Few of my pet peeves equal my distaste for conspiracy theories, whether it's that the moon landing was a hoax, that the Bush Administration had a hand in 9/11, or the anti-Obama "birther" nonsense. But are we really going to start McCarthyism 2.0 because Van Jones signed a 9/11 petition?
As you've probably seen by now, Jones, President Obama's green jobs czar, quit the administration this week. After TV blowhards like Glenn Beck found out about they 9/11 petition, and that Mr. Jones once called the Republican Party a bad name, they launched a campaign to have Jones fired that culminated in success.
Now, the LA Times reports, Beck and company are out for blood, asking their devoted followers to dig up dirt on the President's other "czars." Keith Olbermann, the Left's resident TV blowhard, responded by asking the folks at home to find unsavory secrets about Beck and his friends at Fox News.
The real problem for Jones was that he picked the wrong conspiracy to lend his name. Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma maintains high office despite a long campaign declaring anthropogenic global warming to be an elaborate hoax on the American people. Several members of Congress have leant support to the "birthers" either by introducing legislation or refusing to disavow that circus. But while it's apparently OK for government officials to question whether the President is really an American, questioning his involvement in a national tragedy is a step too far when it comes to keeping your job. And thanks to Jones' misstep, it's war.
I don't mean to suggest that candidates for government offices, even ones that don't require Congressional approval, ought to get a free pass from hard questioning. Rather, we've reached a point where our expectations are untenable. Thanks to flood of data in the information age, everybody's skeletons are preserved forever, be they unflattering Facebook photos or unflattering petitions signed. If your skeletons can be found, your political enemies will be sure to use all the channels of 21st century communication to make sure they spread around. And the end result is the Senate spending days grilling Justice Sotomayor about one remark and trying to start a race war.
Dirt-digging contests by partisan hacks are inevitable, as perhaps was Jones' demise—in Washington, you just can't spin away a "truthers" petition. But, as usual, what's required from the public is a little critical thinking rather than blind obedience to talking heads: which mistakes are really worth firing an elected official, and which aren't? National politicians were afraid to take bold stands long before the Internet and 24-hour "news." The road we're following now leads only to bigger cowardice: the only people who can reach elected office and stay there being the only ones who've never taken a stand on anything.
Jones may be too radical for the Right, despite the fact that the green energy revolution he envisioned for Big Think relies on the power of American capitalism and innovation. But somebody needs to lead the movement toward "green jobs," and that person probably won't be perfect.