Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Tragedy of Van Jones

As most of you know, last week Van Jones was forced out of his job as the head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. More precisely, Obama caved to Glenn Beck and the other proto-fascists in classic weak Democratic fashion. But that's not why I am writing. Losing Jones is sad, particularly as he is one of the only leading African-American environmental voices in the country and as he is a man with excellent ideas for connecting working-class people and environmentalism.

I'm writing because Jones' dismissal exposes a deep flaw in our political system. He was attacked for saying all sorts of radical things in his youth. Now, we all say we hate politicians. They are shallow, soulless, corrupt, robotic, etc. But to no small extent that's because they have to be in today's climate. How many of us have made political statements we later regret? How many of us have said radical things on the internet? How many times have I done these things on this blog? If I were appointed to a political position and some right-wingers wanted to see me eliminated, they'd have enough material from posts I wrote when I was angry or drinking or just when I didn't phrase something as judicially as I might have to banish me from public life for 10 lifetimes.

If we hate politicians but we tolerate the blackballing of good people from politics who come from outside the political class because they were angry or rallying people to action and said something stupid or flirted when radicalism when they were young, where does that lead us? With the same old political class. These are people who decided to be politicians when they were 16 years old and stuck to it. They've never put themselves on the line or went to the mat for a cause or said anything in public that could come back and haunt them 20 years later. I've know these people. It's really sad.

Thus the tragedy of Van Jones is far bigger than the man itself. It's about who can and cannot hold prominent positions in the American political system.