'Our Democracy Is At Stake,' Former Obama Adviser Valerie Jarrett Says

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Former senior adviser Valerie Jarrett spoke to host Robin Young about President Trump and his administration. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
Former senior adviser Valerie Jarrett spoke to host Robin Young about President Trump and his administration. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Valerie Jarrett, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, says the United States is at an “inflection point.”

“I do believe our democracy is at stake. I think that the current administration is not only ignoring laws but eroding our social norms,” she tells Here & Now’s Robin Young. “And we can't afford to have whoever emerges as the nominee in the Democratic Party go into the general election in a weakened state.”

Jarrett cautions Democratic presidential candidates to move forward by holding each other accountable for their actions, while also understanding how their words could be used against them as 2020 approaches.

“People are human. I'm not holding them up to the standard of perfection, and they're not going to all get it right every single time. We can be kind of messy at times,” Jarrett says. “But the question is, are we casting any sort of mortal blows on one another?”

Interview Highlights

On progressive Democrats

“All ideas that are consistent with our core values should be welcome. Are they all practical? Of course not. And you know what? I betcha some of the candidates say, ‘Actually, my thinking has evolved.’ [Obama] said he evolved on [gay marriage] and I love the fact that he sat down and had a thoughtful interview with Robin Roberts because he didn't want to just have a soundbite. He wanted to explain [with] the hopes that it might help other people do the same thing.”

On Democratic presidential candidates advocating for “Medicare for All”

"I'm very proud of the Affordable Care Act. Is it perfect? No. I'm concerned that there's still parts of the country where there isn't enough competition and so premiums are more than they should be. If you had a public option, that would introduce a little competition into the market. What can we do to lure private insurers into those markets? There’s lots of ways of improving. I think when people say ‘Medicare for All,’ it means different things to different people. Some people think we should have that as an option. Other people believe or we shouldn't get rid of the private insurance market because the vast majority of people have the benefit of private insurance. Let's debate the ideas and let's get away from socialism, even progressivism, to labels that people don't really understand what they mean."

On Trump’s reversal of many Obama-era policies

“What troubles me about what's been happening isn't how I feel. It's about the people who have pre-existing conditions who are worrying about whether they're going to lose their health insurance. I worry about the families at the border who are being viciously separated from one another with no plan for how to reunite them.”

On the Obama administration’s immigration policies

“We only separated people who were not with their parents if we thought that they were in harm's way. This is an important point to make very clear, we did not have a policy of separating families at the border. And in fact, we released young children who were unaccompanied into the care of family members who were here in this country. We are appalled by the policy that was initiated by this administration, that not only separated them but had no plans of how to keep track of them so that they could reunite them. I worry about the fact that we forged an agreement with Iran to prevent them from developing nuclear weapons and now they've signaled that they are moving forward. Why? Because the United States pulled out. All of that troubles me because of the people whose lives will be detrimentally affected by it, not because we worked so hard to put it in place.”

"People are human. I'm not holding them up to the standard of perfection, and they're not going to all get it right every single time. We can be kind of messy at times."

Valerie Jarrett

On what Obama plans to do in preparation for 2020

“You'll have to wait to hear from him. But I think it's important that we not look to any one leader but that we all recognize our own power. We can't abdicate that responsibility and expect that somebody else is going to save us. We have to save ourselves.”

On what could have been done differently while Obama was in office

“I can tell you there are lots of things that I wish that we could have gotten done. But do I think that we ever for one minute forgot who we were there to serve? I certainly do not. It's challenging when you have institutions like Fox News blurring the lines between news and editorial. When you have social media [which in] a lot of ways, it brings us closer together and it gives people who don't have a lot of resources the ability to say whatever they want to say. But we are left fending for ourselves to decide what's fact and what is not.

“One of the things I think early on I wish we had done a better job was to tell our story while we were trying to get the policy right on the Affordable Care Act. We didn't travel around the country and talk about all of the benefits of it. Why? Because we were trying to keep the economy from falling into a cliff. But you do have to figure out effective ways of getting people to appreciate that what you're doing is actually in their benefit. Initially, the Republicans were quite masterful — diabolically masterful — at politicizing it to the point where it was not popular. But now, people are fighting to keep it. There was a consistent effort to try to undermine and discredit President Obama, even though the unemployment rate was cut in half, that 20 million people have health care who didn't have it before, that we brought 150,000 people back from war, that Osama bin Laden is not roaming around the world trying to rack evil and hatred upon our country. I mean, there's so many different ways in which what we did strengthen America and kept us safer again.”

On looking at the current administration compared to Obama’s

“Oh you're talking about the double standard that we live under our entire lives. This is nothing new. This is why I think it was so important to both President and Mrs. Obama to ensure that we colored well within the lines because there was nothing in their life that would have led them to believe there wasn't a double standard. Of course there's a double standard. So I think it's a wake-up call for people who haven't lived the lives that we've all lived, but we knew there would be a different standard and we also knew that it was important that they comport themselves at the highest possible level because they wanted to make sure the door was open for the next person who's a person of color.

“There's no margin for error when you're the first woman, the first African-American, the first Latina, the first gay person, you know that you are carrying a higher degree of responsibility with far less margin for error. Is it galling? Sure it is. Are we used to it? Unfortunately. But I would rather comport myself with that high standard and be able to look in the mirror than to think that we had let down the American people. And that's not to say we were perfect. There are lots of things [that if] you got, you might do differently, but I can certainly say there is not a single day that we lost track of why we were there and we did the best we could.”

Robin Young produced this story and edited it for broadcast with Tinku RaySerena McMahon adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on July 16, 2019.

Robin Young Co-Host, Here & Now
Robin Young brings more than 25 years of broadcast experience to her role as host of Here & Now.



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