Will the Lack of Diversity in Obama's New Cabinet Affect His Term?
1 month ago
Few female faces, or those of color, appear among president's picks
Late last month, when a photo (right) of President Barack Obama sitting in the Oval Office addressing his top advisers surfaced, it was hard to ignore their, well, commonalities. There, facing POTUS, stood 10 men — nine of them white. And peeking out from behind one of them was a black pant leg belonging to the only woman (and black woman) in the room, an almost entirely obscured Valerie Jarrett, the president's senior adviser.
A week later, Obama publicly announced his nominees for new cabinet members: counterterrorism and homeland security adviser John Brennan to replace disgraced Gen. David Petraeus as CIA director; former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to replace Leon Panetta who was stepping down as Secretary of Defense; and Jack Lew—the fourth consecutive white male nominee—to replace Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary. (The president had earlier handpicked Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.)
Additionally, both Lisa Jackson, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator and first African American woman to hold that title, and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, a Latina, announced they'd be resigning from their positions.
So, the implications of the cabinet's future were evident, and critics weren't quiet about it.
New York University professor Paul Light said the cabinet would "possibly be even less diverse than George W. Bush's." CNN's Soledad O'Brien bet $100 that the 50 most senior people in the White House would not mirror the diversity of America. NBC's Andrea Mitchell said the women of the White House were "not happy." And Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) said of the whole situation, "It's embarrassing as hell."
Though Obama has declared that he is not yet finished completing his cabinet—saying in a Jan. 14 press conference, "I would just suggest that everybody kind of wait until they've seen all of my appointments before they rush to judgment"—Robert Watson, professor of American Studies at Lynn University (and a self-proclaimed "big advocate for diversity in the cabinet"), isn't so sure the attacks are premature, even if a bit exaggerated.
"I believe the press is right to raise the question," said Watson. "Even though there was a lot of diversity in the cabinet during the first term, many folks would rightly like to see as much in the second. However, I do believe the concern is overblown. Hagel is a Republican, Lew is Jewish—so only Kerry brings no diversity to the cabinet—and roughly 43 percent of [Obama's] total appointments have been women."
The New York Times reported the same statistic, noting it's "about the same proportion as in the Clinton administration, but up from the roughly one-third appointed by George W. Bush."
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