Only a few more weeks before Election Day and both sides are pointing fingers. While neither candidate is innocent, the Republicans have been increasing their negative attacks. How does Senator Barack Obama fight these tactics that have served the GOP so well? Valerie Jarrett, CEO of real estate developer The Habitat Co., a veteran of Chicago politics, and one of Obama’s most trusted advisers, tells ESSENCE.com how.
ESSENCE.COM: Some people might say you’re the other side of Barack Obama’s brain. Is that a true assessment?
VALERIE JARRETT: I don’t know what that means exactly. I think I would say that as of now I understand his vision for America. I understand how he thinks, how he approaches issues, so I think it was just a way of saying how well I know him.
ESSENCE.COM: You’re a Black woman in the middle of a major election, advising a man who could become the leader of the free world. Early on you were a single mom, something many of our readers can totally relate to that. Any advice on how to raise a family while also juggling a career and climbing up the corporate ladder?
JARRETT: My father, for example, took my daughter to school each and every day, from nursery school to senior year of high school. My parents babysat on a regular basis, and I had a wonderful babysitter who was always there to take care of my daughter. So having a support system is the only way that I was able to do what I needed to do in the workforce. My advice to single moms, or all working women, is make sure that you grow a support system around you before you have children because you can’t possibly do it all by yourself.
ESSENCE.COM: I’ve heard the famous story of how you met Barack. Didn’t Michelle introduce you two?
JARRETT: Yes. When I first met Barack and Michelle, I knew that they were an extraordinary couple. I thought that he was a gifted leader and that he could do whatever he set his mind to do. I didn’t necessarily know back then that it would lead to him running for president. I knew he was a person with extraordinary talent and leadership qualities, and having had the good fortune of knowing him so early in his career, I think we shared a vision of devoting our lives to public service. At that time in my career, I was working for a not-for-profit. So we clicked–the three of us just clicked. I’ve enjoyed working with him professionally and also enjoyed his friendship.
ESSENCE.COM: Here is a question many readers want you to answer. Some say Barack is not fighting hard enough. Last week, The New York Times had a story about some unsavory advertising tactics happening in Michigan–the paper described it as less subtle than “Swift-boating” but maybe just as potent. How does Barack, as a Black man, defend himself and not seem like an angry person and not get “Swift-boated” out of the presidency?
JARRETT: Barack has a team of very talented people who aren’t going to allow anyone to get disenfranchised without putting up a huge fight. So, it really depends upon the attack. When civil rights and voting rights are attacked, we’ll fight it in the court system. The fact that he’s a Black man should have no bearing on us. It shouldn’t outshine the fact that he is aggressively fighting for people who have the rights to vote, particularly the Black man. Barack’s core is very decent. When he pushes back, he’s not going to fight below the belt. Regarding Republican tactics, I would say that that’s the thing Republicans always do. That’s how they have tried to defeat not just Barack but the Democratic Party in the last few elections. The American people are tired of dirty politics. I am confident that Barack Obama should continue to argue his case and focus on the issues that are important–the economy is front and center. The way you’ve seen Barack and McCain in the last two weeks since our financial markets have unraveled–the contrast in their leadership style has been apparent: Barack talks about bringing people together to solve problems in a nonpartisan way. McCain has been stepping all over the place. The most important thing in this election is for people to understand the contrast between Senator McCain, who’s simply a third term of George Bush, and Barack Obama, who offers a fresh and new approach to leadership in our country.
ESSENCE.COM: What is Obama’s biggest challenge in the next few weeks?
JARRETT: Not to get distracted by the Republican Party’s attempts to distort his message. These horrendous tactics that they have become accustomed to in the past–he has to just stay focused, and if he does, then I am confident that those tactics will fall on deaf ears.