The wages of posing

Charles Krauthammer compares two of the charges against Van Jones – his Marxism and his “trutherism.” It is only the latter that, in Krauthammer’s opinion, constituted good cause for Jones’ removal from the White House.
Krauthammer considers Jones’ Marxism “a pose, not a conviction.” By contrast, his signature of a petition demanding that President Bush be investigated for deliberately allowing 9/11 to occur “takes us into the realm of political psychosis, a malignant paranoia that, unlike Marxist posturing, is not amusing.”
I don’t disagree that Jones’ trutherism is more offensive than his Marxism. But I think it is at least as much of pose, and probably more of one.
It’s possible that Jones signed the truther petition because he believed Bush might have deliberately allowed 9/11 to occur. But I consider it more likely that he did so because taking that position was consistent with his self-image as a “hell-raiser” and iconoclast. It was the sort of thing that a certain kind of hard-core activist did – an updated version of flag-burning. By signing the petition, Jones was probably not making a statement about 9/11 or even about Bush; he was trying to answer the question “what would Che do.” And he was punching his ticket as a genuine, bad-ass radical.
Unfortunately, the same sort of analysis applies, I think, to some of President Obama’s conduct. Did he join Rev. Wright’s congregation for religious reasons? Possibly, but it seems more likely that his sudden interest in Jesus was founded on his sense that associating with Wright was a good career move. Did he remain in the pews for two decades because he believed the truth of Wight’s political ravings? More likely he remained because he thought leaving would look worse than staying. Similarly, Obama’s alliance with William Ayers probably had more to do with getting a ticket into local politics punched than with close ideological affinity.
This is not to deny the ideological affinity. A person whose views bore no resemblance to Wright’s and Ayers’ would not have been able to tolerate the exposure to these two. Nor, in the first place, would such a person’s ambitions militate in the direction of forming an association with either. Similarly, it is condemnation enough of Jones to say that he was able to sign the truther petition without vomiting and that his ambitions were such that he deemed signing the petition a good career move.
Perhaps the most interesting question is, to what extent are the positions the rest of us take the product of posing, as opposed to a careful weighing of the merits. There’s little reason to fear that we pose to anything like the degree of an Obama or a Van Jones – our ambitions and egos are not that outsized. But we still need to resist the tendency to base our positions on particular issues on a general sense of what suits us.

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