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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.


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.


Comments (97)

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  1. non-wealthy partriots says:

    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%.

  2. Jon H says:

    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.

  3. Stag Party Palin says:

    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.

    • Hogan says:

      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.

      • Erik Loomis says:

        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.

  4. STH says:

    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.

  5. 4jkb4ia says:

    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 says:

      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.

  6. DrDick says:

    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 says:

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


      • Holden Pattern says:

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

    • Eddie Dean says:

      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.


      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?


      • DocAmazing says:

        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 says:

        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 says:

        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 says:

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

  7. Dan Coyle says:

    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.

  8. Jewbeard says:

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

    • firefall says:

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

      • redwoods says:

        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 says:

        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!

  9. Josh E. says:

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

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Yeah, well, he ain’t now.

      • c u n d gulag says:

        Can there be no revolutionary centrists?

        • Kal says:

          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 says:

          Who would revolutionary centrists kill? Partisans of both sides?

          • JohnR says:

            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 says:

            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.

            • Malaclypse says:

              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.

    • DrDick says:

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

  10. Warren Terra says:

    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.

  11. chris says:

    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.

  12. PZ says:

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

    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…

  13. Manju says:

    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.


    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 says:

      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 says:

      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.

  14. david mizner says:

    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 says:

      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.

  15. Bijan Parsia says:

    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?


    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 says:

      “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?

  16. BradP says:

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

  17. Halloween Jack says:

    Does Jones only hang out with white Apple users

    Erik, do you really want to go there?

  18. djw says:

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

    • Uncle Kvetch says:

      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?

  19. joe from Lowell says:

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

  20. Tim says:

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

    • Hogan says:

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

      • Tim says:

        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.

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