January 10, 2013
The White House photo of the day on Wednesday showed President Obama meeting with eight “senior advisers,” three of them women. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Who would have thought the nation’s first black president would have an optics problem? But his parade of second-term nominations so far is white, male, and of a certain average age (62.3, to be exact), and The New York Times is taking note with an article and a photo that shows Obama meeting with 10 men.
Obama initially named four women to his Cabinet and he’s losing half of them so far: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and, as of Wednesday evening, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. He still has Janet Napolitano at Homeland Security and Kathleen Sebelius at Health and Human Services. His administration also continues to include U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, whose position is considered “Cabinet level.” Lisa Jackson is resigning as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, but that is not a Cabinet-level job.
At lower levels, Obama has a decent record on women. The Times reports that 35 percent of all high-level political appointees outside the White House are female, about equal to Bill Clinton’s administration (and higher than 25 percent under George W. Bush). Obama has done even better at some departments; the Times cites Treasury, where 57 percent of appointees are men, compared with 60 percent under Clinton and 64 percent under Bush.
But a confluence of factors is making the frat-house syndrome seem worse than it is.
Say Obama wants to make a grand gesture; what jobs are left? If he names a female labor secretary to succeed Solis, that will keep him at the status quo. But it’s not a top job and it’s one many women have held. Plus Solis is Hispanic, so now there’s that to worry about as well.
The only immediate opening with stature roughly equivalent to secretary of State, Defense, or Treasury is Lew’s job as White House chief of staff. To name a woman, Obama would have to throw top mentionees Ron Klain (former chief of staff to Vice Presidents Al Gore and Joe Biden) and Denis McDonough (currently deputy national-security adviser) under the bus. He does have some logical female options, starting with Nancy-Ann DeParle and Alyssa Mastromonaco. Both now hold the title of deputy chief of staff.
Obama’s nominations to date make sense, given his commitments to multilateralism, diplomacy, ending two wars, cautious intervention abroad, institutionalizing the war on terror, getting military and entitlement spending under control, and other ideas he hopes will outlast him. Here’s one more: In Bill Clinton’s words, a Cabinet that “looks like America.”
January 10, 2013