Van Jones: From Adviser to Outsider

The former White House official on his new book and his "360-degree view" of Democrats' mistakes.

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In 2009, when Van Jones stepped down from his post as President Obama's special adviser for green jobs, it was amid intense criticism from conservative activists. Now, still a committed Obama supporter, he has his own critique of the administration and of Democrats who became passive after the last presidential election.

In his new book, Rebuild the Dream, out April 4, he points out what he says have been the major missteps made by the White House and Democrats. But he also presents a game plan for how to turn things around. The Root talked to him about his assessment of the failures and successes of the Obama administration, the charged climate that led to his resignation and why, after having been on both sides of the White House gates, he'd rather remain an outsider.

The Root: In Rebuild the Dream, you say there's been a lack of progress since 2008, and it's not all President Obama's fault. Whose fault is it?

Van Jones: The slogan was never "Yes, he can"; it was "Yes, we can." And as I say in the book, too many of us voted and then sat down, as opposed to voting and then standing up. The president's opponents, for two years, practically monopolized the protests, and the Tea Party [was active] ... and you couldn't find progressives marching and rallying. There was no evidence that there was anything alive on our side after the inauguration.

In my book I lay out seven mistakes that were made, some on the White House side and some on the grassroots side. One reason I can write a book like this is because I was a grassroots outsider, then a White House insider, and then I was a grassroots outsider again. So I have a 360[-degree] view on our mistakes. My book parcels out about 50-50 responsibility, divided between insiders and outsiders.

TR: What's one thing you think President Obama is doing really well, and one thing you wish he would do differently?

VJ: President Obama volunteered to become the captain of the Titanic after it hit the iceberg. He didn't drive it into the iceberg; someone else drove it into the iceberg. And we're still floating -- we may not be going 100 miles per hour, but we're still floating. We were headed toward a second Great Depression, and under his leadership we've had a dozen or so months of private-sector job growth. If all he had done was that, he would deserve to be applauded.

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I think one of the worst mistakes he's made is not clarifying what he means when he says things like "jobs created or saved." "Or saved" always sounds like a dodge or hedge, when in fact, the jobs that he saved are probably the most important thing he did.

He spent a third of his stimulus on aid to states and cities. That means the jobs he was saving were teachers, firefighters, nurses, cops, first responders, librarians -- he saved the jobs of hundreds of thousands of America's everyday heroes, who society would collapse without. He kept the cops on the beat. He kept us from having to fight fires with a garden hose all across America. He never talked about it in those evocative terms.