The woman behind the curtain.
For eight years, the media envisioned Dick Cheney as the ‘evil genius’ behind the Bush White House, but few in the media have wanted to take a long look at the ‘evil genius’ behind the Obama White House.
The populist grass roots myth died shortly after Obama was elected and while plenty of books have been written about the internal workings of the Obama campaign and administration, unlike the books written about Bush, they rarely inform mainstream media news coverage. When these books and articles come from within the media, the authors are not attacked and their work isn’t discredited, it simply gets compartmentalized into the wonksphere and away from daily news coverage.
This compartmentalization is the reason why media coverage of Obama remains largely unchanged and very little attention is paid to the non-cabinet level personalities who actually make policy. Colin Powell’s dissatisfaction with his lack of influence under Bush was widely covered, while Hillary Clinton’s was not. The Powell implosion led the media to exaggerate the role of Dick Cheney, but no one asks who really had the final say on foreign policy under Obama if Hillary Clinton didn’t.
The Obama White House is a radical departure from previous administrations. It’s a permanent campaign, not just for the obvious reason that it is constantly using the tactics of the campaign, fundraising, attacking and performing, but also because it operates like a campaign reducing the traditional forms of an administration to formalities.
Cabinet members have little influence. Decisions are made by White House staffers, many from the Center for American Progress, who are the ones running the unaccountable permanent campaign.
There is no Obama administration. There is an Obama campaign. And that campaign is part of an organization built around a single figure; Obama Inc.
Obama Inc. has more in common with the type of organization built around a celebrity like Beyonce than a conventional political organization. It can handle everything from fundraising, branding to viral marketing, but like the inner circles of top celebrities, the most influential person in the organization is the one who can soothe, pamper and cater to the celebrity’s mercurial personality.
Valerie Jarrett’s role as CEO of Obama Inc. confuses those who expect a more conventional arrangement. Jarrett is less Dick Cheney and more Colonel Parker or Helen Kushnick; a powerful enigmatic figure ruthlessly dedicated to her star whose power comes from his dependency.
Obama is the star of Obama Inc., the grinning figure who goes out on stage and cracks jokes while selling overpriced health insurance to the country. Valerie Jarrett is his manager, confidante and gatekeeper. Officially Jarrett is a senior adviser with a defined title and function, but Obama Inc. does few things officially and unofficially, Jarrett has the last word on everything.
Jarrett merges the personal and the political. Obama may chat with numerous advisers, but it’s Valerie who goes back to eat with Michelle and the family. A cabinet member is lucky to catch Obama’s attention once. Valerie Jarrett has it full time, day or night, leading to her nickname of “Night Stalker.”
If Obama skips security briefings, it’s because they, like so much of the formal infrastructure of government, are there just for show. The real briefing will come from or through Jarrett and it will be massaged into the talking points that communicate only what she wants them to.
The aggressive approach that Obama Inc. has come to be known for is all Valerie. Bill Clinton’s sharp edge was Hillary. It was Hillary who kept the grudges of Clintonworld burning while Bill tried to work with his rivals and enemies. In Obama Inc, Valerie Jarrett occupies Hillary’s role, urging greater ideological fealty to the left and uncompromising attacks on the right, while dominating Obama in a way that Hillary never dominated Bill.
Valerie Jarrett got away with too much during her time in Chicago politics to have learned caution. Where more conventional Democrats would slow down, Valerie Jarrett speeds up; a successful career of corruption and leftist politics has given her a sense of political and moral invulnerability. But that doesn’t mean that Jarrett lacks skill; like her boss, what she lacks is a sense of responsibility.
Obama is a political dilettante whose skills are entirely people skills. Valerie Jarrett’s people skills are negligible and concentrated on only one person, but unlike her boss, protégé and adopted son, she has the endurance and drive to pursue an issue indefinitely.
Barack Obama isn’t driven. Throughout his entire adult life there have been people there to open doors for him. It seemed natural for him to let Valerie Jarrett drive his political career and his administration to do the things that he lacks the attention span or the focus to do.
In exchange, his administration represents Jarrett’s ideological vision of a hard left turn for the country.
Valerie Jarrett doesn’t always get her way. She managed to talk Obama out of going after Osama three times, but eventually lost the argument. But Jarrett has made her mark on the country and the world by winning more arguments than she loses by leveraging her unprecedented level of access to chip away at him with her personal knowledge of his weaknesses; what Michelle Obama described as his “soft spots”.
Valerie Jarrett’s strength is framing political arguments in personal terms. Through her that has also become Obama’s strength. For Obama, Jarrett and the rest of the left, the political is personal. And their bond is also political and personal.
Jarrett and Obama are both Third Culture activists with a background in the Muslim world and left-wing politics, who came up the ladder through their involvement with corrupt political non-profits and equally corrupt Chicago politics. Both have dipped their toes in the narrow interests of the urban black community while having political agendas that transcended theirs on a global scale. And both have deep wells of resentment.
Obama may be married to Michelle, but he is closer to Valerie. Jarrett protects him from his job by controlling access to him. As his gatekeeper, Jarrett controls everything from dinner invites to the czars who have more power than many cabinet members. And when each meeting ends, it’s Valerie Jarrett who privately provides the final summary and makes the concluding argument to Barack Obama.
By becoming the gatekeeper to the Oval Office, Valerie Jarrett has more control over domestic and foreign policy than anyone else making her the closest thing to the president. Obama may be the public face of Obama Inc., but when the cameras dim and the teleprompters are turned off, it’s Valerie Jarrett who calls the shots.
Obama may be reading a teleprompter on stage, but Valerie Jarrett is the woman behind the curtain.
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