Van Jones and Post-Obama Pro-Obama Progressivism

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 3 2011 12:20 PM

Van Jones and Post-Obama Pro-Obama Progressivism

Van Jones loves the Tea Party. Not the politics, of course -- his "Rebuild the Dream" project wants to achieve the antithesis of what the Tea Party has acheived. But he loves talking about why the Tea Party works, and why liberals should stop mocking it.

"If Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Dick Armey and all of them came here and said 'The Tea Party is over,' The Tea Party wouldn't be over," said Jones at the opening speech of the Take Back the American Dream Conference in D.C. "They used their charismatic leaders to build something bigger!"

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The wordily-titled conference is a relaunch, a rebrand, of a Campaign for America's Future conference series that used to look more like a liberal answer to the Conservative Political Action Conference. (It used to be called "Take Back America.") The new conference is more outwardly militant; Jones schooled progressives on how they erred in hoping Barack Obama could solve their problems.

"It's one thing not to have a house," he said. "It's another thing to have a mansion, like we had in 2008, and then not to have a house."

Progressives had to understand why the Tea Party worked. "You can't drive to Tea Party headquarters," said Jones. "They didn't brand an individual. They branded a network. They built a starfish and not a spider." (He drove home the reference to a business theory that Tea Party Patriots, FreedomWorks, and other groups started adopting in 2009. "Some of y'all know what I'm talking about. The rest of you, use a search engine.") So Rebuild the Dream had copied the strategy, "with no Fox TV, with no Koch brothers."

Was Jones hinting that the Occupy Wall Street model -- apolitical, nearly anarchist -- was the way? No. He was subtle. Rebuild the Dream, for all the noise, is subtle. It does not "support" Barack Obama, but its clear goal is to keep him in power and move him left. "Why is the White House talking different?" asked Jones. "The White House is talking different because we are walking different."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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