Monday, September 7, 2009

Food for Thought on "Working Within the System"

Van Jones, who until Sunday was an Obama Administration adviser, got chewed up and spit out. Jones apparently said some outrageous things in years past, like daring to question whether the United States Government, which seems to have no qualms whatsoever about blowing things up in other parts of the world, could have had any prior knowledge of plans for the 9/11 attacks. Jones also once had the audacity to voice support for Mumia Abu Jamal, a man who has been incarcerated for nearly 30 years--most of it on Pennsylvania's Death Row--on baseless charges of killing a cop. Another man has since confessed to the crime.

All of this was years ago. It's entirely possible that Jones doesn't even feel the same way about these things anymore. But that's of no concern to the rabid dogs of the right-wing noise machine. They went on their blogs, on the media mouthpieces that many of them have close financial ties to, and they pounced.

The whole thing smells a lot like the Ward Churchill affair of a few years ago. Churchill was a prominent Native American Studies scholar at the University of Colorado. He was Chair of his department. In 2004 calls from Bill O'Reilly and for his resignation began to be echoed by right-wingers from coast to coast. It had come to the surface that Churchill had, years earlier, published a little-known essay in which he compared the technicians of global capitalism who worked in the World Trade Center Towers to NAZI officials. Not the most apt comparison ever, but in the context of the essay, which also documents U.S. war crimes around the world, it's not that much of a stretch. Well, Churchill was stripped of his post, fired from his job and all but literally tarred, feathered and run out of Boulder on a rail. All for some stuff he'd said years earlier.

With this Van Jones thing, the method of attack used by people who I think we should get used to calling fascists, is about the same. But in a Summer, 2009 context, it should be taken as a sign that the skeletons of the Bush Years don't plan on removing themselves from Barack Obama's closet.

If the Obama Administration is really free to govern in a progressive way, why are they letting these wolves tear up one of their own? Maybe it's because, for their own reasons, they want to throw Jones under the bus as much as anyone else.

The Churchill thing was a terrible sign of the times in Bushian America. But it was a sign of the times; in a certain sense, in that context, it made sense to be going after academics who questioned the established narrative on anything considered important by the powers-that-be.

These days, too many people are infected with the erroneous (and dangerous) notion that their man Barack won't let things like that happen. Well, folks, it doesn't work that way. The infrastructure of a kind of fascism embodied by Fox News and the rise of what we've come to call "the religious right" have latched onto this society like a giant leech, and they aren't going anywhere without some kind of fight.

And even in "normal" times, there are things you can say when you've got the ear of the President of the United States, and there are things you can't say. Which is to say, you can say anything you want--you just don't get to keep your influential policy job if you don't tow the line. This has always been true. Remember Cynthia McKinney, the Congresswoman from Georgia? She was one of the most stridently progressive members of Congress in decades. She even introduced a bill to impeach Bush. Where's she been, lately? Not in the halls of Congress, that's for sure.

The take-home message from this whole thing with Van Jones should this: the system has no place for you if you are going to insist on standing firmly for anything that fundamentally challenges any official narratives or insists that what's needed is truly sweeping change. Either you'll acquiesce (read: sell out), or you'll try to subtly alter what you say to conform to what you think those in power want to hear, which leads to changing what you think. Which leads to changing what you do. And if you manage to get anywhere inside the political establishment as a lefty, guess what: don't bother to unpack your suitcase, 'cause you won't last there long. If you're really progressive, really radical and you plan on staying that way, trying to work for The Man is like trying to plant palm trees in Maryland. Nobody's lofty principles can withstand the harsh climate along the Potomac. Do something with your life that will really matter. Washington doesn't want you, and trust me: you don't want it, either.

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