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Is It Movement-Building or Is It Marketing? Rebuilding the Dream, Rebranding Van Jones

July 1, 2011

(This article by Bruce Dixon is re-posted from Black Agenda Report)

Last week’s rollout of “Rebuilding the American Dream” with Van Jones as front man backed by MoveOn.Org was all that and a bag of blue organic corn chips. It had great production values, good music and a snazzy hi-tech web site. There were volleys of focus-group tested buzzwords… “rewarding hard work,” “redeeming the dream,” rekindling hope,” and “standing up for the middle class.” Spokesperson Van Jones threatened to sue Fox News and the NAACP deemed him “a treasure” Corporate media flogged it and Democrats blogged it.

Like the Obama campaign of 2008, Rebuilding the Dream was supposed to be the vehicle citizens would use to make the Democratic party respond to its voters on Main Street rather than its funders on Wall Street. And just like the Obama 2008 campaign, the web site of Rebuild the Dream prominently features a button inviting all the “Join the Movement.”

But is Rebuilding the Dream a new people’s movement? Or is it just another exercise in corporate branding and re-branding? Discussing a different example of political branding back in 2009 we said that”

A brand is a symbol used to evoke manufactured desires, to elicit real or imagined chills, thrills, memories or convenient attitudes in an audience. In the black community, branding electoral campaigns.. with the stamp of the Freedom Movement is old stuff that’s been done for decades. The 2007-2008 Obama campaign carried this about as far as anybody could, declaring that it WAS “the movement” so often and insistently that many folks who’d never experienced such a thing — along with a few who really should know better — seemed to believe it.  But Advertising Age, the journal of the multibillion dollar marketing industry knew the truth.  It awarded the Obama campaign its 2008 Brand of the Year Award.

Eventually, brands do wear thin. They need retooling, tummy tucks, facelifts. Brand Obama is no exception. After two years of record unemployment and foreclosures, service cutbacks, privatizations, austerity, with corporate welfare and old wars continuing and new ones breaking out, frustration is rising and the new car smell is definitely gone.

Marketing suits are not original thinkers. They like to do what’s already worked. So they looked for a clean cut, articulate, youngish black man with a “progressive” resume who could make earnest speeches and raise money. That would be Van Jones. The fact that Jones has been attacked by right wing clowns like Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Fox News earns Jones a degree of credibility in some circles. But not everybody is buying it.

“There’s something about Van Jones…” Atlanta-based freelance writer and former Capitol Hill staffer Yvette Carnell wrote on Facebook that “…gets my spidey senses tingling.” In a copyrighted Atlanta Post article, Carnell detailed her aversion to Jones and his new project. Rebuilding the Dream, she says, aims to cleanse the tainted Obama brand by

…shifting the responsibility of governance from Obama to the American people…. we should all agree that the responsibility of governing rests with the people we elected; members of Congress and the President.

The people made their choice at the ballot box, now it’s up to our elected officials to carry out their end of the bargain. If not, then what are they doing on Capitol Hill and Pennsylvania Avenue anyway? If they are not responsible for translating their campaign promises into legislation, then we’d all be better off setting up tent cities in Washington D.C. and coalescing around a direct democratic model.”

There’s nothing direct or democratic about Van Jones’ marriage to MoveOn.Org, the other big name behind Rebuilding The Dream. “…He’s joining forces with an email fundraising scheme.” said economist Doug Henwood of Left Business Observer. “They’re strictly a one-way operation – you get emails, send them money, they decide the issues. How do they decide what (issues) to concentrate on? It’s not an organization, really.”

Actually MoveOn.Org is a pretty well-oiled organization, just a profoundly undemocratic one that prefers to focus exclusively on Republican wrongdoing while it ignores Democrats engaging in the same criminal acts. When MoveOn.Org helped bring thousands to Washington for a week of lobbying Congress during the Bush administration, it pointedly summoned crowds only to the offices of targeted Repubicans, while ignoring and absolutely refusing to confront powerful and senior Senate and House Democrats who supported Bush’s war.

Rebuilding the Dream seems set to follow in MoveOn’s footsteps. Jones has lots to say about budget cuts at home, but nothing to say about ending the $3 billion a week drain caused by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone, and less than nothing about the bombing of black civilians in Libya and Somalia or brown ones in Pakistan. When Bush invaded Iraq, Van Jones condemned it. But like good career-minded Democrats everywhere Jones is silent as the black president mercilessly bombs Africans in Libya and claims it isn’t a war. Van Jones can rattle on and on about confronting and answering the Tea Party, or the oil industry. But when President Obama allowed Democratic control of the House pass at the end of 2010, the year of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, without introducing a single piece of legislation to restrict or effectively regulate offshore drilling, Van Jones was silent.

The story line that depicts Van Jones as a fountain of innovative environmental and social justice ideas during his brief term as the Obama administration’s “green jobs czar” is more smoke than substance, making both Jones and the president look better than they actually are. If the Obama administration were even remotely serious about creating a “green jobs sector, why did the president and his advisors, including Van Jones, throw away the chance to re-dream the auto industry during the time they had absolute executive control over the vast research, manufacturing and economic power of General Motors? With no possibility of congressional interference, Obama and his green jobs czar could have deployed regiments of scientists and engineers to create better battery technologies, ordering the US Post Office to buy electric trucks and subsidizing the cost and infrastructure too for electric trains, buses and cars.

Heating homes, commercial spaces and offices is the single biggest carbon contributor in the US, accounting for about a quarter of all emissions. The green jobs czar, under Obama’s authority, could have put a few factories and platoons of researchers to work devising new building and insulating materials, and colleges to work training people to retrofit homes and offices, an ongoing green jobs program.

Instead GM management was relieved of its retiree health care liabiliites, which were placed on workers themselves — the union. Non-union GM and supplier plants before the takeover remained non-union. Wages and beneifts were two-tiered to divide younger against older workers and the enterprise handed back to the same mismanagers who crashed it once to go back and manufacture the same mega-polluting, planet destroying machines as before.

Democratic leaning media like The Nation, in lockstep with the direction of Rebuilding The Dream, are breathlessly asking Van Jones what the next step in confronting or building what they call “a liberal alternative” to the Tea Party will be. That’s the fight Van Jones wants to pick — his brand against theirs, diveting attention away from the results we have a fundamental right to expect from our elected officials.

It’s not a movement strategy. It’s a marketing campaign. And Van Jones isn’t a movement leader. He’s just been re-branded.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Patricia permalink
    July 1, 2011 11:17 pm

    Well done. You write a convincing piece here. Obama lost me with the pathetic health care overhaul and getting us into more wars than cheney/bush. I will vote for the green party in 2012.

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