When Karl Rove worked for President Bush, he had so much influence that some called him "Bush's Brain." Valerie Jarrett is the woman known as the other side of Barack Obama's brain. Jarrett, a 51-year-old business leader and single mother, just may be the most powerful woman in Chicago besides Oprah. And she's earned the complete confidence of Barack and Michelle Obama. CBS News anchor Katie Couric reports.
Katie Couric: You first met the Obamas when you tired to hire Michelle.
Valerie Jarrett: I did.
Katie Couric: for a job.
Valerie Jarrett: I was trying to recruit her into city government when I was Mayor Daley's deputy chief of staff. And I was successful.
Katie Couric: And before she took the job, she wanted you to meet her fiance?
Valerie Jarrett: She did. In fact the three of us had dinner - she had some serious reservations about whether she's going to leave the practice of law and leap into the mayor's office in a political environment. And the two of them said 'How about we have dinner and go out and talk this through.' And I knew that unless this conversation ended well, probably the two of them were gonna go home and say, "Well, not so much. Maybe that's not the right move." So at the end of the dinner I did say 'well, did I pass the test?' And we laughed and she of course she did come and join us, and made a huge difference.
Jarrett has now known the Obamas for 17 years, and is one of their closest friends, Couric reports. Her title on the campaign is senior adviser - which means she often serves as Obama's surrogate at meetings and events he can't attend. After Michelle, Valerie Jarrett may be one of the people he trusts the most.
Katie Couric: Do they look to you to kind of keep them honest?
Valerie Jarrett: Absolutely. I think I would describe it not so much as to keep them honest but to help them give their own kind of gut check and look at themselves. When you have so many people kind of surrounding you and giving you advice, often times I'll just say, 'you know, what do you think? What do you think is the right thing to do?'"
Katie Couric: I understand you were critical when it came to the controversy over his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. What did you advise him to do?
Valerie Jarrett: It was a very personal and painful experience for both he and for Michelle. And I think, you know, to have your pastor say things with which you totally disagree, that you have never heard him say before, and to say things that weren't so kind to you on a national platform which turns into an international platform was painful. And I did encourage him to give the speech that he gave on race. I encouraged him to, you know, just speak from the heart, which he did. I think it will go down in history as one of the great speeches ever.
Jarrett is considered to be part of a new generation of black leaders, and has been heavily influenced by her pioneering parents, reports Couric. Her mother is a child psychologist and educator who at 80 continues to hold two jobs. Her father is a renowned doctor who traveled with his family to Africa and Iran to study blood diseases and genetics.
Valerie Jarrett: He was the first African-American resident at Pres.-St. Luke's hospital. And he kind of broke the barrier. They had told him he had to come in through the back door, and he wasn't about to do that as a physician and so he walked in the front door. And then the next day, all of the staff came in the front door with him, the African-American staff, so that kind of broke the glass ceiling there.
Katie Couric: How have you been shaped by the accomplishments of your parents?
Valerie Jarrett: To grow up parents who were one step removed from such blatant discrimination, and yet to grow up in a household where my parents said, "Look, life is not fair. Don't expect it to be fair. Work twice as hard. And, just you know, just keep focused on working hard. And eventually it will pay off."
Valerie Jarrett: That was a hard journey, and, you know, she took a lot of hits along the way - many times she was treated very unfairly. But she persevered. And so in that sense because it was harder, her accomplishment is even greater.
Katie Couric: What do you envision for yourself if Senator Obama is successful and is elected?
Valerie Jarrett: I can't even go there. You know, it's a very -- it's a simple question. You would think I could answer it. I can't even -- it's a distraction. It's a distraction. And as I said, Senator Obama tells us to keep focused. And as Michelle likes to say -- not getting ahead of ourselves.