Van Jones' American Dream Movement
The former White House "green-jobs czar" hopes to take a page from the Tea Party and change the economic discussion in Washington. But will people buy in?
There are just as many people with a very different set of economic ideas. But we expected that the Democratic majority in Congress and the president, by themselves, would be able to implement smart policy without us doing the hard work of democracy. When was the last time we saw people with progressive views rallying, marching and going to town hall meetings and speaking with passion? I'm not mad that the so-called conservatives are so vocal. I'm just concerned that people with other views are so quiet.
TR: Why have they been so quiet?
VJ: I think that people, understandably, hoped that the Democratic majority in Congress and the president would be able to implement the things that people voted for in 2008. A lot of people were really taken off guard by the venom and hostility that was directed at this president right from the very beginning -- even in the middle of a crisis, when usually the country comes together. It took a while for people to understand that these people, who were defeated at the ballot box in 2008, were going to fight even harder and treat 2009 like an election year.
TR: A lot of people are also frustrated that President Obama hasn't challenged the economic issues that you're raising. What, then, do you think the American Dream Movement's relationship with the government should look like?
VJ: I think it's wrong to make this about President Obama. The entire Washington, D.C., establishment is off track. But the discussion in Washington, D.C., will change when the discussion in the country begins to change. We worked hard in 2007 and 2008, and then we sat down and munched popcorn in 2009 and 2010. The president himself said that change doesn't come from Washington, D.C. -- it comes to Washington, D.C. That's how it works in our country. And it's time for a different set of ideas.
TR: Last week you sent a cease and desist letter to Fox News regarding Glenn Beck's charges, among others, that you're a violent communist who believes that the U.S. government carried out the 9/11 attacks. Given that Beck has been talking about you for the past two years and he's about to go off the air, why are you just now doing this?
VJ: I had taken the approach of turning the other cheek. I'd actually engaged behind the scenes directly with Glenn Beck's producers, making sure they were well-informed that what he was saying were falsehoods. My highest hope was that at some point, by engaging behind the scenes and staying positive in public, we could show that people can change and come together.
In hindsight it looks naive, but I was willing to put up with a lot of nonsense to try to get to that outcome. However, the human body only has four cheeks on it. [Laughs.] And I turned every cheek I could.
The straw that broke the camel's back for me is that I was no longer a government official, and [was] talking to people who are really hurting in America and beginning to rally behind this "American dream" concept. Glenn Beck not only continues to attack me; he also attacked the people standing up wanting jobs and fairness, and said the American dream itself was some sort of subversive conspiracy.