Liberals are bemoaning the lack of gender diversity in President Obama’s second-term cabinet. Conservatives are complaining about Obama’s hypocrisy in having so little gender diversity in his cabinet. And liberals are offended (the pretend kind of offended) by conservatives complaining about Obama’s hypocrisy. In other words, this is an all-too-common partisan war of words in which both sides are rather insincere.
There are two real issues at work here, neither of which is getting much attention.
To begin with, the problem is not so much that Obama doesn’t have women in top spots; it is that he chose less qualified and less impressive men over them. If you put them under truth serum there wouldn’t be a member of the Senate who’d say Chuck Hagel is better qualified and more experienced than Michele Flournoy.
Moreover, in virtually every case the new senior cabinet nominees are less accomplished and respected that their predecessor, whether male or female. Hillary Clinton or Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)? (Well that one is hard, but I’d still go with Clinton, who at least is not a pompous imitator of European elites.) Tim Geithner or Jack Lew? No question Geithner is the more respected. Leon Panetta or Chuck Hagel? It’s not even close. David Petraeus or John Brennan? Oh, puleez.
The notion that Obama is seeking the very best person for each of these jobs is really nonsense. It would be one thing if he was sacrificing diversity for quality, but he is getting neither. His quality control has gone out the window and the country and his administration will be the worse for it.
And this brings us to the true meaning of diversity. The argument for diversity in business and in university admissions has been, among others, that you need a diverse set of views, experiences and backgrounds to make for a robust, invigorating atmosphere in which all points of view can be explored. This is generally a crock since race is not a substitute for uniqueness. Real diversity, intellectual diversity and life-experience diversity, are much harder to come by and much different than racial or gender bean-counting.
But in Obama’s case, he has dumped his “team of rivals” for a team of like-minded liberal yes men. Hagel is being selected in large part because he thinks just like Obama and isn’t going to give him any guff about slashing defense. Lew isn’t going to give Obama a push in the direction of compromise; he’ll do what he did in the first term, which is heighten the partisan divide and champion Obama’s borrow and spend policies. Anyone think Kerry is going to turn to Obama and say, “Hey, we really should stop fawning over Putin“? (Kerry, you will recall, carried Obama’s water by opposing in the Senate the Magnitsky human rights bill that enacts visa bans for human rights violators.)
The president is absolutely entitled to get the people he wants. But it is or should be for all those liberals who accuse conservatives of being rigid and closed-minded a concern that this president wants intellectually unaccomplished, monochromatic liberals. He apparently has had it with opposing views. He has always been prickly about the slightest criticism, but now he’s doing his best to remove the annoyance of contrary views and competing ideas from his presence. Content in his liberal cocoon and surrounded by the head-bobbing of confidantes unwilling to give the president bad news and/or different viewpoints, the president’s arrogance and policy blind spots will only grow.
That is bad for the country but it is also revealing that the president is so lacking in intellectual curiosity and confidence that he needs to surround himself with a team of mediocre players whose main job is to hold up a mirror for the boss to bask in his reflected image.