How Valerie Jarrett became a target of the right

  • Former Obama White House official Valerie Jarrett has come back into the public eye after being the target of a racist tweet from actress and comedian Roseanne Barr.
  • Jarrett has long been the target of criticism as a result of her prominent position in the Obama administration.
  • She was attacked particularly harshly after the Democrats preformed poorly in the 2014 midterms.

Former Obama White House adviser Valerie Jarrett has stayed mostly out of the spotlight after ending her tenure as one of President Barack Obama’s most trusted staffers.

On Tuesday, however, she was thrust back into the public eye by a racist tweet from actress and comedian Roseanne Barr, in which she compared Jarrett to an ape. Barr’s show, “Roseanne,” was promptly cancelled by ABC.

This most recent attack is far from the first time Jarrett has been the subject of criticism and vitriol at the hands of conservatives. As one of the only black women to ever serve as a senior official in the White House, she took a particularly noticeable role.

Jarrett served as senior adviser and assistant to the president for intergovernmental relations and public affairs, but her access to the president allowed her to wield incredible influence on everything from economic policy and Supreme Court appointments to seating arrangements at state dinners.

A former Obama official described her as “the single most influential person in the Obama White House” in a New York Times story. She was reportedly consulted by the president on every major decision, often accompanied the first family on vacations, and cemented her authority in the West Wing by prevailing in clashes with other senior officials, including former chiefs of staff and press secretaries.

Jarrett’s relationship with the Obamas goes back to the early 1990s when she interviewed Michelle Obama (née Robinson) for a job in the Chicago mayor’s office. Jarrett took the then-engaged couple under her wing and helped them navigate everything from the the Chicago political scene to politics on a national scale.

Her vaguely-defined, behind-the-scenes role and fierce protection of the president combined with immense power and influence made her an easy target for critics looking for a scapegoat for all the perceived flaws with the Obama administration.

Many characterized her as nothing more than an Obama yes-woman with scant policy experience and credentials. After the Democratic Party took a beating in the 2014 midterms, the conservative media unleashed on Jarrett.

A particularly critical 2014 column in Politicotitled “Fire Valerie Jarrett” called her “more an obstructer than a facilitator” and advised the president to “get her out of the way of the hard work of governing that needs to be done.”

A profile in the New Republic titled “The Obama Whisperer” deemed Jarrett “uniquely unqualified” for keeping the president in check, and called her approach towards dealing with activist groups “a tactical mess.” The Washington Times then accused Jarrett of “playing the gender card” in responding to the pieces.