Where Are the Women and Minorities in Obama’s Cabinet?

5 years ago

After the 2012 campgaign season in which women and minority voters overwhelmingly re-elected President Obama, it seems the new cabinet is shaping up to be quite white and male. Recently the President appointed three high profile cabinet officers: former Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, current Chief of Staff Jack Lew to Secretary of the Treasury, and Senator John Kerry to Secretary of State. The biggest point of diversity in top brass is the fact that Hagel is a Republican.

Jan. 7, 2013 - Washington, District of Columbia, USA - (l-R) United States Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta and former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel (Republican of Nebraska) listen as U.S. President Barack Obama addresses audience members at the nomination announcement for Hagel as the next Secretary of Defense and Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan (right) as the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency, in the East Room of the White House, Monday, January 7, 2013. .Mandatory Credit: Chad J. McNeeley / DoD via CNP (Credit Image: © Chad J. Mcneeley/DPA/ZUMAPRESS.com)

Pundits at CNN, Washington Post and Bloomberg have all noticed the trend as well. On ABC, George Stephanopoulos asks Where Are the Women?

CNN’s calls Obama’s cabinet a “boys club”.

And Bloomberg’s headline reads Obama’s Second Term Cabinet Cast Leaving Women in Waiting.

On Thursday, Andrea Mitchell called it “déjà vu all over again”, comparing the current lack of diversity to that of the first Clinton administration – in 1992.

That was twenty years ago. Even President Obama’s first term cabinet, selected in 2009, was known for its racial and gender diversity. But now many of those first term advisors are stepping down, most notably Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and recently Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and EPA head Lisa Jackson announced their resignations.

The Washington Post has a good rundown of the many women and minorities who are soon leaving their cabinet positions.

So why, after making clear efforts to select qualified women, blacks, Latinos and Asians in his first term, is President Obama pulling back so much? I hardly think the white male inner circle is accidental or a reflection on the lack of qualifications of female and minority candidates. But the lack of diversity is so glaring that even one-time GOP Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee pointed it out on his conservative radio show. All we need now is for Mitt Romney to offer one of his binders full of women.

But it could be that people like Huckabee are exactly the reason for these cabinet choices. After such a contentious election season, marked by racial and cultural division, could it be that President Obama feels his best strategy for moving toward bipartisan solutions is to pull hard to the right? After the controversy the erupted over the potential nomination of Susan Rice to replace Clinton as Secretary of State, did the president At least give the appearance that the cabinet is still filled with the kind of guys who can sit down with the guys?

Then again, are the interests of women and racial minorities only addressable by people of their group? And, as Melissa Harris-Perry points out, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is a black man, but his stances aren't necessarily representative of the majority of African-Americans.

The President has yet to appoint a head to the FCC, which oversees the media and telecommunications industries and has always been headed up by a man. The Women’s Media Center is leading a petition for President Obama to choose a woman to head up the FCC, saying that having a female leading the agency could be key toward gender equality in the top tiers of media management and in the images that are portrayed.

How will these cabinet choices affect the actual day-to-day business of governing the country? Can an administration address the needs of a increasingly diverse population without giving the appearance that they are pandering to certain demographics? What do you think of President Obama’s choices so far?

News and Politics Editor Grace Hwang Lynch blogs at HapaMama and A Year (Almost) Without Shopping.

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