There's some interesting noise coming out of the White House these days.
It seems the administration feels it is not getting due credit for its diversity efforts. White House adviser Dan Bartlett recently complained to USA Today's Susan Page that President Bush's diversity record was "a strong governing management trait that has been under-reported."
Indeed, Bush's efforts have been quite impressive. Bush has in some ways exceeded former president Clinton, who set a new standard with his appointments of women and minorities to Cabinet-level positions. "Over eight years and 29 appointments, Clinton had in his Cabinet five women, seven African-Americans, three Hispanics (one of them named to two posts) and one Asian-American," Page wrote in USA Today on Dec. 10. "Over four years and 24 appointments, Bush has named to his Cabinet five women, four African-Americans, three Hispanics and two Asian-Americans."
Where Bush exceeds Clinton is in appointing people to the more prestigious Cabinet positions. Bush has twice named African Americans to lead the state department and has nominated a Hispanic to serve as attorney general.
The president has also nominated long-time adviser Margaret Spellings to be his education secretary and Cuban-born businessman Carlos M. Gutierrez to be his commerce secretary. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta (a Democrat) and Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao, both Asian Americans, will remain in their positions.
Among the minorities in his first Cabinet who are leaving the administration are Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Education Secretary Roderick R. Paige.
And, of course, some of Bush's closest and most-trusted advisers are women, including Karen Hughes and national security adviser and secretary of state nominee Condoleezza Rice.
"There has been an effort by the president to reach out and ensure that his staff and his team reflect the diversity of our country," said Bartlett.
Bush bragged this summer at a conference sponsored in Washington by UNITY: Journalists of Color that "if you look at my administration, it's diverse, and I'm proud of that."
Bush's and Bartlett's comments sound startlingly close to an endorsement of affirmative action. Reach out and reflect the diversity of our country. . . . Huh? Since when has that been a conservative goal?
So I called the American Civil Rights Institute, Ward Connerly's conservative, anti-affirmative action group in California. And sure enough, it took issue with the White House suggesting that diversity is, in any way, shape or form, one of its goals.
"As soon as we have a goal of diversity, we are judging people by skin color or heritage," said institute spokeswoman Diane Schachterle. "An argument could be made that the consideration of race or ethnicity would deviate at least partially from a colorblind society."
But here's where it gets tricky. Schachterle acknowledges that all of Bush's appointees, minority and otherwise, appear to be eminently qualified. Bush, she said, likely made all of his appointments based on achievement and qualifications, rather than race or gender.
"But we don't know what's going on in his mind, of course," she said.