Valerie Jarrett is President Obama's top adviser on apparently everything. She is "The Obama Whisperer," according to Noam Scheiber in a profile in The New Republic.
In this role, she has attracted the ire of liberal allies outside the White House and no small amount of partisan pettiness from conservatives. (Mitt Romney somehow thought it an insult to say that Obama only listens to two people, his wife and Jarrett.)
And inside the White House, she has watched these last six years as a roster of "the smartest guys in the room," have all departed, mostly on the wrong side of Valerie Jarrett.
We encourage everyone to read Scheiber's piece. Below are seven things we learned about maybe the most important woman in the United States.
1. Valerie Jarrett is the most powerful black woman in White House history
“Her role since she has been at the White House is one of the broadest and most expansive roles that I think has ever existed in the West Wing,” says Anita Dunn, Obama’s former communications director. It's no wonder that Romney (via another top Republican) seemed fixated on her power.
Because of her race, but also because of her gender, Jarrett is a singular figure in American politics. Anytime Obama gets criticized for having an old-boys club, Jarrett's name comes up as the exception to the that rule. And, on matters of race, her name comes up as someone who gets it, telegraphing how Obama really feels.
Perhaps the only recent parallel is Karl Rove, who was equally feared, yet also praised far and wide for his political chops. Jarrett's wide portfolio, by contrast, seems to puzzle people and raise questions about whether she is actually qualified.
2. Speaking of race, Jarrett is Obama's post-racial race woman
From the TNR piece:
She had enjoyed real clout on the campaign, but the way she used it — encouraging Obama to give his famous race speech, and bringing Latinos, blacks, gays, and women into the heart of the operation at a time when the post-racial rhetoric had gotten thick — didn’t win her much respect. Even after Obama made Jarrett a senior adviser and put her in charge of outreach to constituency groups, her lack of Washington experience made her easy to dismiss.
On Ferguson, Jarrett, Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder decided amongst the three of them that Holder would go to Missouri. She was also in touch with Al Sharpton on events on the ground. But on the Henry Louis Gates's run in with a police officer, it was Jarrett who urged Obama go on clean-up duty after he said that the police had "acted stupidly."
3. 'Boardroom liberalism' is the new limousine liberalism
For all their rhetorical focus on the grassroots and change coming from the bottom-up and from outsiders, this White House is taken with the elite, in a way that belies much of its rhetoric. It's an establishmentarianism and celebrity worship borne of Jarrett's privileged background, which means cameos on "The Good Wife" and marshaling Zach Galifianakis for the Obamacare rollout.
In this way, Obama and Jarrett have often circumvented the usual avenues, pushing policy on late-night shows and in other unlikely places. Yet that has also likely resulted in a kind of cocooning/bubble effect as well that doesn't exactly jibe with populism.
It’s a worldview that’s steeped in social progressivism, in the values of tolerance and diversity. It takes as a given that government has a role to play in building infrastructure, regulating business, training workers, smoothing out the boom-bust cycles of the economy, providing for the poor and disadvantaged. But it is a view from on high—one that presumes a dominant role for large institutions like corporations and a wisdom on the part of elites. It believes that the world works best when these elites use their power magnanimously, not when they’re forced to share it. The picture of the boardroom liberal is a corporate CEO handing a refrigerator-sized check to the head of a charity at a celebrity golf tournament. All the better if they’re surrounded by minority children and struggling moms.
4. The press is an obsession
This White House is no different than any other. They carp about, dismiss and try to control the press. And they also try to control activists via the press. On several occasions, Jarrett used media coverage as a cudgel for access, telling activists that the "success" of a meeting would be judged by press clippings.
'Eeeewww' is right.
5. Petty, petty, petty
Yep, all White Houses are petty. This one seems to be ineffectively so.
Witness the treatment of Janet Murguia, the head of National Council of La Raza -- a big proponent of immigration reform and coiner of Obama as "deporter in chief." According to the piece, Murguia was left off the guest list for Obama's announcement that he would act on immigration reform via an executive action. Of course, that hasn't happened yet. But it's hard to see how freezing out one of the top Latinas in the country is actually a good strategy.
But Jarrett’s obsessiveness about control, and her response to even good-faith criticism, are often self-defeating. “She just cuts off. It’s stone cold,” says one person who received this treatment. “It couldn’t be a conversation.”
6. So much for 'Washington experience'
This town is obsessed with the idea of "Washington experience," as if it's as knowable and measurable as, say, surgical or piloting experience.
Well, Jarrett, who has been dismissed as having none of that prized "Washington experience," has outlasted Rahm Emanuel, Larry Summers and Robert Gibbs among others, all of whom had far more of that intangible "Washington experience" than she did. Valerie Jarrett 3, Washington Experience 0.
Which brings us to...
7. Valerie Jarrett will never, ever be fired
Despite the grabby Politico headline and gossipy, largely off-base, piece, it ain't happening. And it's not clear that it should -- or, more to the point -- that she should be singled out. The Politico piece argues that Jarrett "seems to isolate the president from people who might help him or teach him something." But surely, if Obama wanted to, he could reach out to whoever he wants to.
The implication, of course, is that somehow Jarrett herself has not much to teach him and that her qualifications don't match her portfolio. But in a town full of "experts," why not Valerie Jarrett?