VAN JONES EXITS STAGE LEFT…. At various times over the last several months, conservative activists and lawmakers have called for a several leading administration officials to resign. They called for Tim Geithner’s ouster, but no one cared. They demanded Janet Napolitano’s head, but few took it seriously. Recently, many far-right voices even sought Eric Holder’s resignation, but this was easily ignored.

But when it came to Van Jones, the White House found it difficult to come up with a compelling defense, and didn’t want the distraction. So, late on a Saturday night, over Labor Day weekend, the right finally succeeded in forcing someone they hate from government service.

White House environmental adviser Van Jones resigned Saturday after weeks of controversy stemming from his past activism.

“On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me,” Jones, special adviser for green jobs at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said in a statement announcing his resignation just after midnight Saturday. “They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide.”

He continued: “I have been inundated with calls — from across the political spectrum — urging me to ‘stay and fight.’ But I came here to fight for others, not for myself. I cannot in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past. We need all hands on deck, fighting for the future.”

Jones issued two public apologies in recent days, one for signing a petition that questioned whether Bush administration officials “may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war” and the other for using a crude term to describe Republicans in a speech he gave before joining the administration.

Joking about Republicans being “a**holes” wasn’t likely to be enough to Jones’ ouster — he wasn’t in the administration at the time and he did, after all, refer to himself as an “a**hole” in the same remarks — but it was that Truther petition that proved problematic. It also brought intense scrutiny on Jones’ previous political associations.

Gawker has a very good summary of Jones’ background and the smear campaign launched against him, but here’s the key takeaway: “[Jones] was a bookish black kid from Tennessee who went to Yale Law and moved to San Francisco and became a radical. Then he decided to use his law degree and smarts to clean up and make things better from inside the establishment.”

Right-wing critics have railed against Jones for months, but the campaign against him took a sharp turn in late July. Color of Change launched an effort targeting Glenn Beck’s advertisers, so Beck targeted Van Jones, who helped create the group. At that point, Jones went from being an obscure administration official in an office few have heard of (the Council on Environmental Quality) to the most hated man on Fox News.

A few things to keep in mind going forward. First, we haven’t heard the last of Van Jones, and that’s a good thing. He’s one of the nation’s great visionaries on energy and environmental issues, and as Kate Sheppard noted, “[P]erhaps the even bigger irony here is that he’s always been more effective and influential as an outside activist than as an administration official…. In all honesty, Glenn Beck may have more to worry about with Jones outside the White House than in it.”

Second, Beck and other extremists will obviously be thrilled by forcing Jones’ ouster, and will no doubt feel emboldened by last night’s developments. Expect to see even more aggressive smear campaigns launched against other officials they hate.

And finally, Mark Kleiman reminds us of a key point that shouldn’t be overlooked: “There’s an important general lesson here: If you want to say batsh*t-crazy stuff and still be treated as a respectable participant in the national debate, you’d better be a Republican.”

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.