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.