Jodi Kantor profiles personalities in Obama administration

March 10, 2009

Jodi Kantor and Alex S. Jones.

Jodi Kantor and Alex S. Jones.

March 10, 2009 — As Washington correspondent for the New York Times and self-decribed “profilist” of the Obama administration, Jodi Kantor chose “Covering Obama World” as the topic of her March 10 Shorenstein Center brown-bag talk.

In her remarks, she described some of the people in the new administration. To illustrate the range of personalities, Kantor contentrated on two very different people, senior advisor Valerie Jarrett and special envoy Richard Holbrooke.

Jarrett’s relationship with the Obamas spans many years—she was once the current First Lady’s boss when she was at Chicago City Hall—and she now finds herself on the White House staff. As an African-American woman born in Iran, Jarrett has a background that’s as diverse as Obama’s.

Her precise role on the campaign was described by Kantor simply: “She fixes problems.” She said Jarrett learned that during the supposedly conflict-free campaign of Obama, Jarrett was the one resolving conflicts internally, serving as the “internal ombudsman” of the campaign. Her role is outreach oriented, unusual in a high-level political office, Kantor noted.

In stark contrast to the “dainty” Jarrett, the portrait of Richard Holbrooke Kantor sketched out was one of a “huge personality, a force of nature, a better negotiator than administrator.” In contrast to Jarrett’s path to political success through personal relationships with the Obamas, Holbrooke has relied on his deep expertise in foreign affairs. Kantor quoted Wesley Clark saying that Holbrooke “sees power the way an artist sees color,” and this desire to be in power has lead him to cultivate Democratic leaders such as Al Gore, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton.

When asked whether Obama was attempting to tackle too many things at once, Kantor answered with a profile of Obama himself. Kantor saw his “enormous drive and zeal” during the campaign, and this directly informs how he approaches being president. While most politicians work to “extract the risk from every situation,” Kantor said, Obama’s self-confidence allows him to take audacious steps forward as he “piles chip after chip on the table.”

This article was written by Janell Sims and the photos taken by Leighton Walter Kille, both of the Shorenstein Center.