Editorial: Diversity should not be the focal point in Obama’s cabinet
Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 19:01
President Obama’s second-term Cabinet selections have come under criticism for being exclusively white males, at least thus far. Many contend that such choices reflect a lack of diversity and balance among those closest advisors shaping federal policy. However, such a view is mistaken, not only leaping to conclusions before all vacancies have been filled but also distorting Obama’s first-term record.
Within the past month (all while UConn was out on break), Obama nominated Chuck Hagel to be the new Secretary of Defense, John Kerry to be the new Secretary of State and John Brennan to be the new Director of the CIA. All white males, true. But it is too early to claim that all of Obama’s second-term positions will continue that trend. For example, both the soon-to-be-vacant Secretary of Labor and Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will have to be filled.
Obama claims his white male picks have been reflecting the people who are best fit for the job, which should surely be the most important qualification. Whether somebody is the “most” qualified person of all 315 million American citizens is nearly impossible to determine, of course, but his first three picks appear very qualified. Hagel was a U.S. senator and Vietnam War veteran, Kerry was also a U.S. Senator and Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Brennan is the Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security.
Obama has had some racial and gender diversity in his first-term picks. Attorney General Eric Holder was black, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was female, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was female and black and Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Veterans’ Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki were both Asian. He also appointed two females to the highest judicial office in the land, the U.S. Supreme Court.
Would a completely homogenous Cabinet be good for the nation? No, since a lack of diverse viewpoints could hinder the contemplation of all reasonable policy ideas. At the same time, diversity should not take a front seat over quality and intelligence. It should be a secondary consideration to how well somebody can do the job. And in that respect, Obama appears to be balancing Cabinet diversity (an ideal) with Cabinet meritocracy (a requirement).
As Jimmy Fallon noted on his television show, “Late Night,” last week, “Obama came under fire from the GOP over the lack of diversity in his cabinet. Obama was like, ‘You know I’ll be there too, right?’”