Over the weekend I read an article in Politico magazine that called for the firing of White House senior advisor Valerie
Jarrett in the wake of the midterm elections that rendered Democrats in Washington almost toothless. The article was not only demeaning in nature, it also attempted to remove the luster of being a White House senior advisor to the president.
It presented Jarrett as basically uneducated and one with no real credentials to merit her being the most consequential advisor to President Obama. It further asserts that if Obama wants to shake things up as far as his administration is concerned for the remaining two years, he should begin by firing Jarrett.
Even though Jarrett received her law degree from the University of Michigan, one of the top law schools in the nation, the “Fire Valerie Jarrett” piece written by Carol Felsenthal opens up with these words: “Almost since the start of Barack Obama’s presidency, people who have actual, real duties in the West Wing of the White House — the working, executive part of the government, that is —have been urging him to do something about Valerie Jarrett. Push her into the East Wing, where she can hang out with Michelle Obama and the White House social secretary, or give her an ambassadorship — or something— but for Pete’s sake get her out of the way of the hard work of governing that needs to be done. Now it’s really time to do it.”
But the author, trying to have it both ways, quickly states, “Let’s stipulate right away that it would be unfair to blame Jarrett, the
longtime Obama family friend and confidant, for the walloping that the president and his party suffered at the polls on Tuesday.”
The rest of the article goes on to further trash Jarrett, suggesting that she is the main reason why some key White House staff left and that it was her decision to have Eric Holder named attorney general. According to the article, former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, after realizing he could not undo Jarrett, decided to leave and run for mayor of Chicago.
First of all, what the article failed to realize is that loyalty has been key to any presidency or political administration. No president will select an aide who is not loyal to the success of the administration and to the overall well-being of the president and the first lady. Jarrett’s loyalty to the Obamas dates back to Chicago where she knew them before any of us dreamed about the possibility of the first Black president. Her loyalty to the Obamas was the product of a long-term relationship that was rooted in a firm sense of community and identity.
She understands the Obamas and at every point has worked to protect them from opportunists looking to exploit the advantages of the most talked about presidency in recent history. At every level she has been a dependable ambassador for President Obama.
In 2012, on the eve of the Obama’s nomination at the Democratic Convention, I recalled taking part in a roundtable conversation with a select group of Black journalists. The exchange was led by Jarrett and she was very clear about the issues Obama would champion coming out of the nomination. She was precise and wanted to make sure there was no confusion about where Obama stood on key plank issues even as we put pointed questions to her.
As president, that is what you expect from a senior advisor — counting on the person to convey your message as well as your position on a host of issues before the nation. But the Politico article also carried something with it that was rather subtle. There were racial undertones when the author suggested that Jarrett, a University of Michigan trained lawyer with business acumen, should abandon her role and instead “hang out” in the East Wing of the White House with the First Lady and the White House social secretary. That is troubling. It undercuts the intelligence and qualifications of Black women who project themselves into the great pipelines of history.
If Valerie Jarrett were not African-American, would she be described in this way given all of her accomplishments? Does it also imply that Michelle Obama, another trained lawyer from Harvard Law School, has nothing else to do but to “hang out” with Jarrett and the White House social secretary?
Michelle Obama and Valerie Jarrett are two distinguished history-making Black women. They deserve a more dignified and fair description than “hanging out” with a social secretary in the East Wing of the White House.
Jarrett comes from a prominent African-American family in Chicago. The New York Times noted in a profile titled “The Other Power in the West Wing” that her father is a pioneering doctor in Chicago and that her mother has a street named after her in Chicago for her work in early childhood education.
Perhaps the writer needs be reminded, in the African-American vernacular, that Jarrett comes from “good stock,” and it is almost laughable but unfair to dismiss the credentials of a woman who stands on her own merit just because she is closer to the president and the first lady than anyone else in the White House.
Obviously, President Obama has no problem with Jarrett’s functions. While others might be deeply envious of the access Jarrett has to the Obamas, it does not warrant the kind of article that takes away from what this African-American woman has achieved. If the roles were changed and someone else of a different skin color was commanding that much influence in the White House, I doubt there would have been this kind of personal attack masking as objective analysis.
Thankfully, unlike former George Bush’s close advisor Karl Rove who took part in the shameful purging of U.S. attorneys around the nation deemed not politically expedient, Valerie Jarrett has not been involved in any scandal that signal abuse of power.
I appreciate the writer’s different world view, but I need to remind her again that mentioning that it was Jarrett who pushed for Holder to become AG is a plus for us, not a minus. Holder made Black America and everyone who believes in equal justice under the law proud.
Democrats lost the midterm for 99 reasons and Valerie Jarrett isn’t one of them.
E-mail Bankole Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org