Valerie Jarrett: The Next Van Jones
MANY HAVE WONDERED HOW ANYONE AS EXTREME AS OBAMA’S “Green Jobs Czar” Van Jones – a self-described “Communist” obsessed with racial conspiracy theories – could have been named to head a federal agency. Jones owed his elevation to the unparalleled influence of Valerie Jarrett, a longtime intimate from Chicago who now heads the Office of Public Engagement (OPE). To call Jarrett a presidential adviser, even a close adviser, is misleading. She is an alter ego, an inner conscience, a touchstone of clarity for both President Obama and first lady Michelle. In the frenzy of the presidency, she reminds both Obamas of their identity and deepest-held beliefs. In exchange, the president makes no decision without her and has said she can “speak for me.” Unfortunately, she is also a racially polarizing elitist. She obtained her first foothold in Chicago politics through the patronage of a former SDS radical who regrets “nothing” about her role in the Days of Rage and ventured in 2003 that she “would probably reject violence as a useful form of revolution.” The same radical tried to persuade Rod Blagojevich to name Jarrett to Obama’s empty senate seat. Instead, Jarrett has served as a conduit of far-leftists into the administration.
“We Have Kind of a Mind Meld”
One thing is beyond question: Jarrett holds unprecedented sway over the president. An Obama 2008 campaign official told the New York Times, “If you want him to do something, there are two people he’s not going to say no to: Valerie Jarrett and Michelle Obama.” Susan Sher, who helped Jarrett recruit Michelle Obama to the Chicago mayor’s office before Michelle married the president, said, “I don’t think either of them [the Obamas] made major decisions without talking to her,” adding that Jarrett failed to appreciate “how incredibly instrumental she’ll be in virtually everything” in the White House.
The president confirms Jarrett’s tremendous cache with him, personally and politically. In July, Obama told New York Times reporter Robert Draper, “I trust her completely…She is family.” Obama trusts Jarrett “to speak for me, particularly when we’re dealing with delicate issues.” When asked, he admitted he runs every decision by her.
If Jarrett failed to anticipate her power, she acknowledges her closeness to the leader of the free world. “We have kind of a mind meld,” Jarrett said about Obama. “And chances are, what he wants to do is what I’d want to do.” Chicago tycoon Martin Nesbitt identified the source of Jarrett’s power in the fact that she establishes both Michelle and Barack’s “whole notion of authenticity.” Nesbitt relates she channels the Obamas’ inner voice, telling them: “That’s not you. You wouldn’t say that. Somebody else is saying that. Barack Obama wouldn’t say that.” Jarrett admitted to Vogue, “I kind of know what makes them who they are.”
Part of who Jarrett is can be seen in her obsession with racial issues. After the Jeremiah Wright tapes threatened to sink his campaign, it was Jarrett who encouraged Barack to give his “race speech” at Constitution Hall (the speech that sent the infamous thrill up Chris Matthews’ leg). African-American administration staffers have said without her patronage “their opinions and the often-legitimate concerns voiced by black leaders like [Al] Sharpton would have been thoroughly disregarded by the white-dominated senior staff.” (Emphasis added.) A black staffer claimed “there’s a cultural nuance” white Obama officials “just didn’t get.” If so, it’s not for Jarrett’s lack of hectoring. When Robert Gibbs tried to downplay Obama’s statement that Republicans were emphasizing that Obama “doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills,” Jarrett instructed white staffers, “You guys, you’re not getting this issue right.” After Jarrett’s intervention, the allegedly post-racial candidate Obama brought the white staff into line, telling them they were too “gun-shy on race issues.” A campaign source revealed, “moving forward, the candidate made it very clear to us that we were just a bunch of white people who didn’t get it – which, by the way, was true.”
After the inauguration, Jarrett successfully pushed to loosen restrictions barring officials from meeting with lobbyists, a rule enshrined in Obama’s executive memo on the Recovery Act, for fear other “legitimate” concerns – raised by “civil rights organizations whose directors happen to be registered lobbyists – will not be heard.”
Without her patronage, it seems Van Jones would not be heard. A White House official told Politico Jones “did not go through the traditional vetting process”; instead, Jarrett interviewed Jones, a signal she bucked for his appointment. Jarrett gushed to the Netroots Nation conference: “We were so delighted to be able to recruit him into the White House. We were watching him…for as long as he’s been active out in Oakland. And all the creative ideas he has. And so now, we have captured that, and we have all that energy in the White House.”
Jarrett lobbied Obama to create the office of Chief Diversity Officer within the FCC, a position filled by Mark Lloyd, an Alinskyite and former senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, who appears fixated on silencing conservative talk radio. Her intent, according to some, was to change policy by altering the structure of the FCC. Jarrett also helped recruit Cass Sunstein, who believes in the Fairness Doctrine, has argued we should “celebrate tax day,” and believes animals should have legal standing to sue humans. (This is a growing movement on the Green Left. As I note in chapter seven of my book Teresa Heinz Kerry’s Radical Gifts, the Heinz Endowments gave $25,000 to the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which complains that “trees and forests and streams and cougars and bears – they have no rights under our structure of governance.”) Saul Alinsky wrote, “From the moment an organizer enters a community, he lives, dreams, eats, breathes, sleeps only one thing, and that is to build the mass power base of what he calls the army.” Part of that motion involves burrowing into existing structures and changing them from the inside out – as has been done in academia, the major tax-exempt foundations, the Democratic Party, and now the U.S. government.
Who is Valerie Jarrett?
Part of Jarrett’s identification with the president is her international childhood and experience as an African-American growing up abroad. She was born in Shriaz, Iran, to a renowned physician father and spent the first five years of her life in Iran. There, she said, she was treated as an American, not an African-American. Her family lived in London for one year before settling in Chicago’s elite neighborhood, Hyde Park, where she was teased for both her race and British accent. Chicago-based journalist Lynn Sweet reports, “In the manner of privileged Hyde Park-Kenwood children from smart families, Jarrett went to the exclusive University of Chicago Lab School before transferring to her mother’s alma mater, Northfield Mt. Hermon, in western Massachusetts for the last two years of high school.” After graduating from the University of Michigan Law School, she went to work for Chicago’s first African-American mayor, Harold Washington, whose election many Sixties radicals attributed to themselves. After Washington’s death in 1987, she stayed on under his successor, Richard Daley. In City Hall, she and her colleague Susan Sher recruited Michelle Robinson, then engaged to Barack Obama, and Jarrett quickly melded her way into their lives.
After Daley administration in-fighting, Jarrett continued to serve Daley in a different capacity and found a job at Habitat, a real estate firm headed by Daniel Levin. (Daniel is the cousin of Sen. Carl Levin and Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan.) Michelle Malkin has noted the tracts of public housing – including those bearing the name of Jarrett’s grandfather – have deteriorated after being run by Habitat. Although the New York Times lists the stint as “baggage,” it proved profitable, and she has gone on to sit on numerous corporate, civic, and academic boards.
Sweet noted to whom Jarrett owed much of her success: “Activist public affairs consultant with close ties to City Hall Marilyn Katz introduced Jarrett to Levin.”
With a Little Help from my (Radical) Friends
Who is this person to whom Jarrett is so indebted – and whom, we shall see, she calls a personal friend? Marilyn Katz provided “security” for Students for a Democratic Society at the 1968 Democratic Convention. Undercover Chicago policeman William Frapolly told prosecutors that during the Days of Rage, Katz showed protesters a new weapon to use against the police: “a cluster of nails that were sharpened at both ends, and they were fastened in the center.” Police later reported being hit by golf balls with nails through them, as well as excrement. Years later, Katz would insist her “guerrilla nails” were merely “a defensive weapon” to prevent “possible bad behavior by the police.”
The SDS soon imploded. Bill Ayers – whom Katz has known since he was 17 – helped create the terrorist Weather Underground from its ranks. In 1971-2, Katz would lead another remnant to form the New American Movement (NAM), a combined Old Left-New Left organization that included Communist Party USA members from the 1930s. Rabbi Michael Lerner was among its early founders, though he left to start his own organization. NAM’s primary political text, entitled Basic Marxism: What It Is & How to Use It, revealed the group’s devotion to Antonio Gramsci. For most of the Seventies, the organization’s local chapters ran socialist “schools” open to the public, although it had little national structure. The L.A. school listed as the first point in NAM’s “basic perspective”: its belief “that a socialist revolution will be necessary to solve the problems of the U.S.” NAM declared its “solidarity with the Third World grew out of a correct reaction to United States chauvinism.” A 1973 NAM manifesto declared: “We admire, and draw inspiration from, many accomplishments from the Russian, Chinese, Cuban and Vietnamese revolutions…as representing, on balance, very positive steps forward in human history…we deeply value Lenin’s contributions to revolutionary theory and practice…We identify with Lenin’s revolutionary spirit and determination; we agree with his critique of mechanistic determinism and economism, his writings on the nature of the state, his approach to creating a ‘revolutionary alliance of the oppressed,’ and his treatment of nationalism and imperialism.” Katz, through NAM, founded the Reproductive Rights National Network in 1977-8. A sympathetic author summed up R2N2’s motivation: “The long-term goal was to develop an ‘offensive movement’ [against the pro-life movement] that could fight for a more comprehensive set of demands as the conditions for ‘free choice,’ including child care, national health-care, high-quality education, and guaranteed income.” Sound familiar?
NAM’s local chapters merged with Michael Harrington’s Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) in 1983 to form the Democratic Socialists of America.
That year, Katz became an organizational entrepreneur herself, founding MK Communications, Inc., a public relations firm. Its clients include the ACLU, Amnesty International, Chicagoans Against War & Injustice, Harold Washington’s 1983-1987 Mayoral Campaign, Lloyd Doggett’s senate campaign, Human Rights Watch, Illinois Campaign for Choice, Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty, the socialist publication In These Times, the MacArthur Foundation, Mother Jones, National Community Development Initiative (for the Rockefeller Foundation), UAW Local 719, and numerous City of Chicago accounts. Katz did spin for the developers of the “Presidential Towers,” a HUD-financed yuppie-heaven which moved homeless out of Skid Row in hopes of moving the upper middle class into their place. The new Mayor Daley’s rapprochement with SDS nail-throwers became most conspicuous in 1996, when he, Katz, and the Chicago Seven did PR for the 1996 Democratic National Convention, which returned to Chicago. The Chicago Tribune’s John Kass reported, even as he laid off 1,000 city workers, he gave “Katz and other public relations firms five-year contracts that could pay them as much as $5 million each.” As part of Katz’s work for the city, she wrote press releases for the Chicago Transit Authority, then headed by Jarrett.
Katz had a few other noteworthy clients: Project Vote, the ACORN-affiliated voter registry that first brought Barack Obama to Chicago as a “communist organizer”; the Habitat Company; The Joyce Foundation, on whose board Obama sat; and History Makers, which interviewed Valerie Jarrett, her mother, and her father-in-law.
Katz called on her radical rolodex in 2002, when she and former national secretary Carl Davidson started Chicagoans Against the War in Iraq. (He and and Tom Hayden founded the Venceremos Brigades, a joint triumph of Cuban intelligence and the KGB. In 1992, he joined the Committees of Correspondence, now known as Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. He has also been active nationally with United for Peace and Justice. In December 2008, Katz was also elected to UFPJ’s national steering committee.) Katz and Bettylu Saltzman organized the 2002 antiwar demonstration where the little-known state senator Obama gave his famous speech opposing the Iraq war, calling it a “stupid” war, and a conspiracy by Karl Rove to “distract” from the (by then recovering) economy. This speech made Obama the choice of his party’s left-wing in 2008.
Katz knew of Obama politically and through Valerie Jarrett. Davidson, too, knew of Obama, writing on the Marxism Mailing List he had “known Obama from the time he came to the New Party to get our endorsement for his first race ever. I’ve been in his home, and as an IL legislator, he’s helped or community technology movement a number of times.” He later assessed an Obama economic speech, finding, “I probably couldn’t written [sic.] a better one myself.” Together, he and Katz wrote the book Stopping War, Seeking Justice: Essays in a Time of Empire.
Now a longtime beneficiary of Democratic spoils, Katz put her new organization to work for the party. CAWI – which lists “allies” like MoveOn.org, Code Pink, International ANSWER, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, and the World Can’t Wait – trained 200 people to register voters in 2003. Katz and Davidson wrote an article, “From Protest to Politics,” urging radicals to support Democrat John Kerry. Four years later, in a blog entry adorned with a picture of Barack Obama, Davidson urged readers of the CAWI homepage to “[b]reak decisively with the ultraleft mindset, in order to deepen and broaden left-progressive unity.” Davidson later attempted to defend Obama, writing:
Obama is a decent liberal out of the Alinksky [sic.] tradition of community organizers. Everyone knows there’s nothing Marxist about Alinsky. I’m simply an acquaintance of Obama, meeting him three times for a few minutes over 15 years…Harold Washington’s movement, for instance, was launched by Black nationalists and independent Black Democrats, hardly “connected” to the socialist left. Obama really does have mentors, but certainly not me…It’s two very tough, accomplished, influential and smart Black liberal women, Valerie Jarrett and Susan Rice.If Katz’s tactics have changed, her underlying ideology has not. In the article, Katz and Davidson agreed: “it is true that the next president of the U.S. will represent one or another imperialist grouping…We should do this without illusions. The day after Bush’s defeat, the U.S. will still be an imperialist power.” (Emphasis added.)
Last August, Katz and her old SDS comrade Don Rose (who mentored David Axelrod, another friend of Katz) met with In These Times to discuss the 40th anniversary of the Days of Rage. When asked if they learned anything from the violence, she first charged the FBI with having 28 Black Panthers “assassinated,” calling the mythical murders “a wakeup call where we saw the underbelly of our own country.” She then offered her takeaway from 40 years’ reflection on the rebellion she led: “I would have to say for me permanently, I would probably reject violence as a useful form of revolution.”
Asked whether she regretted her actions “in this age of terrorism,” she replied, “I regret nothing.”
Katz: Obamas’ Friend, Blagojevich’s Suppliant
Katz is not merely a friend of Jarrett’s but also both Obamas. The president met Katz through his first job at a law firm run by Judd Miner. The New York Times reports Katz “gave him entry into another activist network: the foot soldiers of the white student and black power movements that helped define Chicago in the 1960s.” Michelle Obama has close social ties with her, as well. Biographer Liza Mundy quotes Katz as saying the moment Jarrett introduced Michelle Obama to her friends, Michelle “was recognized as brilliant and beautiful, and immediately accepted into a very sophisticated social circle.” Mundy writes Michelle “and Barack…enjoyed a range of relations with people who shared their lifestyle, as well as their progressive views and political involvement. ‘These are folks,’ says Marilyn Katz, a member of their social circle, ‘who talk to their friends a number of times a day.” Mundy describes a May 2008 fundraiser for DSA member Rep. Jan Schakowsky, which Katz attended and Michelle Obama addressed.
From their common social circle, Katz was welcomed into the Obama campaign. Like Code Pink radical Jodie Evans, Marilyn Katz became a bundler for Obama, as well as a member of his national finance committee. According to Public Citizen, Katz raised at least $50,000 for Obama ‘08.
After seeing one friend elevated to power, the graying radical tried to convince disgraced Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich to appoint Valerie Jarrett to Obama’s open U.S. Senate seat. The Times describes Katz as “a friend” of Jarrett’s who encouraged Jarrett to step out of Obama’s shadow and “be the sun.” Katz tried to schedule lunch with the governor’s wife, Patti, to advocate for her friend’s appointment. When that failed to materialize, Rod Blagojevich writes in his new book, Katz contacted the governor and “indicated that if I appointed Valerie Jarrett to the U.S. Senate, the Obama people would help me raise money from their network of contributors across the country.” Federal investigators allege an unnamed individual suggested a three-way deal for Blagojevich to appoint Jarrett to the seat, take a position with the SEIU-affiliated “Change to Win” labor coalition, and then have President Obama bolster the organization.
Ultimately, nothing came of Katz’s overture. Jarrett opted to stay in the White House. (Why would she want a demotion?) In late July, Katz joined Jarrett and Sher in Washington at the Obama administration’s celebration of the 37th anniversary of Title IX. Katz, the unrepentant ‘60s nail-tosser, now has a well-placed patron and a history as part of the first family’s inner circle. All three are indebted to her, literally or figuratively, and she enjoys their affections. Though she is the most disturbing to come to light, she is hardly Jarrett’s only extremist influence.
It Runs in the Family
Her late father-in-law, Vernon Jarrett, was a pioneering black journalist in “negro” newspapers, After graduating from Knoxville College, Vernon Jarrett started at The Chicago Defender in 1946, where he wrote columns extolling Communist poet Langston Hughes and lifelong Stalinists W.E.B. DuBois and Paul Robeson. (Obama would write in Dreams of My Father that “I sought in myself, the attributes of Martin and Malcolm [X], DuBois and Mandela.”) A contemporary writer at Kansas City Star asserts by 1948 Jarrett “had been forced out [of journalism] by the Cold War, the Red scare and racism.” He freelanced at Kansas City’s The Call from 1954-58, then returned to Chicago to become the first nationally syndicated black columnist for the Chicago Tribune, and still later wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times. Valerie married his son, William Robert Jarrett, who preceded his father in death. Together, they had a daughter, who now attends Harvard. The elder Jarrett may have been part of his daughter-in-law’s rise through Chicago’s political ranks. The Washington Post called Vernon Jarrett “a key influence in [Harold] Washington’s decision to run for the Chicago mayoralty.”
Vernon Jarrett later wrote of another up-and-coming political figure in the Chicago Sun-Times:
Good news! Good news! Project Vote, a collectivity of 10 church-based community organizations dedicated to black voter registration, is off and running. Project Vote is increasing its rolls at a 7,000-per-week clip. Just last Saturday it registered 2,000 during the Chicago Defender’s annual Bud Billiken Parade. But now, the not-so-good news: If Project Vote is to reach its goal of registering 150,000 out of an estimated 400,000 unregistered blacks statewide, “it must average 10,000 rather than 7,000 every week,” says Barack Obama, the program’s executive director…”There’s a lot of talk about `black power’ among the young but so little action.”When Vernon died in 2004, he was saluted in the pages of People’s Weekly Worker, the house organ of the Communist Party USA. A final point of confluence, perhaps more fortuitous than anything: Vernon Jarrett once sat on a union publicity committee with Frank Marshall Davis, the Communist poet who occasionally counseled…the young Barack Obama.
Valerie Jarrett had more immediate radical ties. Her mother, Barbara Taylor Bowman, co-founded the Erickson Institute in Chicago and still serves on its Board of Trustees. Tom Ayers, the father of Bill Ayers, was a one-time fellow trustee. According to WorldNet Daily’s Brad O’Leary, the Erickson board also included Bill Ayers’ wife, Bernadine Dohrn. For his part, Bill Ayers called Bowman “a neighbor and friend” in his book A Kind and Just Parent, noting his neighbors include Louis Farrakhan (whose guard, The Fruit of Islam, patrols the neighborhood and “has an eye on things twenty-four hours a day”), and “writer Barack Obama.”
Mr. Obama’s Neighborhood
Perhaps this last reference is the key to understanding Jarrett and the Obamas: their common formation by Chicago’s elite Hyde Park neighborhood. The University of Chicago essentially created the neighborhood from scratch, driving out its poor (and middle class) residents, of all races, and creating a chic atmosphere of cultural elitism. This bubble reflected the far-Left bubble of modern academia – though it would not hurt Obama’s political fortunes. Katz would tell In These Times, “I believe that Barack Obama could only have emerged in Chicago,” because of its longtime confluence of radical organizations, culminating in Washington’s mayoralty.
One of Obama’s neighbors, the late, left-wing Rabbi Arnold Wolf – a Democratic Socialist who once invited the Chicago 7 to address his synagogue – described the Hyde Park environment and Obama’s place in it to The Weekly Standard. “We had a party for him at our house when he was just starting, back in the Nineties. I said right away: ‘Here’s a guy who could sell our product, and sell it with splendor!’” And what is the Hyde Park “product,” the reporter asked? “It’s a rational, progressive philosophy based on experience. You see it here. This neighborhood is genuinely integrated. We did it here, we really did it! Not just talk about it. Look around. And Barack and his family fit right in. This is their neighborhood.” He then referred to Bill Ayers as “an aging, toothless radical, a pussycat,” and Dohrn as “thoroughly conventional, just very nice.”
That’s Jarrett’s product, and Obama’s. An international, rootless wanderer abandoned by his father, and occasionally his mother, in search of authenticity, he never felt at home until he found his roots, and himself, in the milieu of Hyde Park – a neighborhood big enough to encompass everyone from Marilyn Katz to Bill Ayers, from Tony Rezko’s vacant adjoining property to Louis Farrakhan’s wandering “security” force.
And Valerie Jarrett.
Is this what Jarrett reminds the Obamas of: the neighborhood that has been the president’s only true home and shaped or reinforced their values and identity? An elitist sanctuary of pampered radicals, racists, and terrorists, liberated of working class stiffs who bitterly cling to their guns and religion?
Increasingly, it seems as though this is what “makes them who they are,” and is becoming the atmosphere Obama, with Jarrett’s help, is recreating in his administration.