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Follow-up on the former communist in the Obama administration

Last week, I mentioned that U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann appeared to be on solid ground when she stated in a radio interview that a White House adviser had past ties to communism. The adviser, whom Bachmann didn’t name, is  Van Jones, a civil rights lawyer and environmental activist some journalists have referred to as Obama’s “green jobs czar.”

I solicited and received an administration response, although it does not address the main points. Here is the response in full:

“Van Jones is not the ‘Green Jobs Czar’ as that position does not exist in the White House. He serves as Special Advisor for Green Jobs at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. He was hired by the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality to be her Advisor based on his professional experience and will be judged by his performance on the job.

“Mr. Jones is entirely focused on one policy goal: building clean energy incentives which create 21st century jobs that improve energy efficiency and utilize renewable resources. Van is a human rights attorney honored by Time magazine as an environmental hero and as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2009.”

Under the terms attached to the statement, I am not able to give the name of the person who issued it, but it is someone authorized to speak for the Council on Environmental Quality, which is a division of the executive office of the president.

It’s true, of course, that Jones’ official title does not include the word “czar.” This is also true of all the other appointees who are routinely referred as the czars of their various fields. The statement also implies but does not state that Jones does not directly advise President Obama and that perhaps Obama was not involved in his appointment. If that is correct, then the distance between Jones’ post and others who are referred to as czars is substantial.

But the main point of my inquiry was to inquire whether the White House was aware that Jones had, at one point in his life, considered himself a communist. You will note that the CEQ statement does not address this matter. The statement that Jones was appointed “based on his professional experience and will be judged by his performance on the job” suggests to me that his former association with communism (and a subsequent involvement with what’s described as a revolutionary Marxist organization) is not deemed relevant to his appointment nor his performance on the job.

Surely if Jones wanted to say that his past statements about having been a communist were misquotes, or if he wanted to more explicitly repudiate his past ideology, or if the White House wanted to say that it was unaware of these statements when he was appointed, the official statement should have made that clear.

Unlike the most persistent and strident purveyors of the Jones-is-a-commie story — Glen Beck of Fox has been the leader and many of his statements have suggested that Jones is currently communist, for which there is no apparent basis — I do not assume that a previous involvement with communism is a lifetime disqualification from public service (especially in an area like the promotion of green energy jobs, which seems far removed from Bolshevism).

In fact, considering the U.S. historical background of McCarthyism, it is impressive that the Jones case hasn’t caused more of a fuss, despite the efforts of Beck, Bachmann and others.

But I would judge it naive to believe that the presence of a former communist in the White House will be a non-story if the White House just declines to talk about it.

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Karl Bremer on 08/31/2009 - 11:28 am.

    Julie Quist, Bachmann’s 6th District manager, was a self-described “radical feminist” in the 70s, ran a lesbian bookstore and had an abortion:

    I guess we can presume Quist still represents those ideals as well, given Bachmann’s McCarthy-like smear on Van Horn’s past?

  2. Submitted by Brian Simon on 08/31/2009 - 11:38 am.

    Were Jones still a communist, so what?

    Or is political ideology not a protected class?

  3. Submitted by kai bosworth on 08/31/2009 - 11:41 am.

    You might be interested in this comprehensive look at Van’s background:

  4. Submitted by Annalise Cudahy on 08/31/2009 - 12:07 pm.

    From what I can tell, this is the entirety of what the Beckerheads have:

    They focus on this ‘graph:

    Jones had planned to move to Washington, DC, and had already landed a job and an apartment there. But in jail, he said, “I met all these young radical people of color — I mean really radical, communists and anarchists. And it was, like, ‘This is what I need to be a part of.'” Although he already had a plane ticket, he decided to stay in San Francisco. “I spent the next ten years of my life working with a lot of those people I met in jail, trying to be a revolutionary.” In the months that followed, he let go of any lingering thoughts that he might fit in with the status quo. “I was a rowdy nationalist on April 28th, and then the verdicts came down on April 29th,” he said. “By August, I was a communist.”

    But ignore this one:

    He took an objective look at the movement’s effectiveness and decided that the changes he was seeking were actually getting farther away. Not only did the left need to be more unified, he decided, it might also benefit from a fundamental shift in tactics. “I realized that there are a lot of people who are capitalists — shudder, shudder — who are really committed to fairly significant change in the economy, and were having bigger impacts than me and a lot of my friends with our protest signs,” he said.

  5. Submitted by Michael Jefferis on 08/31/2009 - 12:43 pm.

    Whether he was a communist, an anarchist, a socialist, a republican, or a registered member of the John Birch Society matters, but past memberships need to be considered in context. Van Jones was born in 1968, long after the Communist Party had ceased to be a significant force in American politics. By the time he was 21 the Soviet Union was falling into the dustbin of history. Similarly, anarchism and socialism had long since become little more than boutique politics. However, leftist organizations in the late 20th century have attracted idealists who wanted something more militant than the wishy-washy sentiments of the two major parties. The same can be said for people who tried on clothes at several right-wing political boutiques. In my youth I thought Barry Goldwater was inspiring. Now, in my sixties, I am and have been a leftist for a long time.

    What matters is what Van Jones did with his life, how he changed over time — we all change, there is no other option. What matters is how he performs his job now.

  6. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/31/2009 - 03:10 pm.

    “However, leftist organizations in the late 20th century have attracted idealists who wanted something more militant than the wishy-washy sentiments of the two major parties. The same can be said for people who tried on clothes at several right-wing political boutiques.”


    When someone hears, or reads of a right leaning “idealist” putting forth the idea that his or her having once fallen in with The Posse Comitatus needs to be taken “in context”, please let me know.

  7. Submitted by Annalise Cudahy on 08/31/2009 - 05:25 pm.

    Folks, what’s important here is that by reading the case they had against Van Jones on the various sites full of scuttlebutt I was able to find exactly what they had against him in 5 minutes – within the context that showed he was himself a bit embarassed by his past and had a long record of constructive work since then.

    The people who have been responsible for spreading this story had the whole truth at their disposal. Why they decided to ignore it is for you to surmise.

  8. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/31/2009 - 06:18 pm.

    I hear you Eric.

    Some people just won’t let the past die. For instance, Henry Lamont Beach says it was all a big misunderstanding, but do you think he can he get a gig in the interior department? Nooo.

  9. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 08/31/2009 - 08:14 pm.

    Henry Lamont Beach and the Posse Comitatus, as it was promoted in this country during the 1980s, were armed revolutionaries that sought to overthrow the U.S. Federal government by force. Luckily, they were a lazy bunch of morons and couldn’t have taken over a Dunkin Donuts with a tank, a bazooka and all their members, even if they could keep them sober. They did kill some sheriffs’ deputies and two federal marshals. Communism in this country did seek to replace the capitalistic structure of the United States and replace it with a socialist model. However, the only people killed during the Red Scare of the 1950s were Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted Soviet spies. To replace an economic structure in this country isn’t even illegal as long as it is done peacefully and lawfully. The constitution says nothing about an economic structure, just a democratic one. It’s fairly obvious that Michele Bachmann has become the Joseph McCarthy of the new millennia and I’m a bit disappointed that Eric Black took the bait.

    Hey, maybe someone in the White House once spit out a Girl Scout cookie.

    We have a former vice president who not only helped allow torture, but is damn proud of it. Hardly seems to stay in the news. I guess if you defend illegal actions publicly it’s not news.

  10. Submitted by Kyle Edwards on 09/02/2009 - 02:15 pm.

    I wish he’d have more ex or current communists in his administration. Maybe then corporations would stop owning the political process.

  11. Submitted by John E Iacono on 09/03/2009 - 04:19 pm.

    >Communists were also a significant threat in the 1930’s, which is where the movement fought in the 1950’s got its start.

    >But most Americans then, as now, found their gospel to have a bad taste.

    Much of their ideology lives on in the minds of those who demonize any profit, any corporate structure, and any attempt to treat all citizens as equals under the law — if those citizens do not agree with them.

    A read of the Federalist papers, however, shows that the founders actually based the Constitution on the premise that each citizen, (and by extension each representative of those citizens, and each body made up of those representatives) would act in his/her/its self interest, and put together a structure where those competing self interests would act as checks and balances on each other.

    The risk to our society comes not from persons with the thinking of Jones having a voice, but from persons of like mind to him having control of the various seats of power. I believe the founders would have said: “Is he way out there? Good! Let him have his voice — it will curb those of the opposite extremes.”

  12. Submitted by Mike Haubrich on 09/06/2009 - 09:46 am.

    Now that Jones has resigned, I wonder how much of an issue that people like our friend Mr. Swift will continue to try to make of it. There really is no interest on the right to examine the totality of someone’s views, history, or actions as they grow up.

    Guess what? In 1984 I signed a petition to have Gus Hall and Angela Davis on the California ballot as the CPUSA’s candidates for President and Vice President. I explained to the nice radical who asked me to sign it that no intention to vote for Hall/Davis but that I thought that even commies should have the opportunity to participate in the democratic process.

    I guess that means, though, that I should withdraw from all social/civic activities, shouldn’t I? For the country that so loudly proclaims our freedoms, we sure have a tendency to suppress the individual freedoms of people we don’t like.

    Thanks to you and those like you, Mr. Swift, for being such a hypocrite.

  13. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/08/2009 - 07:45 am.

    Hooray for Rep. Bachmann!

    We can all share in the pride of finally having an elected representative from Minnesota shine in the national spotlight for doing wholesome, good work instead of having hired the craftiest lawyers.

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