On Leadership
Video | PostLeadership | FedCoach | | Books | About |
Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

Paul Schmitz
Public Service Leader

Paul Schmitz

Paul Schmitz is CEO of Public Allies, which, through AmeriCorps and other programs, identifies and prepares young community and non-profit leaders.

Victory for Demagogues

It was probably right for Van Jones to resign from the White House and for the president to accept his resignation. It would benefit neither of them or the issue of climate change (or the rest of the president's agenda) to battle the far right over Van's past beliefs or writings. It is our country's loss, though, of the best person to lead our nation's effort to link workforce development to the emerging green economy and of other potential public leaders who stand warned about the McCarthy-like attacks they may endure.

I met Van Jones in 1997 when we were both accepted as Next Generation Leadership Fellows by The Rockefeller Foundation. My initial impressions of him were stark. He seemed like an angry neo-Marxist void of humility with a seemingly encyclopedic mind, incredible charisma, and a decent sense of humor. He provoked me in uncomfortable ways, and at the end of the day, the resulting deliberation, debate, and reflection strengthened my own views and leadership, which were not in alignment with his.

But despite such disagreement, I followed his work and career (as I have followed colleagues I disagreed with on the right), knowing he was an amazing grassroots organizer and that police brutality and incarceration policies were civil rights issues that needed courageous advocates.

As I followed his work, his writings, and the attachment of his name to various causes, I began noticing a shift in both perspective and tone. On behalf of a friend, I secured him to speak to the annual dinner of a coalition of inner city churches in Milwaukee in 2006.

I introduced Van, noting our past differences and my great admiration for his vision, passion and intelligence. I was amazed by his new vision -- green-collar jobs -- and the collaborative way he was building a movement to work with the system to make a difference for the planet and low-income people.

Later that night, he shared with me his leadership journey during the 10 years since we met, how he had learned and grown. I saw his impressive charisma, intellect, and passion gain from the addition of humility, wisdom, and collaborative orientation.

That is why this episode makes me sad for our country and for public service. I don't wish to be judged as a leader by who I was 10 years ago or something I wrote long ago. I would not judge an employee by their beliefs or memberships in college or on the streets, I judge them based on who they are now and judge their past based on what they have learned, how they grew as a result, and how they apply those lessons now. I realize that is far too rational and nuanced for politics.

I know that Van will continue to build the green jobs movement in America outside of government. But his leadership will be missed at The White House and now I have to add one more exclamation point to my post last week as to why talented nonprofit leaders are repelled by elected office and public service.

If the president wasn't battling attacks against positive educational messages and a fact-based health-care debate, he should have fought for Van. He gave his radical opponents a victory they will seek to build on with more McCarthy-like demagoguery.

Perhaps the White House could have controlled the narrative up front. Van could have been introduced early during the Wall Street rescue and Republican appointments as part of the ideological diversity of his administration that puts the best people in the right jobs regardless
of their ideological background. Van could have been acknowledged as a progressive and former radical who is no longer throwing stones but building with them. He was the best person in the right job.

By Paul Schmitz

 |  September 8, 2009; 4:58 PM ET
Category:  Making mistakes Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Not Worth Fighting For | Next: Taking One for the Team


Please report offensive comments below.

Thanks so much for writing about Van Jones with honesty and civility. As you rightly point out, he is a talented, complex man with much to offer this country. It's our loss that he resigned. The even greater loss is the name-calling and scapegoating that led to his resignation. That is not the kind of debate needed to build a stronger future for all.

Posted by: JJENN | September 10, 2009 12:05 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Thanks for writing this, Paul. It is important to lift up what happened here. And maybe important for your readers to understand the role of this. It's not just about Van Jones. Powerful people have decided that green jobs and a green economy threaten their interests. And so they have been pouring money in to fake grassroots groups like www.americansforprosperity.org to move their agenda. The fact that Van Jones was targeted as a one of the right's first chess moves in this process lets you know just how powerful an advocate Mr. Jones has been.

Posted by: marian4 | September 9, 2009 8:29 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Dear Barry:
With our guru Van gone, someone else will need to teach the inner-city youth how to install the "pinko stuff" lesson for Insulation 101. Might Nancy or Harry be available?

Center For American Prostrate

Posted by: GeoSoros | September 9, 2009 8:06 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Hi Paul,
I know little about Van Jones personally, or his history, but I've been really impressed with his work and writing on green jobs. While I have no doubt that his work will continue to be influential and groundbreaking, I'm sorry that he won't be able to spearhead our government's efforts in developing the green collar economy.

And I'm sorry you and he both are having to take so much vitriolic flak.

Posted by: amypotthast | September 9, 2009 7:46 PM
Report Offensive Comment

MTNMNVT you're hilarious, nothing but vague platitudes about racism and twooferness, to back up anything you say.

Sorry, fascist crackpots can go back to the LaRouche rally where people think that 9/11 twoofiness is something that sane and rational people talk about, more less people who are presidential advisors.

Posted by: thecomedian | September 9, 2009 6:31 PM
Report Offensive Comment

The words that condemn Van Jones are not those of alleged racists but his own. His words betray his heart and his thinking.
The president that appointed him and many that support him still have a gross blight on their own names for ignoring the incendiary and offensive side of this man.

Posted by: SayWhat4 | September 9, 2009 6:27 PM
Report Offensive Comment

"Jones was targeted by the racist right wing extremists."

Well, that's only fair as he is a racist left wing extremist.

Between the two, they're a normal person.

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | September 9, 2009 6:26 PM
Report Offensive Comment

NO! Forget your accusation of demagoguery! The writer here is bush-league for implying that. Foolish, really. JONES is a demagogue. Can't you read? I can. The implication is inane. Kitchen cabinet or czars, whatever they are called today, is way to back-doorish, for today's requirement of accountibility.

Posted by: fshaffer | September 9, 2009 6:02 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Jones was targeted by the racist right wing extremists. Questioning the official 911 story is his right, and frankly he is not alone in doing so. Calling out racism is his right as well, and good for him for doing it. All these paranoids shrieking about socialism, repeating Beck and Limbaugh's talking points, are pretty sad. Their lack of critical thinking is apparent, as is their hidden racist agenda. It's really too bad that this country is so divided, but as long as people listen to fear mongers and refuse to address the inequities of our society, it will continue to be so.

Posted by: mtnmanvt | September 9, 2009 4:46 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Oh so then it's ok to make the statements he made. If this was a white man you and the rest of your team would be all over him for his racial remarks. There was a time when anyone even thought to be an communist was investigated by the CIA, FBI. I guess thats why we are in the spot the we are in, we should of stuck to that instead of having this maniac in the White House!

Posted by: bailey50 | September 9, 2009 4:45 PM
Report Offensive Comment


In Paul Schmitz world you are a (presumably right-wing, fanatical) demagogue if you:
-Quote someone at their own word via video and audio.
-Question the judgment of someone who refers to opponents as A-holes. Great Oratory he brought from Yale. Or can do a great impression of a crack head as a (Yale intellectual?) dissent.
-Actually dare to assert that signing one's name to a document represents agreement.
-Disagree that hard line Marxism is an effective tool for furthering a Democratic Republic. Did everyone sleep through the Berlin Wall thing and the difference between East and West Germany? North and South Korea? Cuba and the Dominican Republic? (In fairness it is understood that the Librarian's Prisons in Cuba are the envy of the world).

More important; has Van ever had any experience at running a successful company? One that functions by providing a product or service that a free market will pay for; instead of petitioning the government to confiscate others funds and property (to each according to his needs; from each according to his abilities)?

This has nothing to do with Demagogues or Racists. It has everything to do with inexperienced elites seeking to push a failed model on the citizens whether they want it or not. Obama's team threw him under the bus because he got too noisy about the real destination.

Posted by: WAPOpine | September 9, 2009 4:43 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Coming from Paul Schmitz, this is rich indeed.


How much money will you be getting from the Federal Government this year? What is your relationship to the administration? What is your salary?

Van Jones only was allowed to say those comments because of his race. Replace "white" with "black" and see if you would be defending him.

You're unbelievable.

Posted by: Skeptic1 | September 9, 2009 3:52 PM
Report Offensive Comment

First, I reject the premise that Jones was forced out by the radical right. Can someone please enumerate for me the power of this so-called power center? Some talking heads? Does not Obama OWN all the elected levers of power in the country? Is not Mr. Jones background and beliefs reflective of Mr. Obama's? If not, why was he selected for his position?

What exactly happened that caused Jones to cash in his chips? He could have submerged himself in his work, kept generating those idiotic apology statements, and sooner or later people would have moved on.

No, Jones was not "forced out" by people on the right. Someone in the White House made the call. But why did they?

I still can't figure it out. You own everything except Fox News and most of talk radio. You bring in people who you know are radicals, because you like their radical views and hope to implement them. But then you throw them under the bus with Obama's grandma.

And I've never seen one printed word --- or spoken via video --- that provided one shred of evidence that Jones had any innovative or unusual ideas about so-called "green jobs." As far as I could tell, he wanted to scoop up a bunch of taxpayer money, and train inner city gang bangers to stuff insulation.

And now we say he's the only guy around who could come up with such brilliant ideas? Retch.

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | September 9, 2009 3:48 PM
Report Offensive Comment

A few things about Jones in the Few Years, he had learned and grown:

His membership in the 9/11 "truther" movement

His racist views on environmental policy (he accused "white polluters and white environmentalists" of "steering poison into the people of color's communities")

His ridiculous ideas about school violence ("You've never seen a Columbine done by a black child … a black kid might shoot another black kid. He's not going to shoot up the whole school")

His unmitigated hatred for President George W. Bush (he compared Bush to a crack-pipe-licking cocaine addict, and accused him of using the American flag to "beat and whip and lynch" political opponents).

Posted by: geo82170 | September 9, 2009 3:48 PM
Report Offensive Comment

My God, Paul, you really do not have a clue, do you? He wasn't besieged by right-wing zealots simply because they didn't like his politics and were therefore hell-bent on taking this "brilliant visionary" down. NEWSFLASH: It was because he was A) a 9/11 Truther B) an avowed COMMUNIST, not a mere socialist C) compared a sitting president to a "crackhead," complete with offensive pantomime and D) made numerous racist remarks (Black kids never caused a Columbine, evil white polluters, etc)....really classy guy, a perfect fit for Obama's avowed "post-partisan" administration, overseeing an $80 billion dollar budget, no less.

Incidentally, all of these points are well-documented, sir, hardly the product of the Machiavellian Rove and his minions. Had Bush nominated some John Birch nutjob/right-wing version of Mr. Jones I imagine the incredulous cries of protest from you would be piercing......As for "McCarthy-like demagoguery," I hardly think holding someone accountable for their very own actions and words, most of which fall well-within the decade period you cite, rises to the level of, oh, say, the late senior Senator from Massachusetts inveighing against Robert Bork back in '87, but, like most things with respect to arguing with the left, why let something as trivial as the facts get in the way of a good ol' fashion sanctimonious diatribe???

Posted by: wma98 | September 9, 2009 3:42 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Posted by: familynet
So if you are running for Va governor, then what you wrote/said years ago is relevant, but if you work for obama, then not relevant for liberal democrats?

Democratically elected representitves of THE PEOPLE have moral authority. Unelected bureaucrats do not. What's so hard about this to understand for democrats?

Posted by: thecomedian | September 9, 2009 3:36 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Demagogue Definition:

1. emotive dictator: a political leader who gains power by appealing to people's emotions, instincts, and PREJUDICES in a way that is considered manipulative and dangerous

Sounds like Van Jones to me.

Posted by: geo82170 | September 9, 2009 3:30 PM
Report Offensive Comment

So if you are running for Va governor, then what you wrote/said years ago is relevant, but if you work for obama, then not relevant for liberal democrats?

Of course, the same observation is possible to be said of conservative republicans only in the opposite direction, but what does it matter. Either observation defeats the claims of each group's sincerity. Therefore, we should consider the totality of the record in judging if the person is qualified to serve. In that perspective, so what that Jones is gone?

Posted by: familynet | September 9, 2009 3:21 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Well said. Not happy with him, less happy with the Republican A--h---s who forced him out. But all in all, a man who put the public good ahead of the fight he could have fought. He took one for the team AND the demagogues won.

Regardless, we have lost the services of a brilliant mind that could have done great things in the public arena if he had been met with some tolerance, patience and adulthood.

Posted by: joebanks | September 9, 2009 3:02 PM
Report Offensive Comment

people concentrating on the name calling and the "Communist" epithet, are doing so to distract from Van's coming out as a truther. Even though he was a member of a Marxist organization.

allegations of neo-mccarthyism ring hollow when contrasted against the statements of the group STORM to which Jones was an alleged member. According to one of their pamphlets. "Every meeting contained a political training, and 411 organized bi-monthly weekend "intensives" to help members develop an understanding of the basis of Marxist politics"


Posted by: thecomedian | September 9, 2009 2:59 PM
Report Offensive Comment

"A question to the name-callers"...a--h---s...asked him what he meant.
I asked and all he said was Nancy.

Posted by: GeoSoros | September 9, 2009 1:59 PM
Report Offensive Comment

"A question to the name-callers"

Note that Jones was on record referring to Republicans as a--h---s. Perhaps some reporter could have asked him what he meant. If the story had been covered by any reporters, that is.

Posted by: tomtildrum | September 9, 2009 1:41 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Van Jones is everything a special advisor to POTUS should be. We need more czars to step forward and espouse his views on race, economics, politics and conspiracy.


Posted by: GeoSoros | September 9, 2009 1:24 PM
Report Offensive Comment

A question to the name-callers: What do you mean when you say that someone is a "communist," a "socialist," or, for that matter, "a fascist" or "a nazi"? Presumably you intend these words as general expletives, so why not just say "He's a bas...d" or an "as. h..e" etc. etc.?

Posted by: williamrotsel1 | September 9, 2009 10:51 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Van Jones is a radical. He is racist. He was a total embarrassment and should have never been on the taxpayer's payroll. A self-proclaimed communist having an office inside the Whitehouse is unacceptable, (even if communism is, for the most part, dead). His own actions, words, and deeds took him out, not a smear campaign. His videos were disgusting.

Posted by: inmanorj | September 9, 2009 10:42 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Support of this man's racist views just encourages continued black on white racism.

Posted by: fury60 | September 9, 2009 10:37 AM
Report Offensive Comment

I am truly sorry and somewhat disappointed that Mr. Obama did not put up even a semblance of a fight for Mr. Jones. The administration is letting the right wingers win too many!

Posted by: Badwisky | September 9, 2009 10:07 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Mr Schmitz, a very good comment. Mr Jones of whom I knew nothing until very recently, did strike me as a very bright person. You are helping to affirm this. His maturation (knowing when to be silent) has taken place in the public eye (with help from the digital age). His recent resignation is a result of this early breaking onto the public stage and what may have been an indiscretion which is dwarfed by those of many others (Strom Thurmond, Delay, Bush). Like Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, Paul Robeson and many others he must pay, albeit a less severe penalty. Like others, Nelson Mandela, Muhammed Ali, Jackie Robinson, Harry Bellafonte and others, he will be back. Undoubtedly he will serve as another learning model for those young people of all ethnicities who come to the public notice early in life. Unlike the birthers and others of similar etnicity and intellect, those whom benefit most from your skill and or stupidity cannot afford to protect you from yourself. With time, that too, will change so keep on being yourself but understand the risks.

Posted by: Draesop | September 9, 2009 9:49 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Jones got a raw deal. His org went after Glenn Beck for his calling Obama a raciest and then Beck went after him.

Posted by: alex35332 | September 9, 2009 9:20 AM
Report Offensive Comment

I heard Van Jones deliver his uplifting remarks in Milwaukee that evening. His message that the green revolution could provide job opportunities for young men and women caught in the vicious claws of institutional poverty conveyed an audaciousness of hope before that phrase entered the nation's consciousness. It is a loss to the nation that Jones has left his role in the administration. I am confident that he will continue his work perhaps in a way that will have an even greater impact.

Posted by: citykid | September 9, 2009 8:54 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Van Jones' departure is a terrible loss to the Administration, but let's hope he can continue to be effective -- as he was before -- from the outside.

Posted by: CleanEnergyFighter | September 9, 2009 7:53 AM
Report Offensive Comment

obama should have kept the communist van jones in the White House. It's worth the nickle to watch that nutter talk.

Posted by: yokosuka1985 | September 9, 2009 6:51 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Jones should be seen as he wants to be seen.....A communist, and a racist.

Posted by: semperfi1973 | September 9, 2009 5:59 AM
Report Offensive Comment

This is the first time I've read you column and it is easy to see that you, like Jones, are part of the subterranean culture attempting to implement socialism into America.

Posted by: casmire1 | September 9, 2009 5:53 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Dear Paul

I would very much like to speak to you in regard to leadership development. Your background and mine have a lot in common. Please let's know if this interests you.

Merydith Willoughby
61 422133202

Posted by: IBCoaching | September 9, 2009 3:38 AM
Report Offensive Comment

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company