Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Uh, Where's the Diversity?

Today Al Kamen in the Washington Post writes about how Barack Obama, despite making history with by becoming the first black president, still has a fairly male, white cabinet when you look at his first picks.
Thirty-eight of the 56 appointees (68 percent) are men, (But white men, representing 46 percent of all picks, fall short of a majority.)
It's true, though, that Obama's doing better on increasing diversity than his predecessors:
By way of comparison on a few of these statistics, 39 of Bill Clinton's first 48 nominees (81 percent) were white and seven (15 percent) were African American; 75 percent were men. Of George W. Bush's 28 first nominees, 22 were white (79 percent) and only 14 percent were women, according to data compiled by the Presidential Transition Project at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service.
Still, if you were expecting Obama to be a shining beacon of diversity in the upper tiers of the government's elite, you are bound to be disappointed. This goes back to the age old "chicken and egg" diversity problem. The most common response to complaints about lack of diversity is that there just aren't women and minorities that would be considered qualified for such leadership positions. But how are we supposed to increase diversity if we never give anyone but an old, white man the opportunity to lead something?

I'm not entirely surprised that Obama's cabinet is rather homogeneous. After all, there's always the competing, counterintuitive argument that might win out. Obama, because he is black and on the younger side, "needs" older, established Washington types to build his credibility. This is problematic, to say the least. Chris Hayes did a good job of illustrating how certain Washington people keep getting recycled even if past performance has been less than stellar.

Obviously people shouldn't be appointed solely because they fulfill a diversity requirement, but all too often there are qualified people out there who would both do a fantastic job and would add necessary perspective. The government's job is to work for everyone, not just the white men.

1 comment:

tom veil said...

I think you need to separate out the "white" and the "man" problems. 2/3 people in the USA are non-hispanic whites -- see http://www.census.gov/popest/national/asrh/NC-EST2007-srh.html -- so Obama's not doing too bad on that front. It's the gender front, where of course the census numbers are almost 50-50, where Obama's lagging so far.

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