Politics made for strange bedfellows in those taking
swipes at President Obama's white guy appointees. Staunch GOP conservative Mike
Huckabee took the first hard whack. He screamed that Obama was a hypocrite on
diversity in that he used the issue of the war on women during the presidential
campaign to pound the GOP and then turned around and stacked his cabinet with
white males. The swing then went over the political spectrum to Harlem Democratic
congressman Charles Rangel who called the president's diversity record, "embarrassing."
Here are the problems with the criticism. One is Obama's
actual record on diversity. It's easy to cherry pick a picture of his four
prominent white male nominees, Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury
Secretary Jack Lew, CIA Director John Brennan and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel
as a score of prominent national newspapers did and finger this as the supposed
proof that Obama has a chronic penchant for plopping white men in high and any
other places in his administration. The raw numbers and the ground breaking spots
that he has appointed minorities and women to tell a few different tale. More
than forty percent of his appointees to sub cabinet positions have been women
and a significant percent of them have been minority women.
One area of appointments has flown far on the radar
scope but has been tantamount to a quiet revolution has been the federal courts,
and not just his appointment of two high profile women appointees to the Supreme
Court. An unprecedented seven out of his ten appointees to the federal
judiciary have been minorities or women or both. This is double the percent of
women and minorities appointed by Clinton, and a major bump up over the number
of appointees by George W. Bush. His appointments to the judiciary are equal to
and in some cases more important than cabinet picks. These justices are lifetime
appointments and their rulings and opinions will profoundly impact law and
public policy for decades to come.
Another problem is simply singling out Obama's top
gun cabinet picks to snipe at him for allegedly fumbling the ball on diversity.
For decades, GOP and Democratic presidents made a few high profile picks of
blacks and later Latinos and women to high visibility cabinet or administrative
posts, and then stacked their appointees at the sub cabinet, agency and administrative
level with white males. The media and the public generally took no note of that
and that is exactly the way it was intended. But these agency heads and administrators
handle the nuts and bolts of government operations from hiring to spending, and
program development and implementation. Their tenures in these positions often
far out ran the tenure of the president that appointed them. But because they
were largely nameless and faceless they got very little attention. Obama's appointments
to the judiciary are a near textbook example of that. Few can name any of them.
The other problem is that the issue of diversity suddenly
became a hot issue again solely because of Obama. The feeling is that he has a
special duty and obligation to as an African-American president to stack his
administration deck with high profile minority or women and if he doesn't do
that he's somehow betrayed affirmative action. But Obama as other presidents
pick those for top positions who do not have to start at the rear of the
learning curve and have the expertise and credentials to hit the ground running
in handling touchy policy decisions. This standard would and should apply to a
minority or woman that he picked to a key cabinet or administrative position.
Because he's an African-American who's still under
more intense scrutiny from the GOP than any other president in modern times, he
has almost no margin of error in how his appointees at the highest and any
other level conduct the administration's business. The history of presidential
appointments is littered with picks that have proven disastrous. The blame for
that always falls on the man that appointed them, and that's the president.
This is all the more reason why presidents are doubly careful to make sure that
they get it right the first time in their top appointees.
The implicit and mistaken assumption of the critics
is that Obama's pick of white guys to some top posts will remain the standard for
his appointments as he fills out his cabinet and other positions. There will be
many more shuffles in administration posts in the next few months. And it will
be important to keep a watchful eye on just who Obama picks and for what. But it's
also just as important to keep watch on the appointees that he's made that don't
make the front page of newspapers. Judging from his first go round in the White
House as many of those appointees don't look like white males as do. This makes
the current squeal about his alleged betrayal of diversity much ado about
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He
is a frequent political commentator on MSNBC and a weekly co-host of the Al
Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and
Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host
of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.
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