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Obama’s lily white cabinet

Published: Fri, January 11, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.


About all those white guys: What a shame.

Not an outrage, but a shame. The face of power that President Obama has chosen to present to the country and the world with his second-term Cabinet picks is striking — except for the African-American president at the top of the pyramid — for its retro look, white and male. It’s “Mad Men” Goes to Washington, except Peggy’s leaving.

On the foreign policy team, white guy for secretary of state, white guy for defense secretary, white guy for CIA. For Treasury secretary, white guy. Obama’s replacement as chief of staff — as yet unnamed, but the rumor mill names no one but ... white guys.

To be clear: I’ve got nothing against white guys. Some of my best husbands are white guys. White guys get to be secretary of state, too, and John Kerry will be the first in 16 years. But to look at the most important jobs in the government, in 2013, and see such lack of diversity is just so drearily disappointing.

Imaginery tableau

Especially because it could easily have been so different. Imagine the tableau of Obama flanked by Secretary of State nominee Susan Rice and Secretary of Defense nominee Michele Flournoy. That would have been the ultimate you’ve-come-a-long-way moment.

And what would have been so nice about it is that it wouldn’t have been a stretch. The gratifying thing about my now-imaginary Rice and Flournoy picks is that they would have occurred organically, reflecting the rise of women in the foreign and defense policy establishments.

Thinking about Obama’s selections, I had a flashback to the moment in December 1992, when newly elected Bill Clinton exploded in anger over “bean counters” at women’s groups “playing quota games and math games” in lamenting the lack of diversity in his still-evolving Cabinet choices.

Clinton had a point. He ended up with what was then the most diverse Cabinet in history. And there is something distasteful and fundamentally demeaning about judging a Cabinet solely by the color of its skin or the composition of its chromosomes.

To make this personal: I believe I bring something to the task of being an opinion columnist because I am a woman, but I do not think I was given the job for this reason. It would be hurtful — in the sense of injured feelings, but also of harmed reputation — if readers were to see a female byline at the top of this column and assume, she got this gig because she’s a woman.

Importance of diversity

And yet, an opinion page with only white guy columnists — just like an opinion page with only conservatives, or only liberals — would be lacking in the most important diversity: of viewpoints and experiences. This ought to happen in the natural course of events, with writers of both genders displaying the talent — or foolhardiness — to become columnists. But an editorial page editor who found herself, or himself, with a stable of only white male columnists would be wise to do some reshuffling, and some outreach.

The White House will point to women in other Cabinet positions, and to women in sub-Cabinet roles, although one, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, has just announced her resignation. OK, but State, Defense and Treasury, along with Justice, are the Big Boy jobs. It matters if some of those boys are girls. It sends a disturbing signal when they’re not.

Washington Post Writers Group


1Photoman(1053 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

Bill Clinton was correct about the bean counters.

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2redeye1(4985 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

What has happen to the BEST being chosen. What is it, now we have to pick by race or sex , so that we are politically correct

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3chuck_carney(499 comments)posted 2 years, 4 months ago

Looks like Bertrum's Angry White Man Cabinet led by a Spendthrift Black American President

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