Give President Barack Obama a break. He deserves time to complete his Cabinet appointments.
The president was forced to defend his record on diversity Monday after Democrats started lining up to criticize Obama for appointing too many white men to his Cabinet and not selecting enough women and people of color to his inner circle.
When Obama named Jack Lew as his Treasury secretary last week — the fourth white male he has named to Cabinet-level posts in recent weeks – Democrats quickly took Obama to the woodshed for not assembling a more racially-diverse and gender-diverse Cabinet.
But in a White House press conference Monday, Obama said his critics should not rush to judgment.
“I’m very proud that in the first four years, we had as diverse, if not a more diverse, White House and a Cabinet than any in history,” Obama said. “I intended to continue that, because it turns out when you look for the very best people, given the incredible diversity of this country, you’re going to end up with a diverse staff.”
Since Obama beat Mitt Romney 55 percent to 43 percent among women, many feel that Obama has missed several opportunities with appointments the past two weeks. But Obama said women comprised 50 percent of his White House staff during his first four years in office – a successful record on diversity by any standard.
“We’re not going backwards, we’re going forward,” the president said.
But the cynics are relentless – and some are black Democrats.
“It’s embarrassing as hell,” New York Democrat Charles Rangel, one of the most senior black members of Congress, said of Obama’s recent appointments. Rangel, who has never been one of Obama’s biggest supporters, said Democrats expect more from America’s first black president.
“We’ve been through all of this with Mitt Romney,” Rangel said during an appearance on MSNBC last week. “And we were very hard on Mitt Romney with the women binder and a variety of things.”
“I kinda think there’s no excuse when it’s the second term. If it’s the first term, you could see people got to know who is around and qualified in order to get this job, number one,” he added.
“I had thought that it could be the Harvard problem where people just know each other, trust each other,” Rangel said. “And women and minorities don’t get a chance to rub elbows and their reputations and experience is not known … so in the second term, these people should be just as experienced as anybody, any other American.”
MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry defended Obama saying that even though many of Obama’s Cabinet members are white men, they can still offer diverse views. She bolstered her argument saying that although Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas doesn’t hold opinions that represent “the vast majority of African Americans,” he still has a voice on the high court.
Meanwhile, Lew’s nomination followed Obama’s selection of Senator John Kerry to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. If confirmed by the Senate, Kerry will be the first white male to hold the post in more than a decade. Meanwhile, Obama also named former Senator Chuck Hagel to be defense Secretary and John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency.
Democrats say the timing of Obama’s appointments couldn’t be worse: Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, the first Hispanic to hold the position, resigned from her post last week, and last month, Lisa Jackson, who is African American, announced she was quitting as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. And Ron Kirk, who is black, the U.S. Trade Representative and former Dallas mayor, is also leaving the administration and returning to Texas.
The New York Times shined a bright light on Obama’s appointments when it published a story under the headline: “Obama’s Remade Inner Circle Has an All-Male Look, So Far.” But it was the photo that accompanied last week’s story that perhaps raised eyebrows: A picture of Obama sitting inside the Oval Office surrounded by a team of white men. (See photo above.)
“We need a government that looks like America so we can address the concerns that we hear from across the spectrum,” said New Hampshire Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, whose state has the only all-female delegation in Congress.
“It’s disappointing,” she said.
It’s worth noting that Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s senior adviser, was not pictured in The New York Times photo last week, but she remains one of the president’s most trusted advisers. Jarrett, who is black, has been the president’s steadfast counsel on a wide range of policy issues. In response to the Times article, the White House released its own photo of Obama in the Oval Office surrounded by his top advisers, but this photo also included Jarrett.
In politics, however, perception is everything and even though Attorney General Eric Holder, who is black, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius are staying in their Cabinet positions, Obama’s detractors say there are too many white men in White House posts.
But Obama still has several more Cabinet positions to fill and more opportunities to select women and people of color. The president’s critics should exercise some restraint and allow Obama to round-out his inner circle before breaking out the pitchforks.