Van Jones

Van Jones spoke at the University of Oregon the other day. President Obama appointed Jones as his Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, but he was forced to resign after a media witch hunt, mainly over his radical associations in the past. Jones began by saying we live in an era of “hope and heartbreak”, the hope being the election of Obama and the heartbreak being the Republican backlash against that election. He then talked about his family and his upbringing. He said that people have to advance themselves on their own initiative, but that they need to a have “a ladder they can climb up”.

He then addressed the young people in the audience. Discussing laptops and smart phones, he said, “Everyone of you is a walking technological superpower.” He then urged them, “Stop using technologies as toys and use them as tools.” Well, the young people in Tunisia and in Egypt have certainly been using their technologies as tools, but I suspect that’s not what Jones was thinking about. He then made some comments about the power of diversity and the need to handle our resources better. He then said we should get unemployed steel and auto worker to build wind turbines. He also criticized the food industry for using pesticides.

He then said, “We can’t afford left vs. right”. Never mind that left and right are reflections of very real material forces in our society. “I believe in markets. I believe in free markets, so much I want to see one.” You never will, because a truly free market is an impossibility. “I like market economies, not market societies.” Uh, so, what’s the difference? “A market society means everything is for sale.” Uh, isn’t that a free market? Could you explain please? “The stereotypical left is too cynical with regards to markets.” Speaking as a stereotypical leftist, may I say that perhaps I might be less cynical if people like you made some sense when talking about markets.

Jones then said, “This is still a moment of great hope.” Oh, we’re back to that. He then went on to say something about “two little Black girls playing on the White House lawn”. Funny, I equate hope with people getting jobs. “Democracy in crisis is a failure of imagination.” No, it is a failure of capitalism. He then urged the audience, “Dream big for America.” Uh, what about actually doing something?

During the question and answer period, someone from the audience pointed out that Obama failed to use the BP oil spill as an opportunity to push for renewable energy. In response, Jones said he was tired of people criticizing Obama. “We’re still struggling to get the model right for change under a progressive president.” He then explained how a progressive presidency functions. He said that during the 1960’s, the civil rights movement and the segregationists reached a “tie”. Lyndon Johnson then “broke the tie”. This is, to say the least, a highly eccentric interpretation of what happened during the Johnson Administration. A stereotypical leftist such as myself would say that Johnson tried to co-opt the civil rights movement. Anyway, Jones went on to say that we should try to organize based on the vague and historically dubious model that he just described.

Afterwards, a friend told me he heard Jones give mostly the same speech two years ago, only then he sounded much more radical. Perhaps the change in tone is due to Jones hoping once again to play a role in the government. You would think that after what happened to him, he would feel differently. Though perhaps that brief taste of power has proved addictive. After the First World War, people had a saying, “How can you keep a man down on the farm after he has seen gay Paree?”

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