As the Obama Administration winds down, various insiders, including the president, are unburdening themselves for posterity. The prodigious magazine writer David Samuels has a long article in the New York Times Magazine going inside the Obama White House that’s getting a lot of attention. I particularly liked how Samuels uses his access to test various hypotheses I’ve put forward over the years, such as that White House consigliere Valerie Jarrett’s compatibility with Obama has something to do with her being an upper crust black raised in Iran:
Valerie Jarrett has been called the president’s work wife and is the only member of the West Wing staff who knew Obama before he began contemplating a run for the presidency. What I want to understand better, I tell her, are the swirls of the president’s emotional fingerprint, which I saw in the longhand draft of his Nobel speech. We talk for a while about being American and at the same time being from somewhere else, and the split-screen experience of reality that experience allows. Jarrett was born in Iran and spent her early childhood there.I’ll come back to other aspects of Samuel’s article later.
“Was it a point of connection between you and the president that you had each spent some substantial part of your childhoods living in another country?” I ask. Her face lights up.
“Absolutely,” she answers. The question is important to her. “The first conversation we had over dinner, when we first met, was about what it was like for both of us to live in countries that were predominantly Muslim countries at formative parts of our childhood and the perspective it gave us about the United States and how uniquely excellent it is,” she says. “We talked about what it was like to be children, and how we played with children who had totally different backgrounds than our own but you would find something in common.” She recalls her very first dinner together with the new fiancé of her protégée Michelle Robinson. “I remember him asking me questions that I felt like no one else has ever asked me before,” she says, “and he asked me from a perspective of someone who knew the same experience that I had. So it felt really good. I was like, ‘Oh, finally someone who gets it.’ ”