Hours before many Americans took off work for the Labor Day holiday, White House environmental advisor Van Jones took off for good. President Barack Obama's so-called "green jobs czar" quietly stepped down in the wake of mounting criticism over some of his extreme views and harsh rhetoric.
Jones called his resignation a response to a "vicious smear campaign" by "opponents of reform." Jones' opponents called his resignation a necessary step for an adviser with a radical worldview.
Among other concerns, critics pointed out Jones' signature on a 2004 petition that suggested the U.S. government allowed the 9/11 attacks. In response, Jones said he does not agree with the 9/11 conspiracy theories, but he didn't explain his signature on the petition.
Also unnerving: Jones' past affiliations with communism, and his current views on ecology. The environmental activist has exalted the "moral principle" of "greening the ghetto first," and proposes green technology as a transformative solution to social ills that have plagued crime-ridden areas for generations.
Even if green technology could bring more jobs to such areas-some argue it would actually drain jobs-without a transformed work and moral ethic, hardened criminals seem unlikely to trade their pistols for caulking guns, as Jones has suggested.
Ultimately, Jones' radical views coupled with his crass rhetoric-he referred to Republicans with an expletive during a public address on energy just before joining the White House staff-doomed his appointment.
With Jones gone, other White House advisers may soon feel the heat: Fox News host Glenn Beck-who reported extensively on Jones during his daily television program-has asked his Twitter followers to send information on other potentially controversial Obama appointees.
Among the targets: Cass Sunstein, Obama's pick for head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, aka the "regulatory czar." Critics point out that Sunstein argued last year for "presumed consent" in organ donation. That would mean if a person hasn't indicated he doesn't want to donate his organs at death, a hospital could take them. (Right now, the law follows the opposite approach: A person must give permission.)
Conservatives have also criticized what they see as Sunstein's extremism on animal rights. In past writings, the Harvard law professor has raised the possibility of allowing animals to become plaintiffs in animal cruelty cases-people would sue on animals' behalf. He's also suggested stricter regulations on hunting and on the use of animals in science and agriculture, alarming some workers in those industries.
In a June letter to Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Sunstein said that his writings were meant to simply stir debate, and that he would not use a White House post to advance such causes. But for some, concerns remain.
Concerns also remain about John Holdren. The Senate confirmed Holdren as director of the Office of Science and Technology in March, despite the former Harvard professor's substantial contributions to a 1977 environmental textbook that explored the possibility of mandatory abortions or mandated family size as a way to control the population in the United States. (See "Political science," Aug. 15, 2009.)
Holdren vigorously denies advocating coercive population control, and his co-authors said drawing such inferences mischaracterized the book. Still, some conservatives expressed concern that the Senate committee didn't more closely examine Holdren's views.
After the Jones debacle, some Obama appointees may face renewed examination, or at least increased pressure to explain how their worldviews relate to their policy views. And the Obama administration may face increased pressure to explain the vetting process for high-level officials with highly troubling ideas.