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The Hand That Rocks the White House

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She protects. She soothes. She guides and encourages. She's a safe harbor in times of stress or duress. She's... Valerie Jarrett.

In last Saturday's New York Times, Jo Becker's article, "The Other Power in the West Wing," examined the relationship between the most powerful man on earth and his devoted aide. The article was an examination of Jarrett, whom Becker portrayed as Chief Power Broker of Obama's White House -- much to the consternation and puzzlement of other staffers.

As Becker noted: "Parsing the psychology of the president's bond with Ms. Jarrett has become something of a West Wing pastime: is she some sort of mother or sister figure to an only child whose own parents variously abandoned him?"

As a psychotherapist I answer: "Absolutely!"

The president is a human being. Like every other human on the face of the earth, his template for relationships was set by his parents and, in particular, by his mother. A free spirit and pioneer in anthropology, Stanley Ann Dunham was, in Obama's own words, "The dominant figure" in his life.

Like all mothers, Obama's was a mixed bag. She recognized his talent and capacity for achievement and drove him to capitalize on these, but in her desire to nurture an extraordinary boy, she sent him away. While Durham lived in Indonesia, she dispatched Obama to Hawaii to attend an elite private school, and live with her parents.

And there's the rub.

Nature has dictated since the beginning of time that children are the ones who separate from their mothers as part of their psychological development.

For a mother to push a child out of the nest too soon, even for an apparently good reason, inverts the relationship and the natural course of development. Mom stands stable and ever present. Baby crawls away.

So, why is it such a head-scratcher that a strong woman with maternal traits, many echoing those of Obama's mother, should inhabit a critical psychic "space" within him? Last night, Michelle Obama's speech at the Democratic Convention gave new meaning to the title "Mom-in-Chief." Both women not only have talent and ability, but also the ear of a president who longs for female counsel and support. Why shouldn't they command enormous power in doing so?

The American poet William Ross Wallace wrote "The hand that rocks the cradle -- Is the hand that rules the world." And, so it goes in The White House.

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