An obvious response from folks who think there is something wrong with the Obama administration being deprived of one of the smartest, most conciliatory, and most imaginative of contemporary social activists is to ramp up the Color of Change campaign against right wing demagoguery.
But also, those of us from the activist community need to look at the structural weakness of Van's position that meant that he would probably be forced out in a storm.
His history is an example of a common trajectory among progressive social activists: horror and disaffection on encountering racism, police lawlessness, wars without end, planetary destruction. Where Van is different from many has been his series of creative efforts to find answers, not just stew and reject. And as a consequence, his resume is littered with stuff that didn't go very far, but that provides ammunition to his enemies. And those experiences of loose ends and dead ends are what make him such a powerful advocate for practical solutions to poverty and environmental degradation with social conciliation.
But can a person with a life trajectory so vulnerable to right wing smears survive in the public arena? Possibly -- but only if he can show he has an electoral base. When you get out in public because some subset of the people voted to put you there, a progressive activist's past can become an asset, even though enemies will still smear it.
Two examples come to mind: Tom Hayden who rose to the top of the California State legislature after prominent leadership in the anti-Vietnam war movement and current Assemblyman Tom Ammiano who won nearly universal health care for San Franciscans after starting in politics known as a screaming queen gay comedian and school teacher. People with unconventional pasts can work their way into positions of power and influence -- but they have to come in through the voters. They can't derive their positions from appointment by others -- it's too easy for opponents to make them a dispensable political liability.
Unfortunately, progressives in Van's generation -- folks whose youthful experience of politics was Ronald Reagan's plastic hypocrisy -- usually didn't think going to the voters offered much hope of change. The fact that our current President did do so is one of his unique attributes, along with his threading a path around the additional hurdle he had to jump to be attractive across racial lines.
The lesson I draw from watching Van Jones pushed out is that progressives who want power not only have to organize vigorously from the sidelines (we do), but also get in deeper, winning solid electoral power bases.
(My photo of Van Jones above is 10 years old, but I've always liked it.)