Uh oh! Shit just got real. Politico went where no one has gone before:
Fire Valerie Jarrett
If Obama really wants to shake things up, his closest adviser should be the first to go.
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.
Jarrett is more than a mere senior staffer to this president, and of course she is not going to be fired outright. Not ever. If her role in this administration reflected reality, Jarrett would be called “First Big Sister” to both Michelle and Barack. And who would fire the kind of big sister who “really dedicated her entire life to the Obamas,” as New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor told me when I interviewed her about her intimate look at the first family, The Obamas? “She has thrown her entire life into their cause, and she’s made it very clear that she would happily run in front of a speeding truck for them.”
Very moving. But the fact is, on balance it appears that Jarrett has been more an obstructer than a facilitator over the past six years when it comes to governing, and it’s probably long past time for the president to move her gently into another role.
For starters, even today, nobody knows precisely what Jarrett does in the White House. What exactly do her titles—senior advisor to the president, assistant to the president in charge of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, the Office of Public Engagement, the White House Council on Women and Girls—mean? More to the point, Jarrett has often used the aura of authority that these titles give her to stand in the way of talented White House staffers and a smoother-running administration, according to several books that have been written about the Obama presidency, among them Chuck Todd’s forthcoming The Stranger.
Her undefined role combined with what by all accounts has been almost unlimited proximity to the Obamas has proved a bad mix. She seems to isolate the president from people who might help him or teach him something—and if there’s one thing that has become clear about Obama, it’s that he doesn’t get to hear enough outside voices. (According to Alter, she once declared that the Obamas wouldn’t be making “new friends” in Washington.) Jarrett micromanages guest lists for White House events big and small, hangs out in the private quarters and often joins the Obamas for dinner, says little in meetings, but walks out whispering in the president’s ear and leaving nervous staffers in her wake, according to Alter. She vacations with the first family in Hawaii and Martha’s Vineyard. She is often the last one they speak to at night, and according to Alter, White House staffers took to calling her the “Night Stalker.” Last month, none other than Mitt Romney was quoted in a New York Times Magazine article reflecting on the well-established insularity of the Obama White House: “I won’t mention who it was, but I met with one of the nation’s top Republican leaders, and he said, ‘You know, the strange thing is that the president seems to answer to only two people—Valerie Jarrett and Michelle Obama.’”
Jarrett wields real power on personnel matters, but her choices often seem based on whom she particularly likes rather than who might be best suited for the job. She reportedly pushed the president to give a personal favorite, Eric Holder, the attorney general’s job, then propped Holder up in the face of harsh (and, to the president, very damaging) criticism over controversies ranging from Holder’s “nation of cowards” speech, which accused Americans of racism, to the “Fast and Furious” quasi-scandal involving questionable sting operations run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. (In doing so she acquired another nickname—“Eric’s appeals court.”) When Holder delivered his resignation speech earlier this year, he thanked the president, the vice president, his family and Valerie Jarrett.
She is also supposed to be the president’s liaison to business, which was “an effort that many in the West Wing believe she failed at,” writes Todd. “And yet they didn’t get why she didn’t pay a price.” Jarrett walked into the White House with some impressive looking credentials: CEO of the Habitat Company, chairman of the board of the Chicago Stock Exchange, director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. But Chicago business people who knew Jarrett have told me over the years that she was not respected for her business skills. In January 2011, when Bill Daley, the banker and former commerce secretary who had top credentials in both politics and business, was brought in to replace Emanuel as chief of staff and to improve Obama’s relations with business, Jarrett was not happy and “frequently shared her unflattering assessments with Obama,” Politico’s Glenn Thrush wrote in an ebook about the 2012 campaign. Daley lasted barely a year.
Many Wall Streeters, meanwhile, considered her “a political hack, ineffectual and entitled,” Halperin and Heilemann write. And economists who talk to her about policy are sometimes astonished at the things that come out of her mouth, reflecting very little understanding of economic solutions. Although she has no experience in foreign policy either, she regularly travels abroad with the president. “She would frequently take one of the half-dozen seats alongside the president in bilateral meetings,” Alter wrote, “which meant one less seat for a policy expert.”
Politico is no RWNJ fringe publication. They are dialed into everything from classified private meetings to the watercooler gossip inside the Beltway. They don’t do investigative journalism. This information was fed to them by someone (or someones) high up on the food chain inside of the White House. Whoever did it risks career suicide.
History and literature provide examples of advisors to kings whose influence far exceeds their official power. Grima Wormtongue is one such example. Perhaps the most apt comparison would be Rasputin.
Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin (Russian: Григорий Ефимович Распутин; IPA: [ɡrʲɪˈɡorʲɪj jɪˈfʲiməvʲɪtɕ räˈsputʲɪn]); baptized on 22 January [O.S. 10 January] 1869 – murdered on 30 December [O.S. 17 December] 1916) was a Russian peasant, mystical faith healer and private adviser to the Romanovs. He became an influential figure in Saint Petersburg, especially after August 1915 when Tsar Nicolas II took command of the army at the front.
There is much uncertainty over Rasputin’s life and the degree of influence he exerted over the Tsar and his government. Accounts are often based on dubious memoirs, hearsay and legend.[note 1] While his influence and role may have been exaggerated, historians agree that his presence played a significant part in the increasing unpopularity of the Tsar and Alexandra Feodorovna his wife, and the downfall of the Russian Monarchy. Rasputin was killed as he was seen by both the left and right to be the root cause of Russia’s despair during World War I.
Old Raspy was hard to kill. They poisoned him and shot him and he still wasn’t dead. So they shot him some more and threw his body in a river.
Will ValJar go any easier?
This is how political assassinations and coups are done nowadays in Washington. Leak some damaging information and hope that it will cause a big enough stink that the target will be fired or asked to resign.
But, to paraphrase an old saying, “If you strike at the Queen you better kill her.” That’s because if you don’t kill her, she’ll kill you.
As you read this you can bet that Valjar’s flying monkeys are searching for the treasonous culprit(s) who betrayed her.
The vipers are fanging each other.