Valerie Jarrett, 58, has served as a top adviser to President Obama throughout his administration and has been close to the family since the early 1990s.
What do you think of a reporter who interviews you for 25 minutes, then later finds out his recorder stopped working and asks you to do the interview again?
That he’s human. And it’s extremely refreshing. [Laughs.] Because you could have just tried to bluff your way through it and pretend that it didn’t happen.
Believe me, bluffing crossed my mind.
I’m sure it did, but you manned up.
Would it be unfair for me to blame the president for my screw-up?
Yes. Although, you know what … yes, it would be unfair.
You were about to say something else.
I was, but I thought better.
You’re considered the president’s closest adviser. Have you ever given him bad advice since he became president?
I’m sure that I have. I think one of the reasons why the president’s management style is very effective is because all of his advisers feel very comfortable being open and candid with their advice. Ultimately, there’s only one decision-maker. And that’s the president. I think the role of an adviser is to share that advice with the person who is the decision-maker and then, because he runs such a good process, I think you find in most occasions after the decision is made his loyal advisers get behind that decision and support it, whether it was their first instinct or not.
Some of his advisers have left and written books that have been critical of the president. What’s your feeling about that?
Well, I wouldn’t serve in an administration and then be critical of that administration. It seems to me the time to be critical is while you’re there and you have the opportunity and the access to be honest and candid with the president. So few people have the privilege of serving so closely in an administration, whether you’re in the Cabinet or in the White House, and it seems to me that with that should come a level of loyalty and silence. At least until the president is out of office.
You were born in Iran and lived overseas as a young child. Does that experience influence how you see the United States?
Absolutely. I think it had a very profound effect on my impressions of the United States. Spending my early years outside of the country gave me an extraordinary appreciation for the United States and for the liberties and freedoms that Americans often take for granted. I also think that living outside of the United States gives you an appreciation that even though the United States is the greatest country on earth, it’s not the only country on earth.
What misconceptions are there of you?
A little-known fact is that I started my life and well into adulthood, very shy. Painfully shy, I would call it. And I often share this, particularly with young people, because it’s something I really had to work hard to overcome. And for all the shy people out there I say, you, too, can overcome it. But it took a lot of hard work on my part, and I discovered along the way that just because you’re nervous and you have butterflies in your stomach doesn’t mean that it has to show. My point in sharing it with you is that part of life is pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. And if you’re going to grow you have to learn how to take on new challenges that you might not be good at.
Is there anything I can get you to say that would get you in trouble with the president or first lady?
I can’t imagine there is. [Laughs.]
At least not to me.
At least not to you. [Laughs.] Reverse the table and imagine whether you would ever be publicly critical of a dear friend or boss? I don’t think so.
Will you stay until the end of his term?
I serve at the pleasure of the president. If he wants me to stay, I will.
For stories, features such as Date Lab, Gene Weingarten and more, visit WP Magazine.
Follow the Magazine on Twitter.
Like us on Facebook.
E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.