The first time I heard about the conservative, red-baiting crusade against Van Jones, I thought, this is ridiculous, even funny. “Will a ‘red’ help blacks go green? White House appoints ‘radical communist’ who sees environment as racial issue,” was the headline on an influential far-right website known as World Net Daily. What is this, 1952?
I’m not laughing anymore.
There’s a lot to say about the way Van Jones was hounded out of Washington by Fox News opionator Glenn Beck and his allies. Much of it has been said in the last couple of days. Because others have done a good job digging into the back-and-forth about Jones, I don’t want go there. Nor do I want to defend everything that he has said or done. He clearly made mistakes, most notably and recently signing a so-called Truther petition in 2001, an act for which he has since apologized.
But I’ve covered Jones on a handful of occasions in the last few years, and I’ve really been impressed. So I want to add a few observations about him, about the controversy and about where this is leading:
1. The charge that Van Jones is a communist is laughable. Van was a political radical and a prison reform activist after he graduated from Yale Law School during the 1990s, but so what? Like many of us, he evolved. I first heard him speak about social justice to a conference of Business for Social Responsibility, a liberal business group, a few years ago and he wowed the audience. He then became a leading advocate for green jobs and environmental justice. He told me in a column in 2007 that the environmental movement has “to start talking the language of work, wealth and health, which is the language of everyday Americans.” “Work, wealth and health” could be a Republican slogan. He spoke last year at FORTUNE’s Brainstorm Green conference, along with the likes of Bill Ford and Bill Clinton, and he wowed the crowd of well-to-do business people. He’s a progressive, like millions who voted for Obama. A communist? Give me a break. [click to continue…]