Last March, when President Obama selected Van Jones—civil rights attorney, environmental activist and social entrepreneur—to join the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) as special advisor on green jobs, enterprise and innovation, many considered Jones an inspired choice. Now, six months later, Obama may be preparing to show him the door.
When reporters asked White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Friday morning whether Jones still has President Obama's confidence, Gibbs would only say that "he continues to work in this administration." Not exactly the full-throated support Jones was likely hoping to hear from the Obama White House.
This controversy has nothing to do with Jones' job performance, his credentials as an expert on green jobs, or the advice he gives the president. No, what is raising questions about Jones' future in the Obama administration are reports of possible links to a group called 9/11 Truth, which claims President George W. Bush and some of his advisors may have deliberately allowed the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to happen as a possible pretext for the war in Iraq.
Jones' only link to the group seems to be a 2004 petition he signed, along with several other prominent people, in support of the families that lost loved ones in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Nevertheless, Jones apologized for any misunderstanding his signature on the petition may have caused and tried to set the record straight, saying that the group's allegation of a Bush administration plot "does not reflect my views now or ever."
A second allegation, that Jones helped to organize a 2002 protest march calling for a congressional inquiry into whether the Bush administration played a role in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, appears groundless. Earlier this week, in an unrelated situation, Jones apologized for making offensive remarks about Republican lawmakers during a question-and-answer session following an energy lecture he delivered in Berkeley, California, in February—before he joined the Obama administration.
These allegations are the latest in a spirited campaign by television and radio talk-show host Glenn Beck over the last 4-6 weeks to discredit Jones. Beck—a self-styled conservative pundit, who frequently sprinkles his commentary with race-baiting and conspiracy theories—has repeatedly called Jones a racist, an ex-convict, a communist and a radical revolutionary who wants to destroy the United States. Beck, who never lets facts interfere with a good right-wing fantasy, says Jones is unfit for public service.
At a time when America desperately needs to start building a new economy based on sound environmental principles—one that offers opportunities to people of every race and economic background—Obama would be wise to think twice before allowing a controversy stirred up by his political enemies and based on questionable allegations to force him to sever ties with someone as qualified as Van Jones to help lead that change.
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