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Van Jones's Second Chance | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Van Jones's Second Chance

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."

And today, Jones will accept the NAACP President's Award from Benjamin Jealous, who mounts an eloquent defense of Jones in an op-ed.

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.

As we wrote in The Nation soon after Jones was run out of his job by clownish demagogue Glenn Beck,

 

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.

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