This piece is cross-posted from the WashingtonPost.com, where Katrina vanden Heuvel writes a weekly column.
Van Jones, who resigned from the White House Council on Environmental Quality last fall in the face of a coordinated smear campaign by conservative activists, has reemerged from his self-imposed exile. He'll be teaching at Princeton University and taking up a senior fellowship at the Center for American Progress, where he will head a "green opportunity initiative."
A founder of "Green for All" and the online civil rights group "Color of Change," Jones penned a bestseller, "The Green Collar Economy," which provided a blueprint for using green technologies to bring jobs to deindustrialized American cities and create pathways out of poverty. He was a driving force behind the passage of the 2007 Green Jobs Act and one of America's most pragmatic environmental visionaries.
The idea that Van Jones...was some kind of crypto-radical bent on subverting American capitalist democracy from the inside has as much relationship to the truth as the notion that Obama is hatching a plan for mandatory euthanasia of America's seniors.
In giving him the NAACP's President's Award, Jealous referred to Jones's missteps, including political statements made years ago. Yes, it was a misstep to sign a 911truth.org petition. But Jones repudiated his signature and said the petition's wording didn't then and doesn't now represent his views. In a saner political environment, that would have been the end of it. Or, as the NAACP'S Jealous put it, "we can never afford to forget that a defining trait of our country is our collective capacity to practice forgiveness and celebrate redemption. This is a nation built on second chances."
It is good news that Jones has gotten that quintessentially American second chance. I am sure he will be a force working "outside" the White House -- oxygenating the grassroots with his fertile ideas.
Yet I remain sad for my country.
Jones is one in a line of would-be public servants, stretching from Lani Guiner and Jocelyn Elders all the way back to those harassed by Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-Wis.), who were driven out of public office because right-wing demagogues targeted and distorted their views. How is it that a man working to help Americans invest in a green collar economy ended up branded as an untouchable radical? How is it that such attacks led a skittish White House, admittedly battling attacks on many fronts, to jettison a powerful voice for environmental justice?
What a victory that was for the demagogues among us. Van Jones is back, but there will be other targets and well-coordinated attacks that Americans must resist, instead of giving in to those who would debase our politics through smears.