Valerie Jarrett, a Chicago fixer and longtime Obama friend, swept into the campaign in 2007 at a moment when Obama's donors were worried that the candidate had lost traction and wasn't being true to himself.
Since then, she's served as an adviser with a vague external portfolio -- she was a kind of liaison to business, before the White House realized they needed someone with experience outside the Chicago real estate industry for that role -- and as a trusted adviser to the Obama's themselves.
To her allies, her role is keeping the faith with Obama's transformational promise, and not allowing the president's historic role to be diluted by political expediency. To her critics, she's there to indulge the president and First Lady's worst ideas: Whatever the argument, a White House official once told us, Jarrett's position will be that the Obamas' instincts are right and their advisers are wrong.
This division around Jarrett is related to, but not determined by, race, a delicate subject in a core group in which she and the Obamas have been the only African-Americans.
And the New York Times's Jodi Kantor blew those tensions into the open today in an article based on her forthcoming book, "The Obamas," with this anecdote about a dispute over the White House reaction to an alleged private comment from Michelle Obama that her life there is "hell":
The two went back and forth, Ms. Jarrett unruffled, Mr. Gibbs shaking with rage. Finally, several staff members said, Mr. Gibbs cursed the first lady — colleagues stared down at the table, shocked — and stormed out.
Mr. Gibbs later acknowledged the outburst but said he had misdirected his rage and accused Ms. Jarrett of making up the complaint. After the book incident, he “stopped taking her at all seriously as an adviser to the president,” Mr. Gibbs said, adding, “Her viewpoint in advising the president is that she has to be up and the rest of the White House has to be down.”