President Obama’s Favorite Cat Lady Just Dropped Something Huge
As Alyssa Mastromonaco settled cross-legged into her chair last night at Rizzoli Bookstore in Manhattan, her tenure as Deputy Chief of Staff to President Obama feels like it was forever go—in part because we’re somehow only two menstrual cycles into Trump’s presidency, but also because Mastromonaco, seated next to her co-writer Lauren Oyler, seems as laid-back as can be, rocking a multi-colored maxi skirt and exhibiting zero signs of residual tension from the years spent running ops for the leader of the free world. But perhaps that’s always her demeanor right before she drops some serious truth bombs.
It bears mentioning that this book-launch party almost never happened, because her book, Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?, almost never happened. When approached about writing a memoir of her years in 44’s White House, she first asked herself—is this a something the world really needs?
“I didn’t want to write a book of other people’s stories,” she said. “A lot of things I saw in the White House weren’t my stories—they were POTUS’ stories, or Valerie [Jarrett]’s stories. But once I sorted out which were my stories, I thought about how important it is for people to see themselves reflected in leadership. I wanted women to see someone who has deep affection for a cat and IBS in a position of power.”
And does she ever deliver. As she spun tales of coordinating POTUS’s arrival in Baghdad during a sandstorm, interviewing James Comey to head the FBI, and making sure the bathrooms got cleaned during the government shutdown, it felt as delightfully voyeuristic as listening to your hilarious big sister describing what it’s like to kiss someone for the first time. But perhaps what endears Mastromonaco to the crowd most is her demeanor, which suggests these are accomplishments young women in the audience could reasonably strive for, too.
One difference that Mastromonaco—who is now Vice President of Global Communications Strategy & Talent at A+E Networks and a contributing editor at Marie Claire—wanted to impart was the difference between politics and public service. Like many savvy women, she downplayed her own savviness, but stressed to the room that her abilities weren’t in politics but in public service—in finding concrete ways to help people, no matter where they stood on the political spectrum.
Maybe that’s why, she said, she had a hard time finding an identity after leaving the White House. But after Marie Claire asked her to be a contributing editor and she agreed, she was surprised by the widespread assumption that she was somehow less of a White House staffer emeritus because she now worked for Marie Claire—as though a transition to media wasn’t simply a way for an intelligent woman to begin being herself, and stop being “Alyssa Mastromonaco, who worked for Barack Obama.”
The famously gilded bookstore was packed with ex-Hillary staffers, many of them women, who have almost certainly shared this dilemma. Many wanted to know her advice for moving forward under this new administration, and how to keep their conviction that they have value.
“Everyone in politics is lost,” Mastromonaco assured us. “People need to get involved in whatever way they’re comfortable with. If you want, you can start with lobbying your senators and congresspeople. That’s one of the best things you can do.” She calls her own four times a week, she said. “But no matter how much or how little you can manage, you can’t just stay home and you can’t just sit down.”
Seeing as how she’s the person who safely guided a U.S. president through a literal sandstorm in a war zone, it'd be smart to heed her advice.