Declaring that progressives had “the wrong theory of the presidency,” prominent progressive activist Van Jones argues progressives became too passive after the election of President Obama in 2008.
Acnowledging that some on the left have become disappointed in Obama, the real problem lies not in the president — but rather in the movement which helped put him in the White House, according to Jones, who briefly served in the Obama White House before being resigning under fire from conservative commentator Glenn Beck.
After taking the stage with all the excitement accorded a rock star, Jones told progressives that they had assumed Obama didn’t need their help, saying the left had gone “from being a movement to a movie,” sitting back to watch as the new president was to single-handedly make the change promised in the campaign.
But Obama’s popular 2008 campaign slogan, Jones says, was not “Yes, he can,” but rather “Yes, we can.”
“It’s time to get back to the ‘we'” he adds.
“We went from hopey, to mopey — and forgot to build a movement in the middle,” he says.
Jones spoke Monday in Washington at the Take Back American Dream conference.
He noted that great Democratic presidents like Lyndon Johnson and Franklin D. Roosevelt had strong movements behind them, pushing them to make great accomplishments.
Even Republican Richard Nixon signed the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and created the Environmental Protection Agency, Jones says.
Nixon did so only under intense pressure from the American people, he says.
“You can have a crappy president, but if you have a strong movement, you can get things done.”
Jones says he and his allies staged 10 times as many progressive-oriented demonstrations and actions as the tea party staged conservative ones, Jones says.
Washington has taken notice, he says.
“The White House is talking different because we are walking different.”
The progressive movement existed long before Barack Obama, however, Jones says.
When the left mobilized against George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, “there was no messiah. There was no super-hero,” he says.
The left also came within 100,000 votes in Ohio of defeating Bush for re-election in 2004.
“That’s how strong your movement was back then,” Jones adds.
Rather be angry at the conservative tea party, Jones says he admires the way the movement has gotten things done.
He doesn’t deny the patriotism of tea party followers, but the people in the progressive movement “who love this country — and everyone in it — are deeper patriots than they ever hope to be.”
In truth, though, Jones says, “there is no tea party.”
Most of the groups under the tea party banner existed prior to the tea party, he says.
Where the tea party has succeeded, Jones says, is that unlike Obama, it “didn’t brand an individual — they branded a network.”
Indeed, the tea party has maintained power even as some of its putative leaders, such as former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, have faded from public popularity, Jones notes.
Jones says a new American Dream Movement offers disparate groups on the left a new common banner, much as groups on the right organized under the tea party. After his remarks, Jones brought on stage a variety of progressive leaders , from labor to legal issues, to immigrant and gay/lesbian rights, who all have embraced this new common cohesion.
Jones says the new organization he leads, Rebuild The American Dream, is merely a “support center” for all of these different groups, the way the conservative outfit FreedomWorks supports the tea party.
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.