U.S. President Barack Obama has come under fire from some of his own Democratic Party for naming a stream of white men to key Cabinet and leadership posts in his second administration.
Obama named Jan. 10 Jack Lew as his treasury secretary, the fourth white male he has named to the most-prized Cabinet posts in recent weeks. Lew’s nomination follows Obama’s pick of Sen. 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 top U.S. diplomatic post in more than a decade. Obama has also named former Sen. Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary and John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency.
Against this, he lost the first Hispanic woman in the Cabinet when Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced her resignation on Jan. 9. Last month Lisa Jackson, who is black, announced she was stepping down as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
“It’s embarrassing as hell,” New York Democrat Charles Rangel, one of the most senior black members of Congress, said. New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, whose state has the only all-female delegation in Congress, described the appointments as “disappointing.”
Testosterone in Cabinet
Republicans joined in the criticism with former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee accusing Obama of waging a “war on women,” using the same words Democrats coined to criticize Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney during the election campaign. “Now a lot of those females who supported Obama are saying, ‘How come there is so much testosterone in the Cabinet and so little estrogen?’” the former Arkansas governor said.
Obama beat Romney 55 percent to 43 percent among women, according to Reuters/Ipsos exit polling on Election Day. He also won large majorities of the African-American and Hispanic vote.
Diversity in the U.S. is usually defined as including women and racial minorities, especially Hispanics and African-Americans. U.S. political pundits parse polling data of women, Hispanics, African-Americans and other groups for signs of voting patterns. They track the “gender gap,” which is the percentage difference between Democratic and Republican support among women. Since Obama’s re-election in November, analysts have noted the rising percentage of ethnic minorities and described his victory as a reflection of changing demography.
The criticism of Obama is surprising because Republicans usually are the party accused of insensitivity to diversity. Former President George W. Bush deflected this by pointing to the two secretaries of state during his eight years in office, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, both black. They were followed by Hillary Clinton. Almost overlooked in the criticism is that the White House announced this week that Attorney General Eric Holder, who is black, will stay on as the nation’s senior legal officer.
Obama also was widely reported to be considering an African-American woman, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice as secretary of state. She pulled her name from consideration because of Republican objections to her statements about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. White House spokesman Jay Carney urged critics to make their judgments only after Obama had completed his team. “Women are well-represented in the president’s senior staff,” he said Jan. 9, noting that his team included Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.