August 28, 2013

Why am I not surprised? This White House has done a stunningly less impressive job of appointing women to cabinet-level jobs than its most recent democratic predecessor, the Clinton Administration. Here we are 13 years after Bill Clinton left the Oval Office, and the next Democrat in that job has fewer women in those critically visible posts than President Clinton had. Harumph!

The New York Times this week released a survey comparing female cabinet-level appointments by the last three administrations. It found women (currently) hold about 35 percent of cabinet-level posts, compared with 41 percent for Mr. Clinton and 24 percent for Mr. Bush at similar points in their presidencies? One would not have expected any better from George W. Bush---he was as tone deaf as they come on the issue of diversity. But women have a right to expect more, much more, from President Obama. Without their support, he would not have been elected in the first place nor reelected in the second.

What's most infuriating is that after stressing his appeal to women voters in his re-election, he appears to have appointed fewer women to the most visible Cabinet jobs in his second term than during his first. President Obama broke no new ground when he appointed Hillary Clinton as the third female Secretary of State (Condoleeza Rice and Madeleine Albright preceded her) although she did by most accounts a stellar job. He had the ability this term to make two historic first female appointments. There has never been a female Secretary of Defense or Treasury, but he chose men for both positions.

The President has one last opportunity to appoint a woman to a key and ground-breaking post. That is to replace Ben Bernanke as Chair of the Federal Reserve. As of this writing, it was looking as if Federal Reserve Vice Chair Janet Yellen was falling behind the other top candidate, White House Economic Adviser Lawrence Summers.

Summers is reportedly a member of the President's inner circle, much-maligned by former female White House aides and then made embarrassingly public earlier this year by a New York Times photograph. Taken inside the Oval Office on Dec. 29th, it showed (barely) 11 economic and Congressional advisers clustered around the president in jeans and weekend wear. Domestic Adviser Valerie Jarrett can barely be seen (only part of one leg is visible) and the other participants are all men.

At mid-week, cable news networks and business wires were reporting the Summers vetting for the job had begun, and Yellen's had not---a strong indication Mr. Obama is once again casting diversity considerations aside. If he does appoint Summers the sting will be doubly strong, as women have not forgotten why he was drummed out of the presidency of Harvard University. He may be a brilliant human being but he made some decidedly stereotypical and uninformed statements while in that job about women. In 2005 he suggested that innate gender differences may explain why fewer women succeed in science and math careers and then stood by his inaccurate and unfounded comments the next day.

After the New York Times photograph came out in January, the roar of the on-looking public deepened to the point where the President was forced to respond to the criticism. He sought patience and said, 'Until you've seen what my overall team looks like, it's premature to assume that somehow we're going backwards. We're not going backwards, we're going forward.'

Now that we've waited and the jobs are almost all filled, it's easy to see he was, to put it diplomatically, putting off the inevitable or to put it more bluntly, prevaricating.