Entertainment Books Obama’s former deputy chief of staff spills White House secrets

Obama’s former deputy chief of staff spills White House secrets

Alyssa Mastromonaco (front, centre) says the Obamas are exactly as you'd expect them to be. Photo: Supplied
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Not everyone who has worked in the White House can say that they left an indelible mark on the building. But Alyssa Mastromonaco, former deputy chief of staff to President Barack Obama, can.

Self-identifying as the “patron saint of tampons,” the then 20-something’s excitement at working at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, following Obama’s historic 2008 election win, soon gave way to frustration at the lack of a feminine hygiene dispensers in the toilets.

“The history and awe of the White House is overwhelming and you think that everything is in its place for a proper reason,” Mastromonaco says.

“Then you’re there for a couple of months and … you start asking questions.”

As much an inspirational guide as political memoir, Mastromonaco’s New York Times-bestseller Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House reveals a woman who makes things – including tampon dispensers – happen. To paraphrase Obama, yes she can.

Often hilarious, including an excruciating sequence revealing an irritable bowel incident while meeting the Pope at the Vatican and the time she accidentally stole a magazine from Buckingham Palace, it’s a far cry from dry.

So many books that come out of the administration are very heavy, esoteric, not snobby, but very serious books,” she says. “I wanted something that people could read while sitting at the beach over the summer … and feel a little bit better about themselves.”

Mastromonaco (left) with her former boss.

Mastromonaco got guidance from comedian and actor Mindy Kaling.

The Mindy Project was one of the only things I watched when I was in the White House, so when I got to meet her I just couldn’t stop talking about the show and her book and we stayed in touch. When I was writing my book, I emailed her a couple of times and she was always super-generous.”

Good in a crisis, Mastromonaco helped coordinate disaster responses including Superstorm Sandy and the Haiti earthquake. She despairs at the current administration’s disorder.

“The way we had the White House set up, it was very organised, everybody knew their roles. Now with the Trump administration, it seems so chaotic. There’s going to be a crisis at some point and I think, ‘you guys are going to be a f***ing disaster’.”

Mastromonaco hopes Trump’s new chief of staff General John F Kelly can tame the beast.

“I’m really hopeful he can bring in some law and order, though I can’t imagine him thinking the President threatening North Korea was the best idea.” 

The book also deals with the pressures of the job, balancing career goals with good mental health.

“When I started out blackberries and iPhones weren’t a thing … but now we live in a completely connected society. Everyone should be cognisant our brains aren’t meant to work that way and it’s important to shut down, because you will get burnt out.”

While Mastromonaco is reluctant to give too much away about her private interactions with the Obamas, she says the former first couple are every bit as great as they appear.

“They really are that funny. Barack Obama is the most intellectually curious person I know and is as comfortable talking about foreign policy as he is about the movie he saw the night before. And I wish people knew that Hillary Clinton is actually really hilarious, thoughtful and a very good dancer.”

Alyssa Mastromonaco’s Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House, published by Hachette Australia, is available now.

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