The Politics of Van Jones? Resignation

Van JonesVan Jones, the charismatic community activist from Oakland, Calif., who became the green jobs advisor in the Obama White House, resigned over the weekend after several days of a witch-hunt by Republican conservatives to get him booted from the job.

Conservatives went after Jones because of a petition he signed in 2004 by a group questioning whether the Bush administration had allowed the terrorist attacks of September 2001 to provide a pretext for war in the Middle East. Jones said he didn?t know the petitioners well enough nor their agenda, and he disavowed the petition, but that didn?t stop his detractors from going for the kill.? Conservatives had said they wanted to use him as a trial run for their intended purpose: to go after every White House aide tasked with formulating policy across various cabinet departments.

Glenn Beck, the conservative host of a Fox News Channel program who kept up the drumbeat, publicly took credit for helping to oust Jones. Beck began criticizing Jones in July on his syndicated talk radio show and on his Fox talk show. Jones said he didn?t want to become a distraction as President Obama?is pushing for his key domestic agenda. The President will deliver a prime-time address on health care to a joint session of Congress tonight in an effort to regain traction on the issue.

?Well, what Van Jones decided was that the agenda of this president was bigger than any one individual,? said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on ?This Week with George Stephanopoulos on ABC. ?The president thanks Van Jones for his service in the first eight months, helping to coordinate renewable energy jobs and lay the foundation for our future economic growth.?

Liberals reacted to Jones? departure with dismay. Howard Dean, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, defended Mr. Jones on Sunday, saying he was being penalized for not realizing what the petition he signed in 2004 was. Arianna Huffington, publisher of the Huffington Post Web site, said that contrary to the media caricature, the real Van Jones is a thoughtful leader who knows how to use words to move people to action. ?To stick him behind a desk, working out the details of tax credits for green jobs — incredibly important though the job is — was never the best use of his unique and abundant skills,? Huffington wrote in her blog.
Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, who was Jones?s boss said that over the last six months, Jones ?has been a strong voice for creating 21st-century jobs that improve energy efficiency and utilize renewable resources.?

Before he joined the administration, Jones, 40, was a well known figure in the green movement. The Tennessee native was an advocate for green jobs long before that phrase became a buzzword. After graduating from Yale Law School in 1993, he moved to California and worked as a community activist in Oakland. He started Bay Area Police Watch, a hotline and lawyer-referral for victims of police abuse and one of the programs funded by New York-based Lawyers? Committee for Civil Rights. That project evolved into the Ella Barker Center for Human Rights in the late 1990s. A few years ago, he saw an opportunity to combine his commitment to racial and economic parity with work to resolve the environmental crisis. In 2005, he produced a social equality sound track for the United Nation’s World Environment Day celebrations, and soon he became a hero of the green movement as he talked about ?greening the ghetto.?

There was no turning back. In 2007, Jones launched a ?Green-Collar Jobs? campaign, which led to the formation of Green for All, a non-profit organization to help create and find jobs in the green economy for poor and disadvantaged people living mostly in inner city neighborhoods.