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The Platitudes of Van Jones

[ 97 ] April 4, 2012 |

Van Jones’ piece at The Nation confirms in my mind that the man is little more than a continual platitude, offering soft and spongy rhetoric in the place of deeper analysis about the problems affecting our society. Jones calls for an end to the 99% versus 1% rhetoric in favor of all Americans coming together to improve the nation.

What planet is Jones on?

It was conservatives who drummed him out of the Obama Administration. Conservatives are not going to come together with liberals on anything. The 1% is declaring war on the 99%. Moreover, the 99% rhetoric has been the most effective left-leaning rhetorical theme in probably 2 decades, maybe more.

Jones:

The “99 percent versus the 1 percent” argument falls short in a lot of ways. The vast majority of Americans do not oppose their fellow Americans, simply because they are rich. To the contrary: more than perhaps any other people on this Earth, Americans admire success. What we detest is greed. We like economic winners; we hate economic cheaters. We cheer economic innovation; we despise financial manipulation. Like most people, I don’t hate rich people who buy yachts. (The workers who build those yachts are happy.) We don’t mind when wealthy Americans buy expensive toys; we do mind when they try to buy governors and Congresspeople.

There is a reason that both the right and left love Steve Jobs (for all his flaws) and hate Bernie Madoff. There is a reason that the original Occupiers claimed the space at Wall Street, not Silicon Valley. Even they love successful entrepreneurs who create sleek and useful products.

Within limits, Americans like the risks and rewards that come with living in a market economy; we don’t mind having winners and losers, but we go ballistic when anyone tries to rig the game. If some of today’s super-wealthy outrage us—it is not because of their material success. It is because of their moral failings.

Furthermore, we expect everyone in America—the 100 percent—to do their best, to be good neighbors and to contribute to the success of our country. In return for enjoying the support of the greatest nation on Earth, we expect those who do well in America to do well by America. We expect them to pay fair taxes, create good jobs here at home, to give something back to this country. In a crisis (like the present one), we expect everyone to pitch in and do her fair share. Those who live up to these duties and expectations have always held a place of honor in our society. Americans always stand with those wealthy patriots who stand with us.

Say that again?

The left loves Steve Jobs? Does Jones only hang out with white Apple users who are willing to forgive any amount of Chinese workers in near-slavery in order to have cool, high-priced products?

Actually, the answer to that question is probably yes.

Also, are the workers who build yachts happy? I don’t know. But I do know a lot of workers aren’t happy. Doesn’t this depend entirely on the working conditions of the factory?

The rest of the essay consists of equally meaningless rhetoric about an America that does not exist. Except in the mind of Van Jones and other Beltway leftists who go to a lot of high-end Washington parties but seem rather disconnected from the reality of modern American life.

I know Jones has tons of cred because he was purged from the Obama Administration, but let’s not let his celebrity get in the way that his essay is really bad.

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  • non-wealthy partriots

    Perhaps, Mr. Jones is in the 1% or maybe his groups receive the bulk of their funding from corporations and foundations controlled by the 1%.

  • Jon H

    Yes, yes, those Foxconn workers should be doing good, clean, wholesome, remunerative, safe work, like mining coal.

    Little known fact: the Chinese housing boom is largely fed by rich coal miners retiring in their mid-30s and heading for the cities, where they buy penthouses.

  • Stag Party Palin

    I don’t hate the 1% just because they have all the money. I hate them because they have no sense of community, outside their 1% community that is. They have no concept of the ‘greater good, and don’t think they have any debt to the society that made them rich. They have made it us against them – we didn’t. And for that, although I doubt I will carry a pitchfork or bucket of tar (but I wouldn’t rule it out either), they will eventually die like the pigs they are. There’s a time limit on a society that top-heavy.

    • We just haven’t been nice enough to the one percent. Maybe one more big tax cut and, I don’t know, some castles and ermine robes and droit de seigneur, and they’ll let us keep feeding them and doing our peasant dances.

      • There are moments when once respectable progressive figures who were really frauds go beyond the pale. Former SEIU President Andy Stern did it when he spoke favorably of Chinese factories. Maybe this is the moment for Jones.

  • STH

    And why is this sort of concern trolling–oh, let’s forget all our grievances and just be friends!–always directed at liberals? Why is there nobody saying to the right something like, “don’t worry about those feminists and gay people, they really have America’s interests at heart just like you do, so let’s all get along!” No, the rhetoric on the right is all HATE HATE HATE and nobody says a thing about it.

    • It’s true. We never talk about right-wing hate at LGM.

    • Wait, I’m an idiot. Read your comment wrong.

      • Anonymous

        Wait, I’m an idiot. Read your comment wrong.

        Please, please….that’s not what makes you an idiot.

    • UserGoogol

      I would say that “let’s all be friends” is literally the core principle of liberalism. Liberalism is weighing everyone’s perspectives equally, and creating a society where people are able to live their lives how they want as much as is possible. That includes even the most villainous of people. (Liberalism is very distinct from “the left,” though.) Conservatism on the other hand is pretty comfortable explicitly embracing tribalism, so they’re less prone to support this kind of argument.

      There’s a whole bunch of lazy platitudes in Van Jones’s article, and as a matter of rhetorical strategy he’s probably very mistaken to believe that “the 99% for the 100%” would actually sell better to the American people. But as a matter of principle, isn’t loving your enemy what being a liberal is all about?

      • Fuck my enemy.

        Maybe I’m not a good liberal.

        • Ben

          A good Honored Matre, maybe.

          (. . . I can’t believe I just did that. Puns are cruel taskmasters.)

          • Linnaeus

            The Bene Gesserit were way cooler.

            • Yeshua Ben Yosef

              Gaius Helen Mohiam, thou art avenged!

              • Malaclypse

                Dammit.

        • Pseudonym

          I think you may qualify as a genuine leftist, what with your obsession about interest in the labor movement and all. Being a good liberal is overrated.

          • Bart

            Too few observers are chronicling labor’s past fights for decent wages and conditions.

      • witless chum

        Tom Lehrer knew it to be true.

        • Marek

          As did Phil Ochs.

      • Hogan

        “A liberal is a man too broad-minded to take his own side in a quarrel.”

  • 4jkb4ia

    I tried to write something like this back at EW’s in October, but the gist was that it’s clearly a Jewish value neither to worship or hate somebody for having a lot of money. You’re not put on this earth to have a lot of money. It’s a tool to do the things that you really are meant to be doing–I can compartmentalize some level of respect for Gary Cohn for supporting the charities that he does and some level of skepticism about what he does when he goes to work. If you have more money, you can give more, and it benefits the community when there is one person who can write one big check for there to be a synagogue (our synagogue was subsidized by that for years) or a school. This is all very easy to say because from the point of view of most of my European ancestors I am fabulously wealthy.

    If Van Jones got to be in the Obama WH because of green jobs and has spent much of his career on them, he has an incentive to say that Americans will not be resentful of a person who produces green jobs and becomes wealthy. But Steve Jobs (sad pun) is not the example you want to bring out for that.

    • 4jkb4ia

      The 4jkb4ia synagogue was bought by Aish Hatorah as an outreach shul and has struggled to go beyond a small core of people almost its entire existence. The new rabbi finally said it was hopeless to chase outreach and to try to do inreach to the people who are here.

  • DrDick

    What planet is Jones on?

    Planet Centrist. It is a lovely world, where the weather is always perfect, children are all well behaved, and everybody gets along and cooperates. Unfortunately, it bears no resemblance to the world the rest of us live in.

    • Uncle Kvetch

      and everybody gets along and cooperateswould get along and cooperate if it weren’t for the dirty fucking hippies

      fixed

      • Holden Pattern

        This, together with “but the Republicans are crazy” pretty much comprises the campaign slogans for today’s mainstream Democratic party.

    • Eddie Dean

      I guess when Jones was interviewed by the East Bay Express and stated at that time that he was a communist just slipped everyone’s minds.

      funny…that

      To be objective, imagine a conservative activist admitting to membership in the Klan or describing himself as a fascist.

      Think conservatives would simply sweep it under the rug and say it doesn’t matter?

      Really?

      • DocAmazing

        You would compare memebership in one of the many Communist parties to membership in the Klan?

        I guess we know what your grasp of history is like.

      • DrDick

        I would celebrate it if there was any actual evidence that Jones was a communist. Unlike the Klan, communism is not a hate group bent on oppression, but seeks to empower the powerless. Do try to keep up.

      • Uncle Kvetch

        I guess when Jones was interviewed by the East Bay Express and stated at that time that he was a communist just slipped everyone’s minds.

        Actually, what he stated at that time was that he had been a communist previously, but no longer was one. See the difference? Of course you do, but you won’t let that stop you.

      • Walt

        Warren Beatty was a communist, and yet very sexy. Coincidence? I think not.

  • Dan Coyle

    You know, Jones is right: it’s those kinds of calls for unity across the aisle that have made Bob Somerby and Ted Rall such respected thinkers.

  • Jewbeard

    Yes the anti war movement occupy movement is doing a bang up job. I wonder what their next astroturfing gig will be called?

    • firefall

      What? the occupy movement has funding all of a sudden?

      • redwoods

        I love how “turned down coporate sponsorship” (the Ben & Jerry’s thing) became “the leftist version of every Koch-sucker out there”. OH WAIT, NO IT DIDN’T.

      • Kal

        Hey, the NYC GA had one MILLION dollars for a while. But if you’re feeding hundreds of people daily, on top of bail for an indefinite supply of mostly-unlawful arrests, providing Metrocards for your unemployed and homeless activists*, and all the standard political stuff like printing, sign-making, web servers… that goes quickly. Money mostly ran out a couple weeks ago.

        *smelly, dirty unemployed and homeless spoiled rich kid trust fund babies with iPhones and designer clothes, of course!

  • Josh E.

    When Jones was at the Ella baker center in San Francisco in the late 90s he was a borderline revolutionary.

    • Yeah, well, he ain’t now.

      • c u n d gulag

        What?
        Can there be no revolutionary centrists?

        • Kal

          Funny you should ask. There’s a classic Marxist definition of centrism as the place between reformism and revolution, occupied by parties such as the post-WWI Italian Socialists…

        • Lee

          Who would revolutionary centrists kill? Partisans of both sides?

          • JohnR

            No killing! Killing is bad; revolutionary centrists are masters of the brutal talking-to.

            Jones probably would have done some of that, except he seems to have been unbelievably stoned when he wrote that tripe. I suspect his editor must have felt like the guy at Rolling Stone who had to transcribe some of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s more ‘influenced’ submissions.
            I mean, that last paragraph you cite: I knew better than that as a teenager – all you need to do is to be part of a work-crew and in five minutes you realize that every single person there knows for a fact that he’s doing most of the work while the rest slack off. You can’t make people “do their fair share” when they already know that they’re doing far more than that even if they’re just laying around soaking up the sun. Jones is out of his head.

          • Hogan

            Beware! Unless you people shut up and begin acting like grown-ups with brains enough to understand the difference between political belief and personal faith, the Unitarian Jihad will begin a series of terrorist-like actions. We will take over television studios, kidnap so-called commentators and broadcast calm, well-reasoned discussions of the issues of the day. We will not try for “balance” by hiring fruitcakes; we will try for balance by hiring non-ideologues who have carefully thought through the issues.

            We are Unitarian Jihad. We will appear in public places and require people to shake hands with each other. (Sister Hand Grenade of Love suggested that we institute a terror regime of mandatory hugging, but her motion was not formally introduced because of lack of a quorum.) We will require all lobbyists, spokesmen and campaign managers to dress like trout in public. Televangelists will be forced to take jobs as Xerox repair specialists. Demagogues of all stripes will be required to read Proust out loud in prisons.

            • Right. Like I will possibly let the U-Us get away with plagiarizing the platform of Quaker Jihad.

              We are Quaker Jihad. There is only one God, unless there is more than one God. The leading of our God subcommittee is pretty much in favor of one God, with two blocks. Brother Flaming Sword of Moderation noted the possibility of there being no God at all, and his objection was noted with love by the secretary.

      • Kal

        Working in the system has its toll. This piece from a revolutionary who worked with Jones before his Obama appointment is from early 2009.

    • DrDick

      And several of the current leading Neocons used to be Marxists in the 1960s and 1970s. Your point is (assuming you even have one)?

  • Warren Terra

    I can’t say I’ve ever noticed Jones doing anything terribly worthwhile, except for being the innocent victim of right wing hate, which at least got some people mobilized. The green jobs program wasn’t much of an effort, and so didn’t accomplish much, whoever is to blame for that. Even so, I’m disappointed to see him parroting Broderist nonsense instead of being ineffectually, upbeatly left-wing.

    • c u n d gulag

      Now that Richard Cohen’s getting older, maybe he wants the Liberal clean-up spot in Team Haitt’s line-up?

      This may be his audition piece.

      • Now that Richard Cohen’s getting older, maybe he wants the Liberal clean-up spot in Team Haitt’s line-up?

        I thought that was why Kaplan hired Ezra Klein.

  • chris

    The 1% is declaring war on the 99%.

    Heck no. The 1% greatly prefer for their war on the 99% to remain undeclared — even going so far as to point at people who accurately recognize its existence and accuse *them* of instigating class warfare.

    • A fair point–they know it is war, but why bother with the declaration.

    • Njorl

      I made a comment once that it’s been Pearl Harbor every day for the last 30 years without anyone pointing out the infamy.

  • PZ

    I’m going to go with Rich Yeselson on this-

    http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal-a/2012_03/obama_and_the_anxieties_of_the036125.php

    If you want people angry at those at the top, you’re going to have to look to people from the top. A guy like Van Jones-who, like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, came from modest means-is probably going to show some deference to some at the top. They’ll make a distinction between those who’ve “earned” their fortune and those who cheated to get to the top. They’ll see things like regulations and unions as things that only apply to bad companies and not to the “good” ones.

    FDR had contempt for his class because he knew them. He knew many of them just idly sat on their money while others starved. He also knew if it had been up to them, he would have lived the rest of his life indoors, an invalid who no one thought was good for anything. And, when he did everything to try and save them from financial ruin after he took office, all they could do was spit in his face.

    The reality is Third Way Era-neoliberalism has a very strong appeal with Democratic elites-everyone wins! Unless you really cheat, the government won’t bother you. Don’t be too greedy and pay a little bit more in taxes to help poor people-think of it like charity. It appeals to a lot of self-made men (or people who think they’re self-made, at least). How you combat this mentality-I don’t know…

  • Manju

    The left loves Steve Jobs? Does Jones only hang out with white Apple users who are willing to forgive any amount of Chinese workers in near-slavery in order to have cool, high-priced products?

    So apparently Van reads Krugman papers related to the actual topic of his Nobel Prize. Meanwhile, the LGM faithful cling to every inane word the Krug has to say about some inane topic like eliminationist rhetoric or something.

    Whatever.

    Anyway, Van is a really cool name. Actually, Erik with a k is too. The Loomis throws me off since I always think “Loomis Sayles” and wonder if they guy is the heir to some huge Wall St fortune.

    That would be cool too.

    • Uncle Kvetch

      Meanwhile, the LGM faithful cling to every inane word the Krug has to say about some inane topic like eliminationist rhetoric or something.

      Ooh, looks like somebody got a new hobbyhorse for his birthday! Ride ’em, cowboy!

    • Njorl

      I always think of Willie Loomis from “Dark Shadows”. I am looking forward to the upcoming movie, though I fear it will have an incredibly narrow audience. Farce for fifty-somethings isn’t the road to riches.

      • Manju

        Sometimes my mind goes to “Fruit of the Looms”. Either way, I would advise Loomis to pull a Cher:

        Erik.

  • david mizner

    Well, his credibility comes not from his being purged but from what he did before he got to DC, as an activist. And his skill as a public speaker fools people into thinking he’s the real deal. He’s not. He’s largely full of shit. There’s very little there these days beyond self-promotion. Thank you for having the bravery to say so.

    • Eddie Dean

      He’s largely full of shit. There’s very little there these days beyond self-promotion.

      Well, he’s certainly embracing capitalism now that his new book if coming out.

  • The left loves Steve Jobs? Does Jones only hang out with white Apple users who are willing to forgive any amount of Chinese workers in near-slavery in order to have cool, high-priced products?

    Ahem.

    And the racial composition of Apple users is interesting:

    What may surprise some is that there is a racial/ethnic difference. The iPod and iPhone have reached their highest usage rates among adults identifying as Asian/Non-Hispanic and Non-White/Hispanic. Apple iPod penetration of Asian/Non-Hispanic online adults is 52% and among Non-White/Hispanic adults the rate is 42%. Apple iPhone penetration is 5% of online adults, and a more than triple 16% of Asian/Non-Hispanic adults and 12% of Non-White/Hispanic adults.

    None of this is to defend the indefensible. I think it’s very important to keep pressure up on Apple.

    One interesting thing I’ve read is that improving Foxcomm worker salaries and conditions is likely to help consolidate Apple’s hold on a number of markets. Roughly, given their cash on hand and buying power they are likely to be able to have a dramatic and wide impact both directly and by ripple effects, but also, given their profit margins, they are much less likely to have to raise prices. In other words, by improving worker conditions, Apple can make everyone else less competitive.

    • Eddie Dean

      “white non-hispanic”
      ???

      If the NYT describes Zimmerman as “White-Hispanic” because he has one white parent……

      Is President Obama ‘White African American’ because he also has one white parent?

      • DocAmazing

        If you’re pigmented enough that a cop will jack you up for standing too long on a corner, you forego the “white” part of the label.

        This has been an explanation of white privilege. You’re welcome.

      • These are, afaik, fairly standard demographic categories.

      • Hogan

        According to Limbaugh, the correct term is “Halfrican American.” Try to keep up.

        • DrDick

          Which, owing to the multitudinous benefits of slavery and an additional 150 years of oppression, also at least partially describes most African-Americans.

      • Fats Durston

        “white non-hispanic”
        ???

        This is utterly disingenuous. Anybody who has filled out a gov’t form in the past two decades (more? I started filling out gov’t forms 20 years ago) has encountered the phrasings:
        White, non-Hispanic
        White, Hispanic

        You are lying about your surprise. You are lying about your shock at NYT‘s perfidy. You are also pretending not to understand how blackness is constructed in this country. You are an asshole.

        • DrDick

          More like 30+ years.

      • joe from Lowell

        If the NYT describes Zimmerman as “White-Hispanic” because he has one white parent……

        Hispanic is not a race. There are white Hispanics, black Hispanics, and even Asian Hispanics from the Philippines.

        David Ortiz. Raul Julia.

        This has nothing to do with Zimmerman having one white-Anglo parent. His mother was white-Hispanic as well.

        • DrDick

          Also Asian Hispanics in Latin America, like former president of Peru Fujimora. Large numbers of Japanese and some Chinese emigrated to Central and South America in the early 20th century.

      • Manju

        If the NYT describes Zimmerman as “White-Hispanic”

        Well, “Señor” is quite frankly the catchiest tune off “Street-Legal”…so you can’t blame them.

      • Manju

        If you’re pigmented enough that a cop will jack you up

        You are also pretending not to understand how blackness is constructed in this country.

        In all seriousness this time, Zimmerman never did look exactly like William Weld, but more importantly, he looks straight-up brown in this recently released pic (3rd one down):

        http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/02/us/trayvon-martin-shooting-prompts-a-review-of-ideals.html?_r=1&sq=zimmerman%20911&st=nyt&scp=1&pagewanted=all

        (maybe the Zimmerman’s are trying to brown him up? I dunno, just thinking out loud).

  • BradP

    The problem is that we cannot very well differentiate between “greed” and “success”, “winners” and “cheaters”, “economic innovation” and “financial manipulation”.

    • DrDick

      Under capitalism, those are all pretty much the same thing.

      • BradP

        The capitalism we have? Absolutely.

        • DrDick

          That is the only one there ever has been. Go read Adam Smith.

    • liberal

      Yes we can. Key is how much of the profit/return is actually economic rent.

      • DrDick

        From a Marxist perspective, all of it is as that is the definition of profit.

  • Halloween Jack

    Does Jones only hang out with white Apple users

    Erik, do you really want to go there?

    • JohnR

      Funny thing, that – if you leave a white Apple user out too long, he turns brown. Soak him in lemon juice to be safe.

  • djw

    I’m beginning to think Glenn Beck may have been wrong about this guy’s commitment to Leninism.

    • Uncle Kvetch

      I’m beginning to think Glenn Beck may have been wrong about this guy’s commitment to Leninism.

      That’s exactly what they want you to think.

      Don’t you see? This is all part of their cunning Alinskyite plan — lulling us into a false sense of security. Then once Obama’s second term starts, BOOM! Van Jones will be the Goebbels to the Kenyan Usurper’s Hitler, only worse!

      Seriously, dude…what kind of bizarro world do you live in, anyway?

  • joe from Lowell

    I get off the bus when I’m told I don’t hate enough people.

    • Do you get off or are you thrown under? Or do you get off and then get thrown under?

      There’s clearly a bus with your name on it!

    • Is the bus by any chance named Further?

      • joe from Lowell

        Say, wasn’t that the bus driven by Neal Cassidy, best friend of Jack Kerouac from Lowell?

  • Tim

    Yeah, great point. Van Jones is the enemy! Down with Van Jones and his moderate, winning argument!!!

    • Hogan

      So, Vanna, tell us what Van Jones has won!

      • Tim

        He has won the respect that comes with writing a good article- something Erik has not done. Erik’s two chosen points of criticism are:
        1) He doesn’t think liberals like Steve Jobs (they do); and
        2) He nit-picks the idea that yacht-builders like having a job (a great example of arguing for its own sake)

        He then dismisses the rest of Van’s article as “meaningless rhetoric.” I submit that, between his article and Van’s, he is the one who should be tagged with that charge.

        • Hogan

          So the short answer is, “your heart.” Got it.

          • Tim

            Why else do people write essays other than to debate ideas? What else would he win? A pony?

            • Hogan

              An actual policy accomplishment that can be attributed to his strategy? The prospect of an actual policy accomplishment that can be attributed to his strategy?

              • Tim

                Ah, I see. That would be an Obama re-election that he is working for. Check back in November, we’ll find out how he (and others) did then.

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