Ms. Jarrett often serves as a counterweight to the more centrist Clinton veterans in the administration, reminding them and her innately cautious boss that he came to Washington to do big things. Some of his boldest moves, on women’s issues, gay rights and immigration, have been in areas she cares about most. If Karl Rove was known as George W. Bush’s political brain, Ms. Jarrett is Mr. Obama’s spine.
She is also his gatekeeper, sometimes using that power to tip the balance in internal debates. After the financial crisis, as the administration grappled with how to rein in Wall Street, Ms. Jarrett made sure that Paul A. Volcker, a former Federal Reserve chairman whose voice was being drowned out, got a meeting with the president. The result: tougher measures than the president’s top economic advisers were advocating.
And she is the president’s protector in chief, or as Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner put it, the person who must be as “omniscient as possible” in spotting trouble on the way. Those whom she deems to have failed Mr. Obama tell of scolding late-night calls and her trademark accusation of betrayal: “You are hurting the president.”
Of course, the second most powerful figure in the White House is usually the chief of staff, and the piece is full of blind quotes from disgruntled staffers (one suspects strongly that Rahm Emanuel returned this reporter's phone call) expressing their frustration with the way Jarrett is allowed to operate as a free-floating agent with a direct backchannel to the president and his wife.
You can understand why - when you have someone with so much power and no defined portfolio, the inevitable result is, in the words of one adviser, "a real mess". But presumably Obama and Jarrett are betting that the mess, and the frustrations, are a price worth paying for having an intimate who remains half-out of the bureaucratic machine and is therefore able to act as an extension of the president's conscience in the executive branch.