What Does The White House Social Secretary Do Anyway?


Outgoing White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers will be replaced by Democratic fundraiser Julianna Smoot, and one strategist says the “social aspect of the job will be a little bit secondary for her.” But what is the Social Secretary’s job?

According to The Daily Beast‘s Sandra McElwaine, Rogers conceived this job as marketing “the best brand on earth: the Obama brand.” To this end, she also marketed herself — as the Washington Post‘s Robin Givhan notes, “she cut a striking figure in her new position with her refusal to transform into that most enduring Washington stereotype: the dowdy political appointee.” She had no interest in the less glamorous aspects of her job, either. She said that unless a social secretary treated the White House as a business, “You get caught in linen hell and flower hell, list hell.” Writes McElwaine,

Wait a minute-isn’t that what the job is supposed to be? Many former social secretaries were taken aback and grumbled discreetly among themselves. It didn’t take long for a number of Washington insiders to realize she would soon be toast.

She also quotes former White House Press Secretary Sheila Tate:

A social secretary’s job is to help the first family put their own social mark on the White House, and it’s not about them, it’s about the family, about the first lady and the president. If it becomes about them, then there’s a problem.

But blogger Alexia Hudson told the Post that the job comes with “unwritten rules” too, and one of them may involve money. Julianna Smoot has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for Democrats, and the Post‘s Anne Kornblut and Krissah Thompson write that she’s adept at “donor maintenance.” While fundraising isn’t explicitly in the Social Secretary’s job description, the Obamas may want someone who will help them make and maintain contacts for 2012 — not make people mad. And unfortunately, “make people mad” was something Rogers did well.

Some of this anger obviously stems from the Salahi gate-crashing incident — for which Rogers now disavows any responsibility. Some may have to do with Rogers’s position as the first black Social Secretary ever. Hudson says, “It happens to firsts. You will be invited in with a lot of fanfare, and somewhere along the line something happens, and you may or may not be aware that there was a cultural misstep that you made.” And some may be related to the fact that Rogers was a woman who put her style and personality front and center in a role into which some expected her to disappear. Smoot appears more comfortable working behind the scenes. One question lingers, however: since Rogers’s status as a female fashion plate was such a contentious issue, did the Obamas ever consider hiring a man as her replacement? Or did they assume that a male Social Secretary would be unwilling to handle “linen hell?”

Julianna Smoot Brings An Insider’s Perspective To Obamas’ Inner Circle [Washington Post]
Desiree Rogers May Have Improved Washington’s Look. Washington May Not Have Noticed. [Washington Post]
Don’t Cry For Desiree [Daily Beast]

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