Van Jones: From Adviser to Outsider
The former White House official on his new book and his "360-degree view" of Democrats' mistakes.
VJ: I talk about that in the book a little by looking at some of the reports that the NAACP has released. Minimally, the Tea Party benefited from a certain amount of racial anxiety in the country. I take them at their word when they say they are not motivated by racial animus. I certainly do remember that there was a lot of right-wing skullduggery and some trickery for Bill Clinton a decade or so ago. But what troubles me is that there are known white-supremacist and nativist elements operating in and around the Tea Party that have never been appropriately challenged, denounced and expelled by the Tea Party leadership.
TR: Isn't it odd for you to criticize the Tea Party for links to extremist groups, when you feel that the same type of criticism has been unfairly lodged against you?
VJ: Here's the difference: I never saw and never signed that 9/11 Truth petition, and I've publicly said I do not agree. You can't disassociate yourself [from] something you've never been associated with. But I've publicly stated that I have no association with them and I don't agree with conspiracy theory, and even they have said that they have no signature from me on their petition. So that whole thing was made up and phony. I was falsely accused of being associated with them.
As [for] my younger years, where I was a colorful, radical youth activist in the Bay Area, the only reason they knew about it is because I proudly talked about that history. And I've also talked about my journey. Like a lot of people, when you're in your 20s you think one way, and when you're in your 40s you think another way. I'm happy to be judged on stuff I used to think, and I don't mind bearing the cross for anything that I've actually done or said.
But I do think that organizations, when they have violent and hateful elements in them, should be more loud and more clear about their rejection of those people.
TR: Would you ever work in the Obama administration again?
VJ: I think what I'm doing right now is pretty good. I was a very good insider. Even my worst opponents didn't criticize anything I did on the inside. They tried to distort stuff from my past, but nobody, even my worst critics, said I did anything other than a good job. But having played both roles, I think I play the outside role better.
I'm so glad to have that experience. It will always be the high point of my life and career. I'm sure it will be the first [thing in] my obituary, no matter what else I do in my life, but I think, to the consternation of the people who want to stop progress, I'm going to prove myself to be much more of a threat to their backlash agenda on the outside than I could ever be on the inside.
Jenée Desmond-Harris is the staff writer for The Root.