Valerie Jarrett: Obama’s Consigliere, Watchdog, and Gatekeeper

“She ain’t no Karl Rove. Karl Rove would eat her for breakfast.”
— a major Obama donor, speaking of Valerie Jarrett

Valerie Jarrett at mic, pointing out at crowd

The other day, I posted “Obama: Dispassionate Academic with Delusions of Grandeur“, which focused on the President’s arrogance and emotional distance as contributing factors to his amateurish performance in the White House. My source was the bestselling The Amateur by Edward Klein. Before I return it to the library, I wanted to share some more of what Klein uncovered about The Amateur’s administration — specifically, about probably the most powerful person (outside of the President himself) in the White House.

Valerie Jarrett is said to be the Obamas’ “best friend and consigliere”, whom they have known for many years back in Chicago. The President has said that she is “like a sibling to me… I trust her completely.” He has admitted without hesitation that he runs every decision past Jarrett. When they made it to the White House, the President made her a “Senior Advisor to the President of the United States” and “Assistant to the President for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs”. But what does she actually do?

Jarrett is de facto gatekeeper for access to the President, keeping him isolated from anyone she does not deem worthy of his (or her) attention. This includes the White House press corps, members of Congress from both parties, and various of Obama’s supporters & constituents — i.e., people he needs to hear from & talk with. Jarrett also serves as spymaster for the First Couple (especially the jealous Michelle).

“Valerie is the quintessential insider,” one of her longtime friends told [Klein]. “She functions as the eyes, ears, and nose of the President and First Lady. She tells them who’s saying what about who, who’s loyal and who’s not. She advises them about who they should see when they visit a city or a foreign country.
She determines who gets invited to the White House and who is left out in the cold.”

As the administration’s point person for keeping in touch with the outside world, one would think Jarrett would be gracious and diplomatic. But, those on the receiving end — including congressmen, businessmen, Democratic donors, the Jewish community, and various African-Americans — will tell you she is better at giving the cold shoulder than receiving with open arms.

“I have always though Valerie was a liability,” a prominent donor told the Washington Post. “I’ve talked to people in the White House about it, and they have agreed with me, but they are scared to say anything.”

In addition to protecting the “vainglorious and thin-skinned Obama from critics and complainers who might deflate his ego,” Jarrett is also considered by the President to be “the voice of authentic blackness in a White House that is staffed largely by whites.” This is somewhat ironic, considering that Jarrett’s family belongs to that light-skinned subset of Black Americans dubbed by Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Eugene Robinson as the “Transcendent” elite. Her parents were well-known and well-to-do professionals. Jarrett attended Stanford University and the University of Michigan Law School. She was briefly married to Dr. Robert Jarrett, who got Jarrett her first city job under Mayor Richard M. Daley. Jarrett later became Daley’s deputy chief of staff and the “public black face” of his administration. She also sat on the boards of several exclusive cultural institutions in Chicago (e.g., Art Institute, Symphony Orchestra). When Jarrett met and hired Michelle Obama, her high-level society contacts were just what the Obamas needed to access the affluent African-American and Jewish communities in Chicago.

Grove Parc in Chicago, under Jarrett's watch

Grove Parc in Chicago, under Jarrett’s watch

“In the eyes of many African-Americans, however, Jarrett’s elitist background helps explain her condescending manner and inability to help Obama where it counts the most — remaining on good terms with his diverse and far-flung constituencies.

‘Growing up, Valerie had very limited contact with African-American working-class people,’ said a Chicagoan who worked with her. ‘The closest she came to the [mostly black] South Side was when she drove through it in her Mercedes convertible with the top down. She never had to work her way up. Everything was handed to her because of her pedigree. She is naturally attracted to African-Americans who have a pedigree like hers. I question her capability. I never felt that she was astute enough to do her job in the White House.'”

So much for being a “voice of authentic blackness”….

One might wonder what kind of a person she was to work with back in Chicago. Here is what a Chicago real estate developer had to say:

“She would be cunning and not straightforward. She was very tough on people. She’d go to the wall for Daley and make sure her boss’s wishes were carried out. But her advice to Daley was damaging to other people and to her benefit and standing with the mayor. Her job was never policy, and she’s never been an operational person. She was an implementer. And she made sure that her fingerprints weren’t on things.”

To give that a positive spin, one could say Jarrett was loyal to her boss, as she is to her current one. But, Daley wasn’t afraid to drop her like a hot potato when things looked bad. When she was Daley’s planning commissioner, Jarrett was involved in a huge imbroglio in the city’s public housing revitalization plan, costing the city millions of dollars in overruns. Daley had no problem firing her without any explanation. Jarrett then became CEO of Habitat Executive Services, where she earned in the high six-figures for managing a federally subsidized housing complex. Not bad work, if you can get it, I’d say. But, this being Chicago, inspectors discovered it to have “crime-infested slum conditions and widespread blight”, so the government seized the complex.

As I’m sure you’re beginning to see, Valerie Jarrett has led a charmed & privileged life, continually “failing upward”, without any real accomplishments. Yet, now she sits in on meetings of national and international affairs that she has no business being at and gives advice to the POTUS on things she has no training or experience in, from national security to federal budgets.

“Many insiders in Chicago and Washington find her friendly and pleasant enough, but off the record they use almost identical words to describe her: ‘She doesn’t have the stuff to be a principal adviser to the president of the United States.’

‘She has no international experience and no background in economics or fiscal policy,’ said Michael Levin, the retired vice chairman of the global accounting firm KPMG and a major force in Chicago’s social and cultural institutions. ‘There were people in previous Democratic administrations who were real heavyweights. But Valerie is no [former Secretary of State] Cyrus Vance.'”

The West Wing is staffed with inexperienced Chicagoans who are out of their depth in Washington, and Valerie Jarrett is the queen bee of them all. Everyone knows she has the privileged ear and trust of the President and First Lady. She rules by controlling access to them and by feeding the atmosphere of fear & suspicion. As a former high-ranking member of the staff told Klein:

Jarrett and Obama walking

Jarrett and Obama walking together

“There is a tremendous amount of jockeying in the White House under Barack Obama, people hoping to push other people out of their positions, fighting over stupid stuff.” It’s built around rousing suspicion in the Obamas’ minds and making them feel dependent on a select few. “[Jarrett] has been able to spread her tentacles into every nook and cranny of the executive branch of government. She creates problems so she can say to the president and first lady, ‘I would do anything for you; I would put everything at risk to show you how trustworthy I am.’ The president and to a lesser degree the first lady are worried about big stuff, which means that they must depend more and more on the people around them.

Valerie creates fear. She keeps the Obamas off-balance and keeps them coming back to her. She makes sure that a lot of other people don’t have access…. Only the people she feels she can control can get in. The people who are given access are beholden to Valerie. Every one of the current crop of people in the East Wing are her friends. They think they owe their lives to her.”

There is much more to be said about Ms. Jarrett, but I think you get the picture….

Condescending. Manipulating control-freak. Fingers in every pie she can get them. Thinks she knows and deserves more than she does.

Valerie Jarrett: The Amateur’s “mini-me”?


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