Saturday, January 11, 2014

Obama, Diversity & Another Media Epic Fail

Remember this picture?

For about a week in late 2012, this picture, the article it appeared in [1] and the subsequent political shit storm it stirred was all the talk on cable TV, major newspapers and political parts of the Web. In short, this photo, and the attendant reporting, claimed the President had a “diversity” problem - that the nation’s first African-American President was essentially surrounding himself with a cadre of (almost exclusively) white men. The story followed a familiar arc, cries of hypocrisy rained down from the right, teeth knashing from the left, and after a few days, click thrus and myriad panel discussions, the media moved on to the next faux scandal.

But a funny thing happened after the media’s attention waned and the President’s second term began. The whole story turned out to be bullshit. Total, unadulterated, bullshit.   The President appointed the first women to head the Office of Management and Budget (Sylvia Burwell) and the Federal Reserve (Janet Yellen). These offices oversee the entire federal budget and our nation’s monetary policy, respectively. As National Security Advisor, the President selected another woman (Susan Rice), who works with, among others, yet another woman, our U.N. Ambassador (Samantha Power). When the full Cabinet meets, women represent the Environmental Protection Agency (Gina McCarthy), Department of Health and Human Services (Kathleen Sebelius), Department of Commerce (Penny Pritzker), Department of Interior (Sally Jewell) and the Small Business Administration (Jeanne Hulit).

Perhaps even more importantly, the President has continued to outpace all of his predecessors when it comes to appointing women to the federal bench. In 2013 alone, of the President’s 31 nominees to gain Senate approval to the various federal district courts, 16 were women. Of his 10 circuit court of appeals nominees to gain approval, four were women, including two to the highly influential D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. These lifetime appointees will issue rulings for years, if not decades into the future and may, in some ways, have an even more profound legacy than any of the President’s Cabinet appointees.

Non-white men are also readily found within the President’s inner circle. African-American men lead the Department of Justice (Eric Holder), the Department of Homeland Security (Jeh Johnson), and the Department of Transportation (Anthony Foxx), and a Hispanic-American leads the Department of Labor (Tom Perez). The President also appointed a former Republican Senator as Secretary of Defense (Chuck Hagel) and George W. Bush’s former Deputy Attorney General[2] as head of the FBI (James Comey).

Explaining this level of diversity is not as pithy and easy to digest as a photograph, but it has the benefit of being true. Something the media seems far less interested in than it once was.


[2]  Another former Bush Justice Department official, Sri Srinavasan, himself an Indian-American, was nominated to serve on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. He was confirmed by the Senate in May 2013.

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