Reassessing Valerie Jarrett

3 years ago ccwa 0

Barack_Obama_and_Valerie_Jarrett_in_the_West_Wing_corridor_croppedThe New Republic’s recent 5000-word profile of Valerie Jarrett, “The Obama Whisperer,” could well be boiled down to this: Jarrett has outlasted her usefulness.  She is, allegedly, a duplicate of the same Rahm Emmanuel she helped overthrow earlier in her stint as high-level advisor to the president.  While she was once the dissenting voice cutting through the echo chamber of the Emmanuel-led cabinet meetings, today she’s the one pushing the rock in front of the tomb.  Since she’s become the staffer with the ear of the president, she’s advised him to cozy up to the big business Obama once scorned and to throw Republicans bone after bone in the mistaken hope that they might eventually decide to meet the Democrats halfway.

But the anecdote Noam Scheiber uses to punctuate his conclusion – that one day aboard Air Force One Jarrett astounded fellow White House aides by saying “Mr. President, I don’t understand how you’re not getting eighty-five percent of the vote” – seems to fly in the face of another piece TNR published in the very same edition, “A Letter to a Young Liberal,” penned by former Canadian Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff.  In it, he contends that the key to winning trust in democratic politics is maintaining your root authenticity: “People who say politics is acting get it wrong. You’re not playing a role. You’re on stage, true enough, but you’re playing yourself.”  And this is where Jarrett is so important.

The evidence Scheiber draws upon to support his indictment hardly seems incriminating in light of Jarrett’s current role in the administration.  In 2012, when she botched a meeting with LGBT activists in which she was supposed to break news that the president would not sign an executive order banning discrimination by federal contractors, she was the messenger for a political action she wholly opposed.  But if today, as Scheiber holds, she’s a key voice in the newest inculcated incarnation of the Obama administration, then it’s difficult to say such a policy decision would have been chosen in the first place.

Another claim implies that she was a primary factor in an administration choice to spurn a prominent immigration reform activist. After she expressed public displeasure with the administration, the president of the National Council of La Raza, the largest Hispanic advocacy organization in he country, wasn’t invited to the rose garden ceremony where Obama announced that he would take executive action on the issue.  Ultimately the criticism comes to this: Jarrett broke ties with an activist in a way that was distasteful, hardly damning charges for someone who works in politics, and also hardly parallel to the charges leveled at Rahm Emmanuel earlier in the article when Scheiber claimed he opposed taking substantive action following the BP oil spill because Donna Brazile, a Democrat originally from New Orleans, criticized the administration’s slow initial response.

Today’s newly empowered Valerie Jarrett isn’t the id of the Obama administration so much as the looking glass back to an Obama that got into politics with something to prove. This is precisely the logic supported in Ignatieff’s piece: “People, it turns out, will forgive candidates for almost anything if they fight for their right to be themselves.”  And it’s borne out in Obama’s post-midterm success.  From signing a historic climate deal with China, to validating a new EPA rule limiting ozone emissions, to normalizing relations with Cuba, to executive action on immigration, to his State of the Union proposal to make community college tuition free for some students, the pep and purpose of the administration has returned.  Suddenly, the name “Obama” has crept back out of the shadowy dungeon to which Democrats have been eager to banish it over the past six and a half years and begun to inspire the Hope it so stirringly promised on the campaign trail in 2008.

It hasn’t hurt, of course, that the tide of political issues that never seemed to unravel his way – Syria, Benghazi, the botched Obamacare unrolling – appears to have reversed its course.  Russia, which had been the source of a favorite Republican foreign policy criticism, abruptly and dramatically felt the weight of American sanctions as the value of the ruble fell almost 20% in the span of 24 hours.  Similarly, an ad-lib at the State of the Union turned into a Youtube sensation overnight.  All of the sudden a fortunate accident had Democrats as excited about Obama as they’d been since “horses and bayonets”.

Like any prominent politician, Barack Obama has the potential to wither into a vegetated figurehead when he’s told the name of the game is “Okay, just don’t screw up,” but now the administration seems to have concluded that the only thing to do in Obama’s final quarter in office is go on the offensive. And if Valerie Jarrett is the little devil on Obama’s shoulder muttering that now is the time to indulge in those leftist desires he’s always kept in check for fear of alienating moderate voters, well, I should say we’re better for it.


by Paul Peters

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