Tuesday, April 3, 2012

This Post Brought to You by the Letters D and R

Van Jones is so cute that I hate to be mean to him, but damn, he's stupid. He appeared on Democracy Now! this morning to tout his new book -- the first, as Amy Goodman told us, by a former Obama administration official -- and he annoyed the hell out of me.

Jones describes himself in the interview as "the only person in American life who was a grassroots outsider, who became a White House insider—I was there for six months—and then I became a grassroots outsider again." Despite this, he still sounds like a White House insider. For example, he describes how a right wing "in panic mode"
threw out the rule book. And you had provocateurs like Glenn Beck, Breitbart, Andrew Breitbart, now the late, stepping forward and basically taking a relatively advanced information system and firing into it lies, smears, viruses, for which we had no antibodies. So they bug-zapped me. They bug-zapped ACORN, and knock out the entire Democratic Party "get out the vote" operation with one video. They go after Shirley Sherrod. And for several months, the body politic does not know how to react to this virus. Finally, with Shirley Sherrod, a line gets drawn, and people begin to realize, "Wait a minute, it turns out you can have people on national television saying crazy stuff like that and getting away with it." And eventually, with the advertising boycott, he [Beck, I think] gets pushed off the air. But there was a moment when the White House itself was rocked back on its heels, because we had an information system that was very advanced, but a wisdom system that had not yet caught up to what tricksters like Beck and Breitbart could do. And so, that’s the moment that we were in.
I've written before about how liberals' and Democrats' refusal to learn from history shows their incompetence to serve in government. If the Obama White House was totally unprepared and "had no antibodies" against the Right's onslaught, they had not only forgotten the Right's very similar attacks on the Clinton administration, but their attacks on Obama during his election campaign. What's that cliche about doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results? Apparently Obama thought that if he just kept pretending that the Right didn't exist, they'd go away. If so, events have shown him wrong, yet he sticks with the same strategy. The Republicans' tactics, on the other hand, work, so it's completely reasonable for them to keep using them; wouldn't you say? As Jones admits, they managed to get rid of ACORN, Shirley Sherrod, and him in short order. Yet the Democrats panicked and caved in each time another false accusation was made. And Jones sees this as entirely reasonable: "being one of the first people to kind of be a test case for this new, more desperate right-wing set of tactics, I did not know how to respond or how to deal with it." Maybe he should have talked to Jocelyn Elders, who could have told him that this "set of tactics" wasn't new or even desperate: the Right knows by now that it will produce the desired results.

Questioned by Goodman, Jones explained his resignation:
... I thought, look, I know what they’re trying to do here. The President is about to reset the national conversation on healthcare. We had gone through the whole month of August with the town hall meetings, etc. He’s going to reset this conversation on healthcare. They need a distraction. They’re desperate. They’re going to go through every single position statement I’ve ever made in the history of my colorful left-wing career every day to try to keep us from having a discussion on healthcare. I thought that it was more appropriate for me to step back, take that away from them, and let the President move forward.
Jones's desperate measure didn't work either; if anything it was a theatrical gesture. (You guys go on without me...) But here again Jones is talking like a White House insider and Democratic Party apparatchik. Obama was not "going to reset this conversation on healthcare." I'm increasingly as annoyed by the term "health care reform" as I am by "Obamacare" or "marriage equality": what Obama had in mind was, at most, health insurance reform, which is not a bad thing in itself but still leaves Americans in the clutches of the insurance industry. Not exactly a reset of the "conversation," let alone the system.

I didn't really notice this next claim until FAIR pointed out that Jones had said the same thing on ABC's This Week. Evidently it's going to be one of his talking points:
And [at the beginning of Obama's term] we [the left] were, mostly, on the left, trying to navigate and figure out the new reality with the new president. Who monopolized protest activity those first two years? Our job—you know, we’re the kings and queens of protest. No left protest. The Tea Party. The Tea Party takes to the streets. It’s the first time, you know, you have this massive economic crisis, the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, two wars, an ecological catastrophe going on with the climate, and no significant street presence for the left. The right wing monopolizes street presence, monopolizes the media almost, and you wind up with a checkmate for the forces of progress. I felt this had a story that had to be told from the point of view of someone who had been on both sides, so I wrote the book.
Peter Hart pointed out:
This is a strange observation. Granted, Jones would seem to want to see more of this kind of activism. But in April of 2010 protests against Wall Street greed were happening. In October 2010 a massive rally–One Nation Working Together–attracted thousands to Washington DC. A few months earlier thousands of activists attended the U.S. Social Forum. U.S. Uncut protests across the country took aim at austerity politics. There was the massive uprising in Wisconsin. And of course Occupy Wall Street.
Now most–if not all–of these movements failed to attract, at least at the outset, the kind of corporate media coverage the Tea Party enjoyed. But it's not as if they didn't happen.
There was also the Equality March on Washington in October 2009, which all by itself was bigger than any Tea Party rally. The White House, Barney Frank, and Joe Salomonese of the Human Rights Campaign jeered at it. As Jones told Goodman, "You’ve got to have a president who will listen and millions of people in the streets. That’s how you get the change done." What we have is a president who won't listen, and Jones wants him in for a second term so he can not-listen for four more years. Whether or not Jones hopes to get another job with Obama, he's still a loyalist.

P.S. Glenn Greenwald pointed out today that the Obama administration advocated for the judgment that the Supreme Court delivered in Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders, permitting strip searches of "anyone arrested for the most minor offenses before admitting them to the general population of a jail or prison, even in the absence of a shred of suspicion that they are carrying weapons or contraband." Progressives are attacking the decision, Greenwald says, but are curiously silent about Obama's support for it. And:
In a speech to the Associated Press today, President Obama boasted that his signature domestic policies were basically conservative (he labeled them “centrist”): his individual mandate, he said, was pioneered by conservatives and the Heritage Foundation; his cap-and-trade policy was first proposed by Bush 41; federal spending is lower now than it was during any year of the Reagan administration, etc. Even the successes most touted by his supporters — the Detroit bailout, TARP, the withdrawal from Iraq — were started by Bush 43. Obama’s foreign policy and civil liberties assaults also, of course, were largely shared by his predecessor and are frequently praised by the Right.
"Centrist" is meaningless when you remember how right-wing Reagan was. Numerous people have been quoting Obama's claim that Reagan couldn't win the Republican presidential nomination nowadays, which ignores how much of today's political climate is Reagan's legacy. On the other hand, Reagan probably could win the Democratic presidential nomination nowadays, and even get elected. But then I've argued before that Obama is the new Reagan that so many Republicans have been wistfully calling for.