Long knives for Obama’s confidante

,  BBC

Given that the 2006 election turned on perceptions of failings in the Iraq War, of which Mr Rumsfeld was a prime architect, his dismissal seemed obvious. But what to make of President Barack Obama’s culpability in last week’s Democratic rout?

One of the main criticisms of the president leading up to the vote was that his alleged aloofness and organisational difficulties within the White House had led to muddled messaging and poor handling of issues like the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq, the Ebola outbreak in Africa, the rollout of the healthcare.gov website and the BP oil spill.

Given these concerns, several different writers have targeted presidential advisor Valarie Jarrett as part of the problem. Ms Jarrett, a long-time friend of the president, is considered a key gatekeeper to Mr Obama’s inner circle and a central, behind-the-scenes player in virtually all White House operations.

In the latest issue of the New Republic, Noam Scheiber offers a lengthy, often critical, profile of the presidential confidante. He outlines what detractors are saying about her – to which he adds that there is “an element of truth”:

“They complain that she has too much control over who sees the president. That she skews his decision-making with her after-hours visits. That she is an incorrigible yes-woman. That she has, in effect, become the chief architect of his very prominent and occasionally suffocating bubble.”

Early in Mr Obama’s presidency, Scheiber says, Ms Jarrett served a needed role of balancing dissenting views from strong personalities like Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. Over the course of the Obama administration, however, their positions have been filled by Jarrett allies.

“As Jarrett has outlasted her rivals, it has increasingly fallen on her to do more than simply protect Obama from those who might undermine his presidency,” he writes. “She must nudge him when he becomes self-satisfied and rein in his worst political impulses. It is a position for which she is uniquely unqualified.”

He criticises Ms Jarrett’s tendency to hold a grudge and punish those whom she views as enemies. He speaks with activists within the Democratic Party who say – anonymously – that she often is too dictatorial in her communications with them. He talks with others who say she is too conciliatory toward “big shots, corporate or otherwise”.

Scheiber concludes that Ms Jarrett – and by extension Mr Obama – are “board room liberals”, more inclined to insider manoeuvring than populist confrontations.

“The picture of the boardroom liberal is a corporate CEO handing a refrigerator-sized check to the head of a charity at a celebrity golf tournament,” he writes. “All the better if they’re surrounded by minority children and struggling moms.”

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