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09.02.09

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Lifting All the Boats

Glenn Beck Red vs. Van Jones Green

By Juliane Poirier


Obama's green jobs guy, Van Jones, got some free publicity last week in Glenn Beck's conspiracy sermon on Fox News. What I found interesting about Beck's rant was the way in which he used a chalkboard. On it was a diagram with arrows to and from the list of alleged villains, including Jones, assisting with Obama's formerly secret plan: a Marxist takeover of the United States, stamping out capitalism as we know it. Beck could have used a dry-erase board, but curiously he chose the surface used by teachers during the McCarthy years.

For those who are new to chalkboards, they are black or green smooth, matte surfaces that accept chalk marks. These teaching-learning tools were ubiquitous in classrooms during the 19th and 20th centuries, until dry-erase boards replaced them about 20 years ago. To work on advanced numeric formulas, some of the world's most brilliant minds have used the chalkboard. Albert Einstein, for example, was many times photographed while working equations on a chalkboard.

Beck did not use the chalkboard for thinking anything through, but underlined and drew boxes around names and arrows pre-written on the board. Presumably he couldn't write because he needed both hands to keep grabbing his head in a show of incredulity for those who might not be feeling it enough.

Back to chalkboards. Brilliant minds no longer appear to use them. These mostly obsolete tools are used where no better tools exist or when they might serve a psychological advantage—say, if a large portion of a viewing audience grew up in an era of McCarthy-inspired conformity, learning their lessons from a chalkboard, including civics lessons about the evils of communism.

Some members of the viewing audience, including my parents, might even recall the comic pamphlet issued by an educational arm of the Roman Catholic Church in 1947 whose cover depicted a background of hell-like flames dwarfing the fearful-looking adults being seized by commies (who appear to be strangling a woman) under banners reading, "Is This Tomorrow" [sic] and "America Under Communism!"

So I guess the nostalgia factor triggered by an old American classroom chalkboard was an excellent choice for someone who believes that the president of our country is a Marxist. Along with Obama, Jones is thus labeled for wanting to engineer the new green economy to boost the lives of everyone, including the socially disadvantaged.

After Beck's conspiracy theory was fully disclosed, humorist David Roberts blogged at the Grist.org website. "Turns out Van Jones, President Obama's green jobs czar, is going to coordinate a vast radical/communist/black nationalist takeover of our sweet, virginal land of liberty," Roberts wrote in mock horror. "Most diabolical of all, he's going to do it by organizing efforts to train and employ low-income people in private sector jobs. Don't you understand? They're going to take over from the inside! You know: them."

Again I am thinking of the McCarthy years, of rampant blacklisting, and of Edgar Hoover spying on citizens. Does any of this sound familiar? Back then: Belong to a food co-op? A-ha! You're a commie. Now: Black leader devoted to environmental justice? You must be a white-hating commie. In 1956, a bill introduced to improve mental health services in Alaska was rejected by politicians who claimed it was a communist plan to create a brainwashing clinic and United Nations concentration camps in Alaska (very close to where one aspiring leader views Russia from her house). Clearly, mental health was too red for the times. So over half a century later, green jobs must also be too red, at least for the head-grabbing guy in front of the chalkboard.

Ever hear Jones talk about environmental justice? He describes the first two waves of environmental activism as those that curbed and regulated pollution, but at the expense of the poor, whose backyards became toxic dump sites. Environmental law favored the affluent. Jones envisions the green economy including legislation protecting the poor and vulnerable. "Let's create this third green wave so that it lifts all boats," Jones said. I'm all for that. And if that makes me a commie, I'm in very good company.


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