WHISTLING PAST DIXIE…. As Barack Obama’s cabinet continues to come together, it’s hard not to notice the diversity. No one could argue that this team fails to “look like America,” to borrow Bill Clinton’s phrase from 1992. I doubt the president-elect and the transition team are overly concerned about checking off boxes, but this is obviously not a cabinet dominated by wealthy, middle-aged white guys.
Apparently, though, there’s a group feeling slighted: Southerners.
“Not a one,” grumbles a one senior Democratic aide who hails from the South. “Not even half of one, unless you count Hillary Clinton, and she doesn’t count because she’s not even an Arkansan anymore. She’s a Yankee.”
To be fair, the official voice of the White House will come with a Southern drawl: Robert Gibbs, Obama’s soon-to-be press secretary, is an Alabama native.
But going back to at least John F. Kennedy, every other new president has populated his initial Cabinet with one or more Southerners.
There are some practical concerns here. For one thing, the cabinet isn’t finished, and we don’t know who else might be nominated (or where they’ll come from). For another, Republicans have dominated politics in the South for a generation.
Nevertheless, the Politico talked to a former senior Democratic Hill aide who complained about Obama’s “geographic snubbing.” The aide added, “The risk to the president-elect is that if he doesn’t appoint anyone from the South to top level policy positions, he is going to look like he is buying into the stereotype that there isn’t anyone from the South smart enough to work for him.”
Maybe I’m insufficiently sensitive, but this strikes me as pretty unpersuasive. Obama is picking the most qualified, most capable officials he can find for his team. It’s kind of silly to think he’s deliberately “snubbing” a region — chances are, the president-elect isn’t paying much attention to geography at all. I get the sense Obama cares about gender, racial, ethnic, and even ideological diversity, but making sure the South is duly represented is probably low on his priority list.
And frankly, it should be. Various groups want a seat at the proverbial table, but since when are Southerners an unrepresented minority? Will other regions start questioning whether they’ve been snubbed, too?
It’s likely the significance of this is being exaggerated. The Politico quoted a grand total of two people complaining — both anonymous Hill staffers, one of whom doesn’t even work in Congress anymore. Indeed, Gordon Taylor, a former chief of staff to a southern Democratic member, “said some Blue Dog Democrats didn’t even realize the gap in geographic diversity until it was pointed out to them.”
But for observers looking for something new to complain about, I guess this fits the bill.