Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Van Jones and the new McCarthyism

Van Jones "was appointed by President Barack Obama in March 2009, to the newly-created position on the White House Council on Environmental Quality."

But late last week the Obama Administration appeared to have dumped him.  This happened after Glenn Beck of Fox News waged a relentless smear campaign against Van Jones.  Eventually Fox dug up a couple facts that seemed to stick. WaPo reports them:
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.
The attacks of 9/11 angered almost everyone and the response of the Bush Administration to the crisis also angered many people.  This led many Americans to entertain conspiracy theories -- a 2006 poll showed that 35% of Democrats believed Bush knew of the 9/11 attacks in advance.

It was like déjà vu.  Some Americans responded similarly to the unsettling early decades of the 20th Century: Observing growing inequality and social injustice and seeking a coherent narrative, people explored what could be described as the "greatest conspiracy theory of all time."  That is, Marxism.  Were some of these people duped for a time into being "Fellow Travelers" of the Soviet experiment?  Absolutely.  Did having shown an interest in Marxist ideology somehow render such Americans unpatriotic?  It did not.  But Senator Joseph McCarthy thought so, and he would make life hell for thousands of Americans who had done nothing wrong.

Theories are neither good nor bad.  Any theory, no matter how outlandish, can generate fruitful hypothesis -- good questions -- that can then be checked against the facts.  Even a theory about UFOs could be the jolt that opens your eyes to the world, leading you to ask good questions, think critically.  Conversely, the most respectable of theories can prove disastrous when they turn people into a lazy "believers." For example, certain theories economists and financial managers have taken for granted.  Personally, when I read the petition that Van Jones signed, I was not the least bit interested in the group's pet theories, but curious as to whether any of their questions might have been worth asking.  Van Jones may well have signed the petition with a similar mindset. Of course, it's also possible that Jones saw the petition as a convenient way to thumb his nose at the Bush Adminiration -- a routine act of free speech in a free country.

If Obama meekly accepts the resignation of Van Jones, a new McCarthyism could be just around the corner.
Photo of Obama by Jotman.  FDL has posted a savvy political analysis of the whole affair.

1 comment:

  1. I'm curious as to what he actually signed. The wiki page you linked stated that he didn't agree with the statement "now or ever." Lerner and Zinn said much the same thing. I think that a discussion of his motives would require the text of what he did sign - do you know where this can be found? My Google-fu has failed me.

    As for the cursing...I'm not sure this makes a person ineligible for holding a public position, but I certainly wonder at the wisdom of speaking like that. At best, it's counterproductive; at worst, it shows a dangerous lack of self-control. It is curious that Obama would have chosen someone who couldn't (or wouldn't) tame his tongue, and then put him in a highly visible public office.


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