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Valerie Jarrett deserves credit, not sexist attacks

Are the attacks on Valerie Jarrett because she's a woman?
Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett at the White House on May 30, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett at the White House on May 30, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Wow. That didn't take long. Even before the recounts drew to a close, Washington's chattering classes began looking for someone to blame for the Democrats' falling fortunes. Instead of blaming the candidates themselves, these Monday morning quarterbacks decided to go after the President and his top aides. Specifically, they seem to focus their ire on Valerie Jarrett.

It seems strange enough that critics would lay blame at the feet of a president that most Democrats swore the campaign was not about. Many candidates like Connecticut's reelected governor were rewarded by proudly declaring themselves supporters of Barack Obama's policies. What seems even more strange is the drumbeat of armchair warriors wailing against my friend, Valerie.  

Yes, Valerie and I have a friendship. And despite this personal relationship, I am never reluctant to cover her in the news. Anyone who watches Morning Joe knows that when my co-host and I announce on air that someone is our friend, it is usually time for them to duck because we are likely to begin critiquing their political performance.  

In the case of Valerie, our friendship began when I interviewed her for my book, "Knowing Your Value".  Valerie's personal journey as a powerful woman resonated because of her engaging spirit and the professional struggles that we shared. It sparked a friendship that has survived the ups and downs of some brutal news coverage.  As Valerie can tell you, Joe and I have been tough on the White House when their actions concerned those around the Morning Joe set. I have dished out criticism toward Valerie and her peers many times. But I must say this week's gossipy post-mortems after the elections are unbecoming.

Would these criticisms be leveled at men like John Podesta or Dan Pfeiffer? They work closely with the President. In fact, Ms. Jarrett was out of commission for the most important stretch of the campaign because of a serious medical procedure on her spine. So why is Valerie the focus of these ridiculous attacks?

Perhaps it is because she is a woman. In the case of the Politico piece, which was written by a woman, I can draw from the conclusions in my book -- women are often the toughest on their own. But whether the attacks come from women or men in the media, it does seem that strong female advisors who are close to the president become the focus of the most hostile and catty criticism. Whether it was the horrific caricatures of Condi Rice, or the snide sneers aimed at Karen Hughes, or today's unfair focus on Valerie, at this point the whole "blame-the-woman" routine is just getting old.

And for those empty criticisms there are these answers.  

In her role as Senior Advisor to President Obama, Valerie oversees the offices of Intergovernmental Affairs and Public engagement. 

Like Dan Pfeiffer, who is a senior adviser and oversees Communications and Digital Strategies offices, Valerie’s role is not unusual in that respect.

Valerie has been instrumental in driving the debate for pushing up the federal minimum wage.  In the past year, 17 states and DC passed increases to their minimum wage. About 7 million workers will benefit from these increases as of 2017, according to the Council of Economic Advisors. Cities are doing it too. And Businesses – IKEA, GAP and Disney, along with small businesses across the country – have announced increases to starting wages.  And, yes, you can be sure that they have heard from Valerie every step of the way in making these changes.  When she wants something, she is on the phone or on a plane.  I have seen it. 

Valerie also Chairs the White House Council on Women and Girls, created by this President. From combatting sexual assault, to increasing opportunities for girls and women in STEM fields, to fighting for equal pay, Valerie has been on the front lines.  These are issue that I believe will define the fabric of our country, its economy and the future of our children. This all has been on Valerie's plate.  I know that because I am engaged on these issues and I see just how hard she is working to bring fairness and dignity to all women in the workplace.

I have also seen her celebrate women small business startups.  Whether it’s an event with the SBA or a celebration of business owners in Detroit, I have stood next to Valerie at the end of one of her 16 hour, three city days and asked her "How tired are you?"  I remember her saying at a dinner inside a pickle factory in Detroit, "This is what I love".  She had been on the show that morning in Washington and was still going 14 hours later.  I am fairly certain her recent health issues are directly due to exhaustion.  She had major spinal surgery and was in the West Wing four days later, wearing a huge brace and clearly defying doctors’ orders. 

Valerie motivated the President’s agenda for helping women and their families succeed. In June, the White House held its first ever Summit on Working Families, in which I proudly participated, looking for ideas to better meet the needs of working families and businesses. She recruited they key players and they all came...because Valerie called.  It’s what she does.

Critics call work for women the "championing of lesser policies" that shouldn't be at the top of the President’s agenda. Tell that to a survivor of sexual assault. Or a victim of domestic violence. Or Lilly Ledbetter. Tell that to a parent who needs affordable child care. 

The fact is that Valerie Jarrett, like the White House she works for, has made great gains for workplace fairness, while also bringing unemployment down below 6%, slashing the deficit to its lowest level since 2008, slowing down the explosive costs of health care to its smallest rise in 50 years, saving the economy from a great depression, and making sure your children and grandparents get quality health care coverage.

If Valerie is really to blame for Democrats who stupidly ran away from Barack Obama's accomplishments during their 2014 campaign, then maybe she should also get some credit for the historic accomplishments President Obama has achieved.