Valerie Jarrett gave a stellar defense Sunday night of her boss and long-time friend President Barack Obama.
Her appearance on “60 Minutes” was notable in her defense as well of her role — in addition to senior adviser — as friend, confidante and her easy access to the Leader of the Free World.
But she pushed back when CBS News correspondent Nora O’Donnell asked her about the president’s continuing prickly relationship with congressional Republicans. She said Obama has done all he could do to reach out.
O’Donnell, though, asked — but did get an answer — about the lack of a leading Republican in either the Senate or the House to whom the president could turn to fight for his legislative agenda.
It brought to mind the kind of relationship that previous presidents have cultivated with members of the “loyal opposition.” President Lyndon Baines Johnson could turn to GOP Sen. Everett Dirksen in a pinch; President Ronald Reagan had a fabulous after-hours friendship with Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill; GOP President George W. Bush relied on help from Sen. Ted Kennedy to push through education reform.
Barack Obama doesn’t seem to have that kind of personal friendship with members of the other side. He relies on his own instincts, his own circle of friends — such as Jarrett — and the vice president, Joe Biden, who to this day retains close friendships with Senate Republicans.
It’s that lack of kinship that has troubled many of us who want the president to succeed. I recall having this discussion once with retired Amarillo College president Paul Matney, who lamented that Obama had not developed the legislative know-how that LBJ brought to the presidency.
LBJ had served as Senate majority leader before his one-time foe John F. Kennedy asked him to be his running mate in 1960. Ol’ Lyndon knew how the Senate worked and he was able to parlay that knowledge — along with tremendous national good will after JFK’s assassination in 1963 — into landmark legislation.
Barack Obama has been forced to struggle, to battle relentlessly, to get anything past a Republican-led Congress intent on blocking every major initiative he has sought.
The reasons behind the ultra-fierce resistance will be debated long after President Obama leaves office.
He seems, though, to have lacked one essential ingredient to move his agenda forward: a good friend and dependable ally on the other side of the aisle who could run interference for him.