Vanishing Act

Those who get their news from anything except blogs are probably puzzled, wondering what the resignation of Van Jones is all about:

White House environmental adviser Van Jones resigned Saturday after weeks of controversy stemming from his past activism.

“On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me,” Jones, special adviser for green jobs at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said in a statement announcing his resignation just after midnight Saturday. “They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide.”

He continued: “I have been inundated with calls — from across the political spectrum — urging me to ‘stay and fight.’ But I came here to fight for others, not for myself. I cannot in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past. We need all hands on deck, fighting for the future.”

Jones issued two public apologies in recent days, one for signing a petition that questioned whether Bush administration officials “may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war” and the other for using a crude term to describe Republicans in a speech he gave before joining the administration.

The entire matter has gone all but uncovered in the conventional media. Why?

What I’m hearing right now is that, since Mr. Jones wasn’t a cabinet-level official, it wasn’t important enough to cover. Contrariwise, I think this brings to mind the conspiracy among the newspapers 80 years ago to prevent the American people from knowing just how impaired President Franklin Roosevelt’s health actually was. They supported the president’s policies and were eager to help in any way that they could.

I think this matter highlights a weakness in the political narrative that’s been promulgated over the last several years, namely that the problem with the Bush Administration was that they were incompetent and the solution was put competent people, i.e. Democrats, in charge. But branding alone isn’t enough, there’s more to competence than a party label, and even formal credentials are insufficient to ensure competence. Competence includes factors of temperament, experience, and past performance including past performance that isn’t specifically job-related.

I don’t have a great deal more to say about this other than to remind people of the nascent Obama Administration’s famously thorough vetting process, a gauntlet of 63 tough questions. Question 13 was reportedly:

(13) Electronic communications: If you have ever sent an electronic communication, including but not limited to an email, text message or instant message, that could suggest a conflict of interest or be a possible source of embarrassment to you…

Was there no follow-up on this vetting? Didn’t anybody check anything? Didn’t they think that Mr. Jones’s statements, actions, communications, and (for goodness sake) recordings over a period of years was embarrassing? Who vetted the vetters?

9 comments… add one
  • Drew Link

    Perhaps the famously thorough vetting process was more for show and image than for substance, an observation I would have about much of Presdident Obama’s campaign and first 8 months.

  • I think they were stupid for letting this guy go.

  • Chris Link

    Dave, I’m not terribly sad to see Van Jones go, but I’ll take a dozen of him over Michael “Heck of a job Brownie” Brown, or the dozens of low-level Bush staffers whose only qualification was a Bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field and some back door connection to the Bush admin. The fact of the matter is, someone like George C. Deutsch was probably worse on actual government policy and mechanics than Van Jones ever was, or would have been.

    Let’s have some balance and perspective on this, hmm?

  • Sure. Here’s my perspective. First, I think that President Obama has been very poorly served by his advisors so far.

    Second, I think that all presidential administrations, repeat all, are political animals that do things mostly for political reasons. I thought the Bush Administration was lousy; I think the Obama Administration has been lousy so far and is likely to prove lousier.

    In my view the notion that any presidential administration is going to hire the best people for the job is naive.

  • Drew Link


    I think Dave hits the proper tone and points…….

  • Chris Link

    bq. I thought the Bush Administration was lousy; I think the Obama Administration has been lousy so far and is likely to prove lousier.

    What I’ve seen out of you so far, Dave, is a lot of bitching that the Obama health care plan doesn’t cut costs as much as you’d like – which is a fair criticism, as far as it goes. But insofar as it is a fault of the administration, it’s a fault of vision, or political will, or perhaps bending to the realities of the political machine.

    What it is not, however, is an example of the kind of outright incompetence and mismanagement that the Bush administration showed in the two cases I pointed out above. Nor is it a blatant political giveaway to the elderly and the pharmaceutical companies the same way Medicare Part D was. And say what you will about Van Jones, he was not manifestly unqualified for his job the way, say, these guys were.

    bq. In my view the notion that any presidential administration is going to hire the best people for the job is naive.

    That’s a cynical take on things, Dave, and you may well be right. However, that doesn’t negate the fact that there’s a world of difference between the Obama administration failing to be utterly flawless on their hiring practices, and the kind of cronyism and ineptitude we saw under Bush. (Unless you can point to proof that Obama has been as bad as Bush, which I’m skeptical exists.) And pretending otherwise in the service of a “pox on both your houses” mentality is neither useful nor wise, in my view.

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