Valerie Jarrett, Obama consigliere

27 July 2009 |permalink | email article

One wonders about President Obama’s thought pattern when at the end of a prime-time news conference on overhauling the U.S. health care system he stepped on his policy message by lashing out at police for acting “stupidly” in arresting black Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. on disorderly charges at his own home, creating an instant racial firestorm.

Was it simply a gaffe on the normally cool president’s part, or yet another manifestation of how easy it is for race, class and machismo to intersect at any given moment of volatility?

By coincidence the distraction occurred just as The New York Times Magazine published a powerful cover-story profile on Valerie Jarrett, a senior White House adviser and fellow Chicagoan who is the Obamas’ longtime friend and consigliere.

Robert Draper, a contributing writer, was surprised one afternoon when Obama rewarded his plaintive queries in a telephone call to note that “Valerie is one of my oldest friends,” he “trusts her completely, and that as his surrogate “she speaks for me, particularly when we’re dealing with delicate issues.”

Does Obama run every significant decision past Jarrett? “Yep. Absolutely.”

Draper wrote that Jarrett’s shared experience with the Obamas is about race – and on a deeper level, about the coexistence, in the post King psyche, of conscience, ambition, activism and accommodation. She is described as the White House’s unofficial champion on minority issues in an inner circle dominated largely by white males.

It’s unclear whether Jarrett was consulted on the speech insertion decision or if the arrest played a role in Obama’s surprise visit to the White House press briefing room to say he had chosen the wrong words to describe the Cambridge, Mass. police department screw up.

Meanwhile, Gates and Sgt. James Crowley will have a beer soon with the president on the Truman balcony. Only in America! 

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