When the same thing happens twice, it’s possibly a coincidence. When the same thing happens three times, it’s time to talk trends. The Republican party and, by extension, their right wing allies, have a history of targeted attacks on Black Obama administration officials. First it was Van Jones, then Shirley Sherrod, both now former members of the administration. As they've recently set their sights on Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, it’s hard not to wonder if what these three administration officials have in common is the reason they’ve been targeted.
Last week, the GOP put out an opposition research document on Jarrett and sent it out to the press. The GOP quotes an administration official calling Jarrett, “the single most influential person in the Obama White House.” What she has done during her tenure at the White House to demand such a file is not clear beyond simply doing her job. Jarrett’s role is essentially to be the person communicating the President’s wishes to a number of moving parts. For example, she was one of the biggest champions of the women’s health care provisions that were included in Obamacare, which prevent women from being charged twice as much for contraception and reproductive health services.
The GOP has now pegged Jarrett as “Obama’s consigliere,” as if the Obama administration is like the mafia, quoting others saying that she is President Obama’s “spine.” While it may be true that she is an effective operator in the West Wing, it’s not clear why that is problematic on any level. Jarrett was asked by the president to join the administration because she is a savvy navigator, something that is a desired trait in an advisor to an administration mixed of Washington insiders and outsiders, the president among them.
Her job description is technically, “senior advisor to the president and chief liaison to the business community, state and local governments and the political left,” but her influence is felt in all areas. The GOP thinks this is a bad thing but perhaps that’s simply because she’s effective in pulling the president closer to his values when advisors who want him to be even more moderate are pulling him from the right.
The series of attacks on the president himself and administration officials, including Van Jones and Shirley Sherrod, should give us pause. Black administration officials are singled out and attacked, particularly when they are effective. Jones was targeted for a so-called 'radical' past, but his job in the White House was as Green Jobs Czar—a role that the Obama administration desperately needed filled and operational. Without Jones, that’s an entire area where the administration is lagging behind campaign promises, Congressional obstruction notwithstanding.
Sherrod was a more haphazard target, mainly because she was a long-time civil servant, as opposed to an appointed official like Jones or Jarrett, but being singled out for “reverse racism” is exactly in line with the suspicions about the president that have persisted in the bowels of the right wing blogosphere for the past four years.
The attack on Jarrett by the right isn’t a surprise. A powerful Black woman in the West Wing with the ear of a president is something the far right doesn’t even view as legitimate in the first place. Her role surely must worry those who have pathologies surrounding race and gender. The right wing obsession with Jarrett should be an indication that she’s helping the president achieve an agenda they disagree with. Instead of calling her "Obama’s consigliere," maybe the left should start calling her "Obama’s brain" like they used to call Karl Rove as a compliment. One thing is for sure, if you’re Black and an official in the Obama administration the right wing is coming for you. The president’s allies should be aware of the possibility of these types of attacks and be ready to defend officials like Jarrett in earnest.