GUY RAZ, host: Whether the so-called Tea Party Republicans are ultimately held responsible for the gridlock in Washington is uncertain. What is clear is they've had a measurable impact on the policy debates on Capitol Hill. Now, a group of liberals are working to create a progressive version of the Tea Party, a movement led by Van Jones, President Obama's former adviser on green jobs. He calls it the American Dream Movement.
Jones, you might remember, quit his job in the administration in 2009 after unrelenting criticism from conservatives like Glenn Beck. Today, he says even though Tea Party Republicans have pushed Congress to focus on austerity, most people don't agree with their policies.
VAN JONES: Sixty to 70 percent of Americans agree that jobs are more important than this debt ceiling debacle. Sixty-seven percent of Americans agree that we should raise taxes on the wealthiest American in a crisis like this, but we aren't being represented. Literally, this tiny minority of people are holding a gun to the heads of 310 million Americans saying, you do it our way or we will blow a hole in the American economy.
We think that's wrong. So if you agree with the Tea Party, you should join them, but if you're with the 67% of Americans who don't agree, you should join us.
RAZ: Van Jones, many folks who identify with the Tea Party Movement, they are motivated by a disgust with Washington, OK, about what they see as out of control government spending and high taxes. Those are things that bring people out to the polls. Wouldn't you concede that anger tends to motivate people rather than the things that you're talking about?
JONES: Well, apparently, they're mad at America's government. I don't know how these people get a chance to be called patriots when...
RAZ: You're talking about the Tea Party.
JONES: The Tea Party, everything they say about America's government is how terrible it is, how awful it is. They have somebody named Grover Norquist who says he wants to shrink America's government to the size he could drown it in a bathtub. That is not a patriotic sentiment. You can't take a wrecking ball, paint it red, white and blue, call yourself a patriot, and then smash down every institution that made America great from public education to Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid. There's something wrong when this small number of people can hijack our democracy.
RAZ: But how do you motivate the people who back your ideas? That's the question. I mean, President Obama was able to do it in 2008 by the force of his personality. But he's running for re-election in 2012. He may not be able to do that single-handedly again. So how do you do what the Tea Party managed to do in 2010?
JONES: Well, we're doing it. First of all, let's be clear. The slogan was never yes, he can. The slogan was yes, we can. Too many of us sat down, and too many people, I think a very bad idea, stood up. And what you're seeing this week is people coming out. We had rallies in every congressional district. Ordinary Americans who usually tune out this stuff realized our entire economy is going to be imperiled by a small group of people in the Tea Party who think their ideas are more important than our economy.
RAZ: How are you raising money?
JONES: We aren't raising money. I'll tell you, the amazing thing about this is the Tea Party says they're grassroots. They've got the Koch brothers, these big billionaires to bankroll them. They've got Fox TV to promote them before they even had a movement.
We are out here on our own. We had twice as many house meetings to start our movement as they did. They had 800, we had 1,600. We have already engaged on our agenda-setting process, 127,000 people with our crowd-sourced agenda. They only had about 50,000. We're already bigger than the Tea Party was when they started with no big donors and with no illegitimate support from media sources. The American Dream Movement is the real patriotic grassroots movement.
RAZ: If I'm in the Tea Party, say, I can hold on to very tangible things. I oppose President Obama's healthcare plan. I don't want to pay high taxes. I don't like that my government's running a $14.3 trillion debt. Those are clear. What is it about your movement that people can hold on to? What's somebody going to say when you ask them, OK, what is it that's motivating you to come out to this rally?
JONES: Well, first of all, we believe the wealthy people who we bailed out at the beginning of this crisis should help move the country forward at the end of the crisis. In other words, we believe that Wall Street should pay more taxes. We think that we should go back to Clinton-era tax rates on wealthy people. That poll is off the charts. We believe we should bring these wars to a responsible end, bring that $3 billion a week home and begin to do some nation building and repairing here where it's needed. That poll's off the charts.
We also believe we need to be fixing our bridges and our roads and doing the things, making the investments in our country that'll make us strong. But we're not even focused on the smart ways to get Americans working because we're chasing the Tea Party down the street.
RAZ: That's Van Jones. His new political advocacy group is called the American Dream Movement. Van Jones, thanks.
JONES: Thank you very much.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.