Politics & Society
September Tue 08, 2009
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Anthony “Van” Jones resigned his job as special adviser at the Council on Environmental Quality this weekend as the result of a speech he gave at an Energy Resources Cooperative meeting in February of this year in Berkeley, California. The quasi-official position he gave up was “green jobs czar.” In this speech, which he gave after being appointed a czar in the new administration, Mr. Jones infamously referred to Republicans as a**holes. In all fairness, Mr. Jones went on to say that he, too, was sometimes an a**hole, thus making his statement about members of the opposition party a case-in-point. His rapid resignation was due in no small part to the fact that he was a major distraction at a time when the administration cannot afford distractions, as it seeks to regain momentum on health reform.
Mr. Jones held other controversial positions, too. For example, in the same speech and many other public statements, he was very forthright about that fact he harbored deep suspicions about capitalism and favored strong government intervention in forcing businesses to be greener, an expensive proposition for most enterprises. In what may turn out to be the coup de gras in his Berkeley speech, Jones said that “Some of us need to figure out which two or three senators need to have terrible days, until they act right.” Presumably, Jones was referring to senators who oppose or have serious concerns about President Obama’s environmental agenda, especially his highly complex and controversial cap and trade proposal.
It also turns out that Jones, a California community organizer and co-founder of ColorOfChange.org, signed a petition questioning whether the U.S. government had a role in planning the September 11, 2001 attacks.
In what amounts to political fair play, somebody saw to it that Van Jones had terrible days until he resigned. As is often the case in politics, a good outcome is achieved by less than desirable means. This is not to suggest that the means used to bring attention to Jones’ ideological and political commitments were immoral. In other words, he was not a victim of “lies and distortions,” as he insisted right up to his resignation. The larger point being made by the political opposition is that at the policy-level, the Obama Administration is staffed by people, like Mr. Jones, whose political viewpoints are radical and out-of-touch with those of most people in the U.S., including many liberals.
In a masterful example of politi-speak, President Obama’s senior political advisor, David Axelrod, said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday: “The bottom line is that [Jones] showed his commitment to the cause of creating green jobs in this country by removing himself as an issue.”
Unlike cabinet secretaries, policy czars do not have to be confirmed by the Senate. It looks like the administration can certainly use help in vetting people. As Politico.com’s chief political correspondent, Mike Allen, observed regarding the case of Van Jones, the administration was “so interested in filling jobs they did not look into the past statements of people the way they would have for top-level people, and what we saw here, the right, if they focus on a specific person, can do real damage.”
There is a larger issue in all of this, a constitutional issue that even overshadows the alleged radicalism of Obama Administration policy-makers: the appointment of czars to oversee key policy areas. Senator Robert Byrd, the country’s senior senator and a member of the president’s party, in a letter he wrote to President Obama shortly after his inauguration, expressed skepticism about this czarist system: "The rapid and easy accumulation of power by White House staff can threaten the Constitutional system of checks and balances." Byrd went on to write that with the appointment of so many czars, the “White House staff have taken direction and control of programmatic areas that are the statutory responsibility of Senate-confirmed officials.”
As the case of Van Jones demonstrates, in addition to not serving the common good, attempting to circumvent our constitutional order does not serve the president’s interests either.
(Deacon Scott Dodge)
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