Did President Obama Get The Wrong Binders?

President Obama has just started the process of filling his cabinet for his second term and is already under fire from progressives for failing to nominate a woman to head key positions such as Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense and Treasury. But does failing to nominate a woman for these posts, in the wake of high profile resignations like Hillary Clinton and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, really show that diversity in the Obama administration is under threat?

It’s not a simple question to answer in part because a cabinet secretary drives two independent but cooperative goals: carry out executive policy and establish agency culture. And in at least two cases when those two goals have come in conflict it would appear the president has chosen to go with a nominee that would stay true to the president’s immediate policy needs.

Let’s take this step-by-step, starting with Obama’s nomination for Secretary of State, Sen. John Kerry. Kerry is a highly qualified statesman and will be replacing Hillary Clinton who has done nothing but a brilliant job in the role. And Clinton follows a growing (by recent political history) line of women who have held the job as the country’s top ambassador, a line that would have continued had Obama’s first choice U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice not become the target of Republican witch hunters.

The nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska to lead the Department of Defense is a more complicated story. Hagel’s record shows a disdain for women’s rights (he supports an all-out ban on abortions) and LGBT rights (famously opposing Clinton ambassadorial nominee James Hormel because he was “aggressively gay” is just one example). Yet Hagel, a Vietnam veteran with a clear head about the costly and devastating mistakes of our previous administration in Iraq and Afghanistan, is precisely the kind of person we want leading DoD as the right bangs the drums of war. In that way he is brilliantly perfect for the job.

But his past statements and votes, at a time when military culture is undergoing a seismic cultural shift not witnessed since desegregation should raise some real concerns. For the first time ever, women in the military will be able to access abortion care on site, and a person’s sexual preference will no longer be a valid basis of discrimination. These are the first, consequential steps to dealing with the entrenched sexual and domestic violence in the military and they must be managed, from an agency standard, with guidance, care and support. And here is where appointing someone other than a conservative white man would have made the most difference.

The nomination of Jack Lew to head Treasury is a story similar to the Hagel nomination. If there is an agency in greater need of a culture-shift other than Defense, it is Treasury. It is, always has been, and remains, the province of white-boy privilege, a revolving door of Wall Street buddies who have convinced themselves they are always the smartest folks in the room. And on this point Lew is not much different. His brief stint at Citigroup corresponded with the mega-bank almost imploding. But, to his credit, as Obama’s chief-of-staff Lew reportedly had a significant role in the administrations’ fiscal cliff negotiations with Republicans that resulted in immediate tax increases and put off any dealings of earned-benefits cuts. In many ways, Lew is the pragmatic choice to lead the agency, especially as we go into another round of entrenched budget negotiations.

But for this position the administration has a deep pool of candidates to draw from. Especially women. And there’s no reason to think Lew’s negotiation strategy is something unique and intangible only to Lew. It’s not. Case in point: AIG. After receiving billions in bailout, AIG pissed off just about everybody when word got around that it was considering joining a lawsuit challenging its own bailout because it didn’t get more. Yes. I know. But it wasn’t until newly-sworn in Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) called AIG out that they voted against it. Would Lew have been similarly as bold?

Yet the administration has many, many more positions to fill and many of those are important. Ursula Burns is among the names circulating for Commerce, for example, and a woman at the head of the FCC would be significant. We also cannot overlook Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, nor the continued presence of Attorney General Eric Holder, and so on. The Obama administration remains a diverse administration.

My point is this: ethnic and gender diversity is not measured by head-count alone, nor is it a guarantee of any corresponding shift in culture. But sometimes it can be, and in two key positions–Defense and Treasury–we need it to be. Here, President Obama missed an opportunity to push for systemic change, which produces the greatest long-term support of his policy goals and instead focused on the task at hand. To that end Republican obstructionism won another round.


Related Stories:

Washington’s Wall Street Sugar Daddies

US Department of Defense is World’s Biggest Employer

5 Facts You Should Know About Chuck Hagel


Photo taken from flickr creative commons


Christine Jones
Christine J.3 years ago

I hope one day we get to the stage where no-one even notices whether an appointee is male or female, gay or straight, white or black; just whether they're good at their job. And on a lighter note I love the pic and witty caption.

Marianne Good
Past Member 3 years ago

thanks for sharing.

Lovely Devaya
Lovely Devaya3 years ago

Filling these important positions has nothing to do with gender. The best man or woman gets the job?!!! To me it's a no-brainer :)

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin3 years ago

Why would Susan Rice be the only qualified woman? There has to be thousands of capable women to become Secretary of State! Also, why chose a conservative man with a history of obstructions towards choice to head DoD? Beside the President, the State Department, DoJ and DoD are the three highest positions in Government. If Obama wanted to make a difference, he should appoint people that would make a difference, not just let things remain in status quo.

Princess Dawson
Princess Dawson3 years ago

I was thinking that a job today can be filled by man or woman if they can do the work, so are there still "women jobs" only and men jobs only in 2013?

Great White Earth Beings
'Great White' 3 years ago

nick a.,

I do NOT trust or do NOT need such tools; my test happens every single day's hour.

Samuel Adkins
Past Member 3 years ago

Yes Nickie you are middle of the road politically for sure and Fox news really is fair and balanced

nick a.
Nico Smart3 years ago

Hey GWE, I have a question for you. If you take the quiz at www.politicalcompass where do you fall? Mine was (surprisingly) almost dead center. SLightly LEFT, to my shock! I have always considered myself more Libertarian than anything else, but I do not agree with the isolationism parts they espouse.

nick a.
Nico Smart3 years ago

Not-so-Great White, what is your deal with the supposed Obummer-bashing? Let me ask you something. If you walk up on a big stinky turd floating in a bowl, do you not flush it for the sake of everyone? I despise the Commie Whore of Stupidity Hitlary Klinton more than anyone else, but must concede she may have been better (but far from deserving or capable) of sitting in the Oval Office. There are a number of women I would support for the office, but none capable have run for it thus far.

Great White Earth Beings
'Great White' 3 years ago

Lisa D.,

I am 40+-years old & decades ago, I moved beyond SEXISM & RACISM being the larger problems than ELITISM/CAPITALIST GIVING CAPITALIST PREVILAGES! During campaigning for the '2008 USA president there was a lot more racism than anything else, but almost entirely from The Righties, Sexism was huge problem from The Politically Left & Large Problem from The Righties, there is NO true Moderates and Few true Left, in The USA; but 99% Capitalism First! I saw that Mrs. Clinton had NO shot, SIMPLY because she was a strong woman! By the way, I argued for- 1st. Best Left Candidate Dennis K (VOTED FOR) & 2nd. Wealthy & Former Wife of Ex-Capitalist Left President Bill Clinton & Walmart CEO Mrs. Clinton over ALL MEDIA SOLD 'The Compromising Capitalist' Presidential Candidate Obama, WHILE HE ABUSED THE WORD AND IMAGE OF CHANGE!
I hope more people than where ever you live are light years ahead of living in fantasy worlds USA citizens!