This is a great op-ed piece in the NYT be Van Jones. What he is saying is what a lot of Washington insiders and business people in the Washington area are saying – that the Obama Administration has allowed itself to be paralyzed by the threat of the right-wing noise machine.
The unwillingness, or inability of the Obama Administration to stand up for their people has impacted everything in every crevice and recess of the Federal Government. Your day to day, Civil Service workers are afraid to do their jobs, because they know they could be the next Van Jones or Shirley Sherrod. They can’t afford to fight back by themselves, and to pay lawyers tens of thousands of dollars to defend them. And the Administration is utterly chickenshit and wiling to throw anyone under the bus at the simple whiff of an accusation from the right…
No matter how specious.
This administration caves to media blackmail, which the right wing knows is effective anytime they add the vector of race.
Some analysts have concluded that the problem is that the Obama White House is too white. Ergo, had this White House had ANYONE at the staff level who was black, and old enough to be familiar with history – they would have known who Shirley Sherrod was. Further, the administration could assemble an effective counter strategy beyond just turning tail and running every time right wing bullies played the race card. My feeling about Obama since the Primaries has been he just doesn’t have that “killer instinct”. As many dollars as CEOs of major corporations spend to convince the outside world that they are “nice guys” – not one of those guys got there without carrying an metaphorical razor in the hip pocket for the throats of the opposition who can’t be “made to see reason” by other means. The only real difference between organized crime and business leadership is business leaders use lawyers and MBA types, instead of big guys with baseball bats and guns to “make you an offer you can’t refuse”.
That is what is missing in this President, that is what is missing in his staff – and that is crippling his Administration’s ability to fulfill their promises.
I UNDERSTAND how Shirley Sherrod, the Agriculture Department official who was forced to resign last week, must have felt.
Last year I, too, resigned from an administration job, after I uttered some ill-chosen words about the Republican Party and was accused — falsely — of signing my name to a petition being passed around by 9/11 conspiracy theorists. Partisan Web sites and pundits pounced, and I, too, saw my name go from obscurity to national infamy within hours.
Our situations aren’t exactly the same. Ms. Sherrod’s comments, in which she, a black woman, appeared to admit to racial discrimination against a white couple, were taken far out of context, while I truly did use a vulgarity.
But the way we were treated is strikingly similar, and it reveals a lot about the venal nature of Washington politics in the Internet era. In my case, the media rushed to judgment so quickly that I was never able to make clear that the group put my name on its Web site without my permission. The group finally admitted that it never had my signature, but by then it was too late.
Fortunately, Ms. Sherrod has been offered a new job. But our stories offer cautionary tales to anyone interested in taking a job in national politics.
Life inside the Beltway has become a combination of speed chess and Mortal Kombat: one wrong move can mean political death. In the era of YouTube, Twitter and 24-hour cable news, nobody is safe. Even the lowliest staff member knows that an errant comment could wind up online, making her name synonymous with scandal.
The result is that people at all levels of government are becoming overly cautious, unwilling to venture new opinions or even live regular lives for fear of seeing even the most innocuous comment or photograph used against them, all while trying to protect and improve the country.
The victims aren’t just government employees — the public as well is hurt. The imperative to immediately and constantly churn out news on even the most minor bit of controversy leads news organizations, and partisans posing as news organizations, to cross the line from responsible reporting to dangerous rumor-mongering.
This is exactly what happened to Ms. Sherrod. Andrew Breitbart, a prominent Internet conservative, promoted a misleadingly edited video of her speech; within hours, news outlets of all stripes were promoting it as truth. The White House and N.A.A.C.P. both overreacted, then back-pedaled with egg on their faces. But they are victims, too. The only real winners were Mr. Breitbart and his colleagues, whose Web hits probably numbered in the millions.
Anyone with a laptop and a flip camera can engineer a fake info-virus and inject it into the body politic. Those with cable TV shows and axes to grind can concoct their own realities. The high standards and wise judgments of people like Walter Cronkite once acted as our national immune system, zapping scandal-mongers and quashing wild rumors. As a step toward further democratizing America, we shrunk those old gatekeepers — and ended up weakening democracy’s defenses. Rapidly developing communication technologies did the rest.
The only solution is for Americans to adjust our culture over time to our new media technologies. The information system gives us more data than ever before, faster than ever before. But we don’t yet have the wisdom in place to help us deal with it.
In time, we will. The worst of the partisans will get their comeuppance and become cautionary tales for others. Public leaders will learn to be more transparent. We will teach our children not to rush to judgment. Technology will evolve to better expose fakers.
But the big breakthrough will come not when we are better able to spot the lies. It will come when we are better able to handle the truth about people. We are complex beings; no one is all good or all bad. And people do evolve into better people over their lives — just look at Senator Robert Byrd, who died this month and who entered politics as a segregationist and left as a statesman.
We have to understand that no one can be defined by a single photograph, open-mike gaffe or sound bite. Not even our greatest leaders could have survived if they had to be taken to task for every poorly conceived utterance or youthful demonstration of immature political views. When it comes to politics in the age of Facebook, the killer app to stop the “gotcha” bullies won’t be a technological one — it will be a wiser, more forgiving culture.
Van Jones, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a visiting fellow at Princeton, was the White House special adviser for environmental jobs in 2009.
What I think the Administration should be doing, and is too chickenshit to do?
- Bring the full prosecutorial power of the Department of Justice against Mr Brietbart, and Faux News for their criminal activity. They have violated multiple Federal Laws, and should be brought to justice.
- Bring an Federal Trade Commission investigation against Faux News. If it is illegal to advertise that some companies sugar pills are a cure for cancer – then it damn sure ought to be illegal for Faux News to advertise themselves as “Fair and Balanced”.
- Bring an FCC Investigation into Faux News, under the Telecom Act of 1937. While the Fairness Doctrine was killed by Raygun, to facilitate the formation of the conservative media empire – requirements for truthfulness and public service were not. If it is found that Faux indeed failed to meet these requirements – then pull their license to operate.
- File a “amicus curae” on behalf of Shirley Sherrod in a Defamation Lawsuit against Brietbart and Faux News.