Many African-Americans are asking: Now that Barack Obama has won the White House, will he be so eager to govern from the center that he will forget about his obligations to Blacks?
Valerie Jarrett, a long-time friend and one of his closest advisers, gave an emphatic reply to
that question on Sunday – No.
In a private meeting with the Trotter Group, an organization of African-American columnists,
Jarrett fielded numerous questions about Obama’s commitment to Blacks. And, in each
instance, she left no doubt that the presidentelect, who has a straight-A Senate rating from
the NAACP, will remain true to his past.
Jarrett, one of three chairs of Obama’s transition team, was asked why so few African-Americans are being mentioned in speculation about future cabinet posts. She replied, “There isn’t a single name on that list that you’ve heard from President-elect Obama. There’s not a single name on that list that you’ve heard from me, or from John Podesta or from Peter Rouse,” she said, referring to the three co-chairs of Obama’s transition team.
“Or, now from Rahm Emanuel. So the five people who actually do know the names on the list, you haven’t spoken to them. So what I think you see in the newspaper is what everybody
speculates. I haven’t seen the list but my guess is they’re speculating on the people who
are most commonly thought of.”
Some of that speculation has centered on Jarrett, a Chicago real estate executive. Some have suggested that she might become Secretary of Housing and Urban Development or head the Commerce Department. But there are news reports out of Chicago that she is the front-runner to replace Obama in the U.S. Senate. In her meeting with journalists, Jarrett said she would be willing to serve in any capacity that Obama sees fit.
On the question of Obama’s commitment to diversity, Jarrett was unequivocal.
“President-elect Obama, as should be no surprise to anyone in this room, would like his cabinet to be diverse – both in terms of race, in terms of perspectives, in terms of party, in terms of geography,” she said. “So he is looking to have a cross-section of America.
Spending the amount of time with him as I do, I can assure you this is something front and
center of his mind. Not because it’s the politically expedient thing to do, but because he
would make better decisions by having diversity.
He really believes in that.” Asked the most surprising thing about Obama, she replied: “I’m not sure people understand how pragmatic he is. …He really wants to get things done.”
Jarrett recalled staff meetings where the tone was set by Obama.
“In that room, there’s a certain element of pragmatism: Let’s make sure what we are trying
to accomplish is doable and is actually going to change the lives of the American people.
Let’s not just be idealists, but let’s be realists. I think that’s the part of him that will make
him an extraordinary president.”
In the don’t get mad, get even world of politics, Obama is an anomaly, according to
“I can remember after the primaries, some people had been very strong Clinton supporters
– including some members of my own family – said to me, “How’s Senator Obama going to
respond to me? I wasn’t with him.’ I said, ‘You all don’t get this. He is as inclusive as he could
be. He does not hold grudges.’”
Jarrett is close to both Barack and Michelle Obama. In fact, she met the president-elect
through Michelle, when the couple was engaged. She had hired Michelle for a job in
City Hall. The three went out to dinner and a strong bond developed between Jarrett and the
couple. Obama said he speaks with Jarrett every day about a variety of issues.
According to Jarrett, Michelle is focusing her attention on Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, preparing them for the upcoming move to Washington, D.C. and finding the right schools for them.
Michelle revels in her role as mom-in-chief and has no interest in serving as her husband’s co-president.
That does not mean that, like every first lady, she will not have her pet projects.
The First Lady-in-Waiting has spent a lot of time with military spouses who try to balance a
career with motherhood while their husbands serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. She has also
been part of the volunteer movement and has a deep interest in education.
But the question uppermost on my mind when we met with Jarrett, the daughter-in-law
of the late Vernon Jarrett, an icon in journalism, was whether Obama can keep his promises in
view of the Wall Street debacle, fighting two wars simultaneously, high joblessness,
unprecedented deficits and record home foreclosures.
Jarrett’s reply was as self-assured as Obama’s demeanor: “We can’t not do this.”
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com.
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