Barack Obama’s Cabinet Appointments: More Women Needed

Obama's Cabinet doesn't look like America.

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By Bonnie Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Now that the Obama cabinet selection process is about over, the final tally is close to what I expected it to be, and disappointing to a number of the president-elect's key constituencies. There is one cabinet-level appointment yet to be announced, out of 15 cabinet positions (filled with today's announcements) and at least seven cabinet-level appointments. From among these 22 coveted jobs, five appointees are women. Since women are 52 percent of the U.S. population and Obama's transition team promised a cabinet that "looked like America," one would have to say that, in terms of gender, Obama has failed.

The stark reality is shown in living color on this New Agenda page link, which sports photos of the Obama cabinet members and makes an important visual point.

While Obama is breaking records for putting his cabinet in place more quickly than prior presidents, he broke no new ground with his female cabinet appointments. No woman had ever been selected to head the key Securities and Exchange Commission before Obama's selection of Mary Schapiro, but she is not in the cabinet. He had ample opportunity to name female secretaries of defense, treasury, and even veterans affairs. He declined.

I've cited this post before, but it's important to reinforce the fact that Obama's breaking no new number with his female appointments.

At the start of his first term, President Bush nominated four women to his Cabinet. Bill Clinton had five women in his Cabinet at the start of his presidency, and George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan each had two, according to research conducted by New York University's Wagner School of Public Service in partnership with The Washington Post.

Just because I'm talking quantity does not mean I'm not also concerned about quality. But read the New Agenda list of women he passed over. There were plenty of experienced, talented, professional women available to fill any of his cabinet posts.

Women should take this into account when he's up for re-election four years from now. Women aren't the only disappointed constituency. He's annoyed many Southerners, as well as liberals who see his selections as too middle-of-the road:

CHICAGO—President-elect Barack Obama spent the campaign fighting the notion that he's an unabashed liberal. Now he can point to Exhibit A: a Cabinet that's a middle-of-the-roaders' dream. Consider the scorecard: The centrist Democratic Leadership Council claims ties with half the group. Movement progressives count a single one, CaliforniaRep. Hilda Solis at Labor, a union favorite. But if Obama gives with Solis, he takes away with former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, a free-trade advocate for trade representative, no union favorite. Classic Obama, some grumbled. "We just hoped the political diversity would have been stronger," said Tim Carpenter, executive director of Progressive Democrats of America. "We see a lot of recycled Clinton folks and he gets a strong 'D' on the policy side. We hope he will hustle them to be more progressive."

And then there's this:

"Women's groups who have been hoping for an historic breakthrough in the numbers of women and feminists in the cabinet are looking at a Cabinet now that has lower numbers of women than the Clinton Administration," said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. "With only three Cabinet positions remaining, the women's groups are pushing ahead not only for more women in the Cabinet, but for more women to be appointed to the thousands of plum jobs that are available. A number of groups have formed a Feminist Appointment Wiki Project to make sure that more strong women and feminist names are put forth."Ellen Malcolm, the president and founder of Emily's List, told The Washington Post that Obama "obviously started off with a bang, with Janet Napolitano, Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice . . ..we've been disappointed to see women suggested for some positions and not chosen."Women's groups are also very concerned about the economic recovery package, which so far is specifying the creation of jobs primarily in the construction industries, which under-represent women. Smeal commented that "we are also alarmed that the key components of the economic recovery package revealed to the public are emphasizing construction jobs, which notoriously under-represent women workers. Although we support a physical infrastructure stimulus package, we believe it must be accompanied with a human infrastructure component that will employ a majority of women workers. With women nearly half of the workforce, a successful stimulus package must include jobs that will employ significant numbers of women and men."