shifted to environmental issues. Meanwhile, just as chest beating and high fives can be read on the right, hand-wringing can be see on the left. Democrat Howard Dean:

Former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean said Sunday that the resignation of White House green jobs adviser Van Jones is a “loss for the country.”

The outspoken Democrat and former presidential candidate vigorously defended Jones, who resigned in the wake of criticism over his past statements and associations — including his past support for a group that believes the Bush administration may have been involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.

“I think he was brought down,” Dean told “FOX News Sunday,” saying he just spoke to Jones. “I think it’s a loss for the country.”

Dean pointed to Jones’ credentials as a Yale Law School graduate and best-selling author.

RealClearPolitics has the video of Dean’s comments.

But the bottom line is this reflects:

  • Lousy vetting on the part of the Obama administration.
  • Naive assumptoins on Van Jones’ part about how American politics operates in the 21st century where someone is defined not just by who they are in a given moment but in terms of their life and political history.
  • The efficacy of Republicans and conservatives to seize on something that involves a person and build support and pressure by using talk shows, GOPers and bloggers as a package — not that there is coordination, but Republicans quickly unify against Democrats. (Democrats quickly unify to fight other Democrats.)
  • The administration’s seeming inability to comprehend how it must navigate through the iceburgs of 21st century American politics, which is evolving into a new era combining the definition characteristics of the McCarthy era blended with some paranoia and even elements that seem right out of the X files. If you’re up against attack mode politics shouldn’t you prepare yourself to anticipate attacks by making sure actions and staffing are sufficiently pristine to withstand investigation?
  • Democrats may be angry and blast Republicans, but this is a new era and if Democrats want their party to thrive and grow they have to adjust their thinking to how this new era operates.
  • Jones was brought down by a combination of naive thinking on his part and on the part of the administration that hired him.
  • All the talk about the Obama political operation being so slick that it would create a Democratic majority that would rule for years is now oh, so, 2008.
  • They can still recoup. But the operative question is this:

    Is there a learning curve with these guys?

    BUT THIS IS OUR VIEW. HERE’S A CROSS SECTION OF OTHER OPINION:
    Patrick Appel:

    There was no defending the 9/11 truther petition.

    Dave Schuler:

    What I’m hearing right now is that, since Mr. Jones wasn’t a cabinet-level official, it wasn’t important enough to cover. Contrariwise, I think this brings to mind the conspiracy among the newspapers 80 years ago to prevent the American people from knowing just how impaired President Franklin Roosevelt’s health actually was. They supported the president’s policies and were eager to help in any way that they could.

    I think this matter highlights a weakness in the political narrative that’s been promulgated over the last several years, namely that the problem with the Bush Administration was that they were incompetent and the solution was put competent people, i.e. Democrats, in charge. But branding alone isn’t enough, there’s more to competence than a party label, and even formal credentials are insufficient to ensure competence. Competence includes factors of temperament, experience, and past performance including past performance that isn’t specifically job-related.

    ….Was there no follow-up on this vetting? Didn’t anybody check anything? Didn’t they think that Mr. Jones’s statements, actions, communications, and (for goodness sake) recordings over a period of years was embarrassing? Who vetted the vetters?

    Town Hall’s Duane Patterson:

    There is nothing surprising about the timing or the resignation itself. What’s amazing here is the fact that someone with Jones’ background, public statements and beliefs got into the White House in an advisory position in the first place. When you add in all of the Cabinet officials who either got a hall pass for tax problems, or had their nominations scuttled because of tax problems, it’s clear that the vetting process suffers as much from Barack Obama’s inexperience as have many of his policy decisions over the last eight months.

    What’s also amazing here is the way this story achieved critical mass without so much as a whisper in most of the traditional mainstream media sources across the country. Byron York of the Washington Examiner noted as much Saturday by purposefully monitoring the Big 3 networks’ evening news broadcasts, and the major newspapers.

    -Crooks and Liars’ David Niewert:

    So this is what we can expect from Obama: When the right gets into full-froth rabid attack-dog mode, he folds. He’ll even throw one of his best friends and most loyal liberal allies under the bus.

    Best of all, he’s just handed the most rabid of the haters who are undermining his agenda — namely, Glenn Beck and the rest of the Fox crew — their biggest scalp yet. The crowing that will follow is just the start.

    They certainly won’t be satisfied with this. Hell, this is just the appetizer. Beck has already made clear that Valerie Jarrett is the next one in his sights.

    If President Obama and Rahm Emanuel think that letting the Fox crew drive out his appointees is going to help him win his legislative battles — this was clearly the product of a White House more intent on trying to get its health-care reform package passed than dealing with the larger, more pervasive problem that threatens not just health-care reform but all of his initiatives — he is sadly and badly mistaken.

    Stop the ACLU:

    Republicans have been forced to resign for much less, Sparky! But, as Nice Deb points out, we will surely be branded as racists for Van resigning.

    Anyhow, you should feel ashamed of yourselves, neo-cons, for forcing out a guy who was just searching for the Truth and doing…something, not sure what…..in the Obama administration. /sarc off.

    NBC entitles their story “Obama Aide Van Jones Resigns After GOP Attacks.” No real mention of anything other than his expletive laced rant against Republicans. Nothing about his Trutherism, his his Mumia support, etc. It’s just Republicans being mean. Humorously, when Republicans were “mean” while Bush was president, folks like Nancy Pelosi used to run over to the White House to sob about it. Now, whose shoulder do they whine on?

    Digby:

    This is a witch hunt and it’s quite depressing because Jones is a truly inspirational, exciting thinker and speaker and it looks like they are going to get his scalp and marginalize him — with the help of the timorous Democrats who know less about loyalty and solidarity than your average cat in heat.

    ….This is yet another example of Fox News annihilation strategy against anyone who criticizes them. And it works. …Murdoch and Ailes have made it quite clear that if you mess with Fox they will unleash the crazies. They’re taking Van Jones’ scalp to send that message. He won’t be the last.

    Angy White Dude:

    It has become obvious since the last Presidential campaign that the Old Media (newspapers, network tv news) is dead as a journalistic medium. For news and reporting, it is a waste of time. Where the Old Media excels is as a propaganda machine for the New Socialist (or old Democrat) party. Time and time again, we have seen internet bloggers doing the real reporting work while the mainstream media hides behind wacko liberal mudslinging. NBC, who has barely mentioned the outrage of the country over communist Green Jobs Czar Van Jones, reported his resignation like this, “Obama Aid Van Jones Resigns After GOP Attacks.”

    …..The mainstream media sat on the Jones story. Glenn Beck has been doing the work traditionally performed by reporters in exposing Czars with repugnant backgrounds like Jones. Everyday citizens with video cameras and computers are showing the ugly side of liberal politics in town hall meetings. Would we have found out about the fake doctor at Sheila Jackson-Lee’s town hall if not for the blogosphere? Bloggers researched and found the woman was actually a college student under Lee’s husband at the University of Houston. No mention from the mainstream media! Union goons beating up a black conservative? No mention from the MSM. Again, bloggers reported the story. The Old Media has been nowhere to be found reporting the real news. It manufactures news for mindless morons spoon fed liberal talking points. Would the Old Media have sat on a story if George Bush had hired a czar who had been associated with far right wing extremists (not the tea party types..lol) or was even a member of the John Birch Society? We all know they would have saturated their newscasts and papers with stories and investigations until Bush rolled over and fired him…The Old Media is dead! Long live the New Media!

    The Huffington Post’s Ryan Grimm:

    Glenn Beck has his first scalp. Van Jones, under fire from the extremist television show host for his background in radical activism, has resigned from the administration.

    Jones was Special Adviser for Green Jobs at the Council on Environmental Quality – the so-called ‘Green Jobs’ Czar. Jones’ 2008 book, The Green Collar Economy, was a New York Times best-seller. Beck is a talk show host for Fox News.

    Jones never denied his past affiliation with the radical left…..Jones, however, left radical politics and made the decision to work within the system, rather than try to overthrow it. For Beck, however, Jones’ past statements were evidence that Obama is secretly marshaling a cadre of lieutenants pushing an agenda that is “radical, revolutionary and in some cases Marxist.” (Meanwhile, in reality, Obama is backing away from even including a public health insurance option as part of health care reform. How that squares with Obama’s Marxist agenda Beck has yet to explain.)

    Mike Ely:

    Many people reading these words know Van Jones far better than I do. Many know him personally. Some struggled with him over his political direction in life. Many watched this gifted activist take the career path of working for change deep within the official structures of this system — and seem to sky-rocket on a reformer’s career path, ending as an “green jobs” adviser to the new president. (Note: not a policy maker, not an administrator, but someone allowed merely to speak, occasionally, on the relationship of the poor with green policy.)

    And now he has been brought down by a vicious rightwing witchhunt — one that targetted Jones as a leftist (”Marxist,” “communist,” “Black nationalist”) figures brought close to power by this new administration. And he had become a symbol in the hysterical campaign to paint Obama as a secret communist leading a not-so-secret socialist takeover of that ugly idealized whiteman’s Amerikkka.

    First of all, it has to be said, that this witchhunt is an outrage of distortion, lunatic paranoia, barely concealed racism, and conscious indifference to burning issues, basic morality and truth.

    And the forced resignation of Van Jones is an outrage.

    Political Byline:

    Okay, I am just going to say this and if pisses people off; tough. This dude was not vetted, and was basically given this damn job; because he was black. Point.farking.blank. If this dude was white and he had said the moral equivalent, about black people; what this guy said about Whites, This dude would have been out of a job, quicker than a New York minute. But, because he is a black man and is in tight with Bambi, he still has a job and still is working for the White House. That is not racist, that my friends, is reality!

    So, what does the Socialist left do, when they are beginning to feel the heat, because of Van Jones? They do the oldest trick in the book.
    THEY PLAY THE RACE CARD!

    Jules Crittenden:

    Gutless wonder of a conspiracy theorist quits gutless wonder of a White House in the wee hours of Sunday morning, Labor Day weekend. Good work, Rahm. It’ll be out of the papers by Tuesday. Given that the Van Jones Truther scandal was barely covered in the first place, it’s like it never happened.

    ….Whatever. You know, it’s one thing to be a crazy, destructive, self-loathing, America-hating conspiracy theorist. But I have a hard time summoning up any respect for crazy, destructive, self-loathing, America-hating conspiracy theorists who don’t even have the conviction of their own crazy, destructive, self-loathing, America-hating conspiracy theories. Or for their bosses who try to pretend like none of that ever happened. The gutlessness is truly wondrous.

    Paul Rosenberg:

    And who, exactly, resigned from the BushCo Administration for allowing 9/11?

    Condi Rice? No, I don’t think so. She eventually got promoted to Secretary of State as I recall.

    CIA Director George “Slam Dunk” Tenet? No, he got a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

    In fact, the answer is: No one. No one resigned from the BushCo Adminstration for allowing 9/11 to happen.

    But Van Jones is resigning from the Obama Administration because he signed a petition long ago that was a bit over the edge in speculating about why that was allowed to happen?

    Look, it’s great that Van Jones says, “I came here to fight for others, not for myself.” But Obama can’t–and won’t fight for anyone if he won’t fight for his own top staffers who have done nothing wrong of any real consequence.

    Politics 101: You do not fight sharks by feeding them.

    This is just monumental political incompetence.

    Political sciencist Steven Taylor says that Jone’s appointment was a bad political move in the first place. He addresses conservative outrage over a comment Jones made about Republicans:

    In regards to the derogatory remark (a minor event, but in many ways the proximate cause of his resignation): in the video, Jones referred to the fact the Reps were a**h***s, and he could be one as well.4 Now, I recognize that calling the opposition obscene names is, by definition, inflammatory. However, the opposition acting as if they have never heard (or used) such language amuses me.5 Given that off the cuff I can recall President Bush referring to a NYT’s reporter (caught, unknowingly, on an open mic) by the same word and VP Cheney telling a Democratic Senator to go f*** himself on the floor of the Senate, can we really take all these hurt feeling seriously? Do any of us actually think that such language is only rarely deployed in political circles? Really?

    My DD:

    Van Jones is a victim of a vicious smear campaign but this is what we should expect from the rabid conservative fringe. This should serve as a reminder that many conservatives are not interested in solving the country’s problems nor helping to set a public policy agenda but rather they seek to destroy and derail the Obama Administration at any cost.

    They will be popping champagne corks over on Fox News but what exactly have they gained?

    The Hinterland Gazette:

    Once again, the Obama administration has dropped the ball and controversy has found the president once again. Sorry, but if this is the best President Obama & Co., can do, then I can’t see how a second term will be possible. I know Bill and Hillary Clinton are saying, under their breaths, I told you so!

    –Pajamas Media’s Ed Driscoll has a roundup.
    Axis of Right:

    Commie radical 9/11 Truther Van Jones has quietly resigned from his position as Obama’s Green Jobs Czar. I figured this would be a gamble for Obama: he obviously couldn’t fire him, but letting him resign quietly in the middle of a holiday weekend before Obama’s busy week of youth indoctrination and shilling radical health care reform in front of Congress gets rid of a huge distraction — something had to give.

    However, by letting all this go down, Obama has shown more of his trademark weakness and invites all of his unconfirmed czars and advisers to fall under the same kind of scrutiny, perhaps even with some actual MSM coverage this time (not holding my breath though). Glenn Beck scored a big one here for himself (and of course for the nation as well), so I think he’ll be more emboldened — he may even inspire more members of Congress to man-up on the czar problem too.

    Van Jones was the most obvious target to go after first because he’s a communist radical Truther. I mean, duh!, the Right should have been all over this since April!

    Hart Williams has a long post. Here’s a bit of it:

    A group gets angry at the latest insane hitler-speak (just substitute “Jew” for “liberal,” or “leftist,” or “communist,” or “socialist” in Rightie Rhetoric these daze and see if it doesn’t sound like Adolph — even old Pat “I defend Hitler” Buchanan would have to agree) and organizes a boycott. 50+ advertisers refuse to advertise on bug-f*** crazee’s teevee show.

    But that’s not what happens. THIS is what happens….

    …This is Glenn Beck’s payback. But they made a mistake, and tipped their hand as to JUST how coordinated this gaggle of paid internet goons actually is. It’s a lot worse than ever I feared…

    …This is a high tech lynch mob.

    Aimed at a Black man.

    Who dared to get uppity.

    John Cole:

    Last week, I got a lot of heat for suggesting that if Jones had all those connections, he needed to go. Apparently, the White House either determined he did have those connections, or that it was too difficult to prove he didn’t, so he had to go. I don’t know if he was unfairly smeared or if the charges or legit, but it is clear the WH does not want the distraction.

    It remains, however, completely acceptable in Washington to completely support and carry out torture. Hell, some people think it is worthy of a medal of freedom.

    Associate Law Professor William Jacobson:

    When I awoke, every single blog I know had a post about how Van Jones had resigned sometime just before or after the stroke of midnight. Clearly, by waiting into the early hours of a Sunday morning, the White House had intended to deprive me of the opportunity to break this story with a link by Drudge.

    But I have a point to make here. The mainstream media finally is covering this story. Not as news, but as history. The unfortunate and misguided exposure of Van Jones’ love affair with 9/11 Truthers and various and sundry pejoratives.

    That’s what happens when one ignores a hot story for ideological purposes. The MSM is treating the Van Jones Affair as just another historical example of the vast right-wing conspiracy, without the slightest note that the MSM was dragged kicking and screaming into covering the story when Jones’ resignation made it impossible to ignore.

    Ed Morrissey:

    This reminds me very much of the lack of coverage given to Eason Jordan’s accusations of deliberate journalist assassinations by the US military in early 2005. Jordan, a vice-president at CNN, made those accusations at a conference in Davos, Switzerland, where he thought Americans would not learn of them. After all, if CNN doesn’t report it, does it really happen? A reporter quoted Jordan and started a firestorm … in the blogosphere and on talk radio, which dug out more outrageous accusations and statements from Jordan. Newspapers couldn’t be bothered to cover it, however — not until Jordan’s resignation from CNN forced them to do so. In that case, the LA Times didn’t report it until almost 48 hours after Jordan resigned, and the New York Times only ran one wire-service report on its website prior to the resignation.

    With Jordan, the assumption was that the media didn’t want to eat its own. That same assumption could be made about their reluctance to report on Van Jones. They have beclowned themselves a second time, and now have to answer for their silence in defense of a government official.

    -Taylor Marsh:

    I must tell you that sleeping in and waking to the news of Beck getting Jones’s scalp seems like ominous foreshadowing for the fall fight on health care. I wonder if the White House will stand and fight for anything at this point.

    Alan Colmes:

    Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana and Senators Kit Bond of Missouri and John Cornyn of Texas had called for Jones’s head, and right-wing talk show hosts have been bellowing about his past controversial statements and associations. Now they will chest-beat, flush with pride at their “accomplishment.” And choose another target.

    Wonkette:

    In the secret quiet of labor Day Weekend, the White House fired black person Van Jones, who had some administration position related to “green jobs.” The White House confirmed that Jones was out “early Sunday,” which is right now. Why did this Van Jones get axed? Because wingnuts were angry about ….[Go to the link for the rest.]

    Below the Beltway:

    I frankly don’t care about Van Jones one way or the other — although I will say that I really don’t think there’s a place in any Administration, or in respectable society, for someone who thinks that the United States Government was involved in 9/11 or who wants such a possibility “investigated” — but to sit there and claim the moral high ground when your side is just as guilty of the tactics you complain of is just plain absurd.

    Newshounds:

    As advertisers drop from the Glenn Beck show like flies in the wake of Beck’s remarks calling President Obama a “racist” with a “deep-seated hatred for white people,” Fox News and Fox Nation are upping the attacks against Obama’s “green jobs czar” Van Jones. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that Jones is the now-departed co-founder of ColorOfChange.org, the civil rights organization spearheading the effort against Beck’s advertisers….

    James Joyner:

    There’s little evidence that Obama is a conspiracy loon, an anti-white racist, or an extremist. There is, however, plenty of evidence that he’s been willing to make alliances for political convenience — which means associating with some unsavory characters, especially in the Chicago political machine — and that his team is unusually sloppy in vetting appointees. Given that Jones fits the latter pattern, there’s not much need to go looking further for clues.