Former White House green jobs czar Van Jones -- best known, perhaps, for his messy departure from the Obama administration -- urged a room full of student progressive activists on Wednesday to turn off "the little idiot box" [cable news] that was trying to "depress them" and to ignore the "fearmongers" who peddle the "politics of division."
Appearing before the Campus Progress National Conference, Jones primarily pushed what has been the cause of his career: clean energy legislation and green jobs, which he said could revitalize the economy while distancing America from tragedies like those unfolding in the Gulf. But his take on the state of political discourse -- informed by years of being in the political arena and colored, it seemed, by the treatment he received from conservative pundits -- stood out.
Asked by a questioner about how he personally handled criticism in his career, Jones recounted that he got through those final White House days (when charges were being leveled, for the purposes of provocation, that he was a communist sympathizer) by popping in videos of Nelson Mendela.
"Woooh, OK," he said with animation. "Say some more things about me. At least I'm not in prison."
His advice to the audience echoed the nonchalance he brought to his own story, with an obvious rebuke of cable news in general and his critics in particular -- Fox News' name was left unmentioned, though it seemed clear to whom he was referring.
"We are trying to build a pro-democracy movement in a country that, at least for eight years, was run by [inaudible] authoritarians. And it is not going to be easy. But I tell you, the most important thing I can say is... We feed the fearmongers. We feed the politics of division, by giving it so much attention and letting it fill up the space in our mind. We have to feed the hope. This country is an extraordinary -- I get choked up -- this is an incredible, beautiful country..."
"That little idiot box off in the corner trying to depress you and make you feel like this is a horrible country and everybody believes evil things about the president... it is just not true. Cut it off, just cut it off and walk down the street and talk to real people in this country. They are sophisticated. They are wise. They don't know exactly what to do but they are open to being engaged. That's the country we live in. and my hope about your generation is that you will take a lot of this chatter a lot less serious."
This entry was updated slightly from an earlier version