You might not have time to read Robert Draper's 8,000 word profile of President Obama's senior adviser, Valerie Jarrett, although it is well worth a close read. The New York Times Magazine profile begins with what one might call a Valerie story: picture it. The presidential campaign. 2008. A world-weary candidate refuses to attend an event that will serve his campaign's strategic interests. Two heavy hitters are enlisted to change his grumpy mind: Michelle Obama and Valerie Jarrett. After the jump, the juiciest bits of the article, including Jarrett's role in the campaign and her relationship with Rahm Emanuel.
Valerie Jarrett is a Washington outsider with a Washingtonian's mind-deadening job title: senior adviser and assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs and public engagement. Roughly translated, she is Obama's intermediary to the outside world. But Jarrett is also the president's closest friend in the White House, and it is not lost on her colleagues that when senior staff meetings in the Oval Office break up, she often stays behind with the boss.
That arrangement began to change on the evening of July 17, 2007, when Obama again convened a meeting at Jarrett's Chicago town house. The presidential campaign was not gaining traction in the national polls, and several of Obama's associates openly fretted that the emphasis on winning Iowa and the other early states had come at the expense of building a broad base of support across the map. The candidate was also not happy about fielding so many calls from African-American leaders who were critical of the campaign's "postracial" demeanor. "Lots of things were bubbling up, and no one was really handling issues that would arise, either in Chicago [at headquarters] or on the road," says Penny Pritzker, who was one of the meeting's participants and the campaign's finance chairwoman. "You needed another smart, capable, really close adviser involved who could play a bridging role. Valerie was the perfect solution."
Not everyone would agree with Pritzker. Though the Obama campaign possessed scarcely a fraction of the melodrama afflicting John McCain's operation, tension when it did exist tended to revolve around Jarrett. She never actually moved into headquarters, "and that was good and that was bad," says the White House senior adviser, Pete Rouse, who at that time was Senator Obama's chief of staff. "In the campaign, that she was sort of outside and free-floating complicated things at times." Jarrett's ambiguous role particularly annoyed the campaign manager, David Plouffe, who, several campaign sources say, did not care for her. Jarrett and Plouffe tangled over issues ranging from where the campaign should be spending its money to where the candidate should be spending his time. Outside advisers who could not persuade Plouffe on a matter knew they could then turn to Jarrett as a "court of appeals," according to a campaign officialToday Plouffe offers unqualified praise for Jarrett's work as a campaign surrogate but says, "She wasn't terribly involved in strategic issues."
When I asked Emanuel what advice he gave Obama on Jarrett's role in the White House, he smirked and replied, "My two cents to the president stays my two cents to the president."
"Can you give me one cent?" I asked.
"One cent," Emanuel said, "was: 'If you do it, this will be unique, so here are the upsides and downsides we've got to be conscious of. This will be different.' He said, 'That's fine, but this is how I would like to do it.' "
Still, Emanuel talks to a lot of people around town, and when the subject is Valerie Jarrett, it's fair to say that his words fall short of effusive. Their opposing qualities -- deliberateness and sensitivity in Jarrett; speed and brutal practicality in Emanuel -- may reside harmonically in Barack Obama. But what the two aides represent isn't simply a function of velocity or decibel level. While both of them obviously want the president to succeed, Emanuel's criteria for "success" are straightforward. Jarrett, according to Muñoz, is "very focused on why he ran in the first place" -- a psychological calculation that only Jarrett would presume to undertake and which therefore is bound to drive others nuts.