Plenty of critics, reporters and columnists believe that President Barack Obama has surrounded himself with too many white men in his cabinet. Ruth Marcus, opinions writer for the Washington Post and one of Obama’s disgruntled fans, said bluntly, “about all those white guys: what a shame.” Am I the only one who finds her comment to be sexist? Perhaps I shouldn’t, but I cannot say that I agree with Mrs. Marcus. Many women have begun expressing their disappointment with our African American President because his staff seems to be shaping up to be like an old-timey boy’s club. (Remember your childhood treehouse days?) I cannot help but think that all of this criticism is undeserved. I may not have voted for President Obama, but I do in fact support whatever cabinet choices he plans to make. He is our president after all, and although it would be nice and even monumental to see a cabinet full of all races, genders and sexual orientations, this is just not realistic as of now and I assume that the leader of the free world would rather not sacrifice the proficiency of his staff just to flaunt a roomful of diversity.
President Obama has a new four-year agenda, and has staffed his cabinet accordingly. Sure, it would have been interesting to see Susan Rice as the Secretary of State or Michèle Flournoy as Secretary of Defense, but I am not opposed to Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) or former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) receiving the nominations for these positions. Rice and Flournoy would have been great members of the cabinet because their promotion would exhibit a trend of rising women in the defense and foreign policy ranks. But Obama had his reasons to select Kerry and Hagel.
Although Rice was a good candidate, she withdrew her name from consideration due to the controversy over Benghazi when the U.S. Ambassador of the United Nations said that the attacks “began spontaneously,” even though the terrorist act was premeditated. As Rice gained more attention for her remarks, Congress advised President Obama to ensure she did not become of Secretary of State because her misleading commentary had “caused irreparable damage to her credibility both at home and around the world,” according to a letter from Congress to the President. And the Vietnam veteran and anti-war activist John Kerry does not sound like a terrible choice.
Former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel has been getting flak for his nomination since the beginning. Not only should the Grand Old Party revel in the limelight of his selection, but those who find Obama’s cabinet to not be diverse enough should take a second look. In 2009, Michèle Flournoy was the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, the highest-ranking woman in the history of the Pentagon, and this is quite the achievement. As said by The Washington Post, she does not have a very large public profile and decided to step down from her job at the Pentagon back in 2011, so it seems like she would rather not even take the chance to serve as Defense Secretary.
Chuck Hagel, on the other hand, is pretty well-known and has been around the block a few times in the political game—he did serve as Senator from Nebraska for 12 years. Hagel has also been awarded two purple hearts after his time in the Vietnam war and was quoted as saying, “If I ever get out of this and I’m ever in a position to influence policy, I will do everything I can to avoid needless, senseless war.” In 2005, this is exactly what the former Senator strived to do, and criticized the nation’s involvement in the war in Iraq. Chuck Hagel may not be a woman, but the President chose Hagel because of his opposition to war and the promise of a fruitful relationship.
The current status of Obama’s cabinet is not going to be recorded in the history books as the most diverse, but that should not be a President’s main prerogative when choosing the most reliable members. This is one reason that the disparaging comments made by influential women across the board have been so frustrating. For instance, Bloomberg News mentioned statements made by Nita Chaudhary, president of UltraViolet, an activist foundation that largely campaigns for gender equality, in which she says that women “deserve to be represented in the highest offices in our country…and [Obama] should know women are watching closely to see if he will.” This comment sounds more or less like a threat and one that makes it seem as if the president should select women for his cabinet purely because they told him to.
The leader of our nation is making the decisions he thinks will be the most beneficial for the next four years. There is no reason that our country should be in the hands of members the president thought did not want to serve. Wouldn’t women themselves want to know that their positions were rightfully earned rather than a fluke? Ruth Marcus herself is an example when she said that she would hate “if readers were to see a female byline at the top of this column and assume, she got this gig because she’s a woman,” so why all the denigration toward our President?
President Barack Obama has currently filled twelve of the sixteen cabinet positions. Of these twelve, four white men are sticking with Obama for his second term. The Secretary of Education, Secretary of Transportation and two other positions are confirmed to be filled by male figureheads. Only three other white men are so far expected to join them during the next four years: Jack Lew for Secretary of Treasury, John Kerry for Secretary of State and Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense.
In total Obama’s cabinet amounts to having a mere seven white men. Yes, there are only two women in the cabinet right now (Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius), but this is only for the time being. Secretary of Energy, Secretary of Labor, Secretary of the Interior and Secretary of Commerce, the last of which is currently filled by woman Rebecca Blank, are all open to contenders. Plus, it is believed by the National Journal that the former Governor of Washington, Christine Gregoire, will certainly be obtaining one of these high-profile jobs on Capitol Hill. It is preposterous to condemn the President of the United States for not making sound decisions for his cabinet since all of the positions have not yet been filled. I do not doubt that girls will soon be allowed inside the boys’ treehouse.
The president has a duty to fulfill his obligations in the executive office as efficiently as possible. In order for someone of his stature to do so it is essential that he encircles himself with the most trusted people whom he believes will make effective leaders. Without faith in his employees or chemistry between them that makes him feel comfortable, the branch would be in serious disarray. Obama, like any world leader, needs influential and competent people that will ensure the implementation of his policies. The president should not be scrutinized about his choices. This nation has come a long way from cabinets that were filled solely with white men. The citizens of this country should not try to force or rush the man’s decisions with complaints and critiques because these are some of the most important choices to be made for the country. There may be some white males in his cabinet, but there are women, other men of ethnically diverse backgrounds, and more to come. Let us have faith in our president.