Why is President Obama’s new Cabinet overwhelmingly white and male? A recent group photo of Obama and his advisers in the White House published by The New York Times pinpointed what many have been noticing—a huge lack of racial and gender diversity. Is he shortchanging the millions of Blacks, Latinos and women who propelled his election win?
Public figures are weighing in with their dissatisfaction: Former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said, “I think [Obama] can do better;” and Congressman Charlie Rangel said the lack of diversity on Obama’s team was “embarrassing as hell. … He’s had four years to work the bench, to work the second team, so that in the second term, these people should be just as experienced as any other American.” Watch the video interview with Rangel.
Is There Really a Lack of Diversity?
The three people the President has nominated so far—John Kerry as Secretary of State, Jack Lew as Secretary of Treasury and Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense—are all white men. With two appointments still in the works, the 16-member Cabinet will be at least 69 percent white and at least 69 percent male. (Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, a Latina, and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, a Latino, have announced their resignations, but replacements have not been nominated.)
“I’m very proud that in the first four years we had as diverse, if not more diverse, a White House and a cabinet than any in history,” Obama says. “And I intend to continue that.” A diverse team, he added, “helps to create more effective policy-making and better decision-making for me because it brings different perspectives to the table.”
“Women are well-represented in the president’s senior staff here,” Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary, adds. “Two of the three deputy chiefs of staff are women. The White House counsel is a woman. A woman runs Homeland Security for this country, Secretary [Janet] Napolitano. … The Cabinet secretary in charge of the most important piece of domestic-policy legislation in a generation is a woman, [Secretary of Health and Human Services] Kathleen Sebelius.”
According to White House personnel data compiled by The New York Times, the Obama Administration has improved the number of women appointees by 10 percent to 43 percent, up from 33 percent in George W. Bush’s administration and about the same ratio as Bill Clinton’s (41 percent).
But with a campaign strongly based on a message of change—and diversity—Obama’s seemingly not happy with a meager 10 percent bump either. “Word from the White House is that the President himself is irritated, and demanding answers about the faces his staff is pushing forward. Unfortunately, he has only a bunch of white guys to offer an explanation of why the picture looks like a bunch of white guys,” writes New York Times Op-Ed columnist Maureen Dowd, a Pulitzer Prize winner. She notes that some women on the White House staff say they “are privately gratified at the latest kerfuffle, hoping it will shut down the West Wing man cave.”
Obama & Diversity: The Picture Worth a Thousand Words
Chatter about the Cabinet’s lack of diversity began building when Obama nominated several white men—Senator John Kerry as Secretary of State, Senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense and, most recently, Jack Lew as Secretary of the Treasury—and news surfaced of two female Cabinet members’ resigning: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Solis.
The controversy came to a head when The New York Times ran a photo of Obama sitting in the Oval Office with 10 of his advisers—all 10 were male, and all but one were white. Senior Adviser and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls Valerie Jarrett was also in the room—but only part of her leg was visible in the shot because she was upstaged by one of the white men.
Obama has been under fire since from a wide range of high-profile media sources: Bloomberg View’s Margaret Carlson says “He doesn’t look beyond his nose for more minority recruits”; The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus says, “About all those white guys: What a shame. Not an outrage, but a shame”; CBS News Political Director John Dickerson says, “Look, Mr. President, you won your election based on the votes of women and minorities, so you should respect that in your naming of the cabinet picks.” Fifty-five percent of women, 93 percent of Blacks and 71 percent of Latinos voted for Obama, according to CNN exit-poll data.
In May 2012, Obama similarly received disapproval for a photo of his majority white campaign staff; only two members were Black, which is far below the 13 percent representation in the national population and the 33 percent representation in Chicago.