Van Jones and the Right-Wing Attack Machine 

The Oakland activist and Obama adviser resigned after critics tied him to an impolitic 9/11 petition. The affair again exposed the weakness of Democrats.

As President Obama's green-jobs advisor, Oakland environmentalist Van Jones was supposed to help the nation transition to a green-tech economy, while assisting unemployed workers gain valuable new skills. But when he suddenly resigned last weekend it was clear he had been caught up in a series of events highlighting the nation's increasingly ugly public discourse.

The beginning of the end to his short White House career took place nearly two months ago when a white Massachusetts cop arrested a black Harvard professor in his own home. Cambridge police Sergeant James Crowley cuffed Henry Louis Gates Jr. because he wrongly thought he was a burglar. Gates was quickly released, but the incident became a racial flashpoint.

The controversy intensified when the president said police had acted "stupidly." Right-wingers pounced on Obama's remarks, and leading the way was Fox News host Glenn Beck. Beck quickly labeled the president a "racist," and claimed Obama harbored a "deep-seated hatred of white people."

In response, an Oakland liberal activist group, Color of Change, which Jones had helped launch but is no longer involved with, began a national advertising boycott of Beck's show. The boycott worked well — more than forty corporations pulled their ads. But Beck and his minions launched a counterattack against Jones, using an East Bay Express cover story as ammunition.

The 2005 profile noted that after the Rodney King verdicts in the early 1990s, Jones considered himself "a communist." The story also noted that Jones was once a member of Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement, or STORM, a group that dreamed of a multiracial socialist utopia. Although the article made it clear that Jones had outgrown his radical roots, right-wingers claimed he was proof that Obama is bent on turning America socialist.

Beck and the conservative blogosphere then unearthed a video of a speech Jones gave earlier this year in Berkeley in which he called Republicans "assholes." Jones also called himself an "asshole" in the video. Then bloggers discovered that in 2004 Jones had signed a petition that called for an investigation into whether the Bush administration had allowed the 9/11 terrorist attacks to happen in order to sway public opinion for a war against Iraq. Jones quickly said he didn't know what he had signed and said the petition didn't reflect his views then or now. But it was a no-win situation — either he was lying about not knowing what the petition said or the Yale law school grad had signed something without reading it first.

Throughout the summer, Obama's approval numbers had been falling because of incessant right-wing attacks on the Democratic health-care proposal. Obama and the Democrats were unsuccessful in combating the falsehoods. But the damage had been done. And so when the president decided last week it was time to launch a full-court press for health-care reform, Jones realized that he had become too much of a distraction for the young, embattled administration.

Democrats Are Weak

The Jones affair also served as a reminder of how weak-kneed Democrats really are. When Republicans launch a shit-storm, Democrats run for cover, time and again. Sure, Jones' decision — whether consciously or not — to sign on with the September 11 "Truthers" was a serious mistake, but it was no worse than several recent scandals that Republicans have managed to weather.

Case in point — GOP Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, who flew off to Argentina for five days earlier this year without telling anyone in his administration where he had gone. The right-wing Christian who preached morality and ethics had abandoned his post and used taxpayer funds to meet clandestinely with his mistress. Yet he steadfastly refused to resign. Or, remember Senator Larry Craig, the GOP moralist who was caught soliciting sex from a male cop in a men's airport bathroom? Sure, he decided not to run for reelection, but he refused to resign and stayed in office for more than a year after the scandal broke. Or how about Ted Stevens — the Republican senator from Alaska who refused to resign despite being indicted on felony corruption charges? Or what about Louisiana GOP Senator David Vitter, who was caught up in a prostitution scandal?

Democrats, by contrast, quickly call it quits when the going gets tough. And it's not just Van Jones. In the past few years, several prominent Dems have stepped away from higher office after enduring similar or lesser problems — from former Senator Tom Daschle and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson to New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. From the Democrats' perspective, they simply couldn't withstand more scandals, while Republicans have no problem enduring theirs.

Three-Dot Roundup

The Bay Bridge closure went relatively smoothly over Labor Day weekend. Traffic was light on Friday after commuters decided to stay home, and then crews worked feverishly to reopen the bridge early Tuesday after discovering a crack in the span. ... The nation's unemployment rate jumped to 9.7 percent last month — the highest in 26 years. ... Prosecutors decided not to file murder charges against the foster parents of Hasanni Campbell, even though Oakland police say the foster father lied about the five-year-old going missing in Rockridge. ... And Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi is now the clear frontrunner to take over for Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher after winning the most votes in last week's special election.

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