The media has been in a stir this week over the makeup of President Obama’s second-term cabinet. After nominating four more white men – Sen. Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary, John Brennan for Director of the CIA, Sen. John Kerry for Secretary of State, and White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew for Treasury Secretary – critics on the left and the right are cringing over the “old boys” face of government.
It’s hard not to agree that a not-so-subtle layer of sexism taints Washington politics. At a time when women are frequently outpacing men educationally and professionally, it seems hard to imagine there aren’t any women qualified – or interested – in these high-level positions.
Still, in my book, political preferences and policy prescriptions far outweigh gender in terms of importance. I tend to roll my eyes whenever people start talking about the shortage of women in positions of political power. How insulting to talk about adding a token woman to thepresidential cabinet absent any evaluation of her values or political leanings.
The reality is liberal female lawmakers and public officials favor bigger government. And so while we may share biology, adding women to the administration may in fact run counter to the values I work to advance.
Take Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, whom feminist groups applauded as a voice for working for women and families. Her gender didn’t dictate that she made “good” decisions. The reality is Solis is a great defender of public sector unions, often ignoring the fact that not all workers – especially women – benefit from union negotiations. In fact women, who are more likely than men to seek out part-time positions ornon-traditional work arrangements, often lose out from the one-size-fits all compensation regime that Solis supported.
President Obama has continually positioned himself as a great champion for women. He routinely talks about the fact that the first piece of legislation he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, he made the so-called War on Women a central theme of his re-election campaign, and he paraded Sandra Fluke around as a poster girl for his agenda.
But as this week shows this is a White House that’s great at putting on a good face. The reality is the Obama administration has come under scrutiny numerous times for its treatment of women. It’s hard to forget White House communications director Anita Dunn’s comments that, “this place would be in court for a hostile workplace…because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women.” Or Christina Romer, former head of the Council of Economic Advisers, who said she “felt like a piece of meat” while serving in the White House.
What’s more, despite the president – and Democrats’ – near obsession over the so-called wage gap, we know the White House has consistently remunerated its male employees more highly than its female ones.
Far more concerning than the gender imbalance of this new cabinet, is the blatant demonstration of how proximity and service to the president – rather than experience, qualification, and policy ideas – wins power in Washington. An internal revolving door exists within the federal government – and certainly within the Obama administration – that should alarm conservatives and progressives alike.
At a time when unemployment remains close to 8%, it seems questionable – perhaps even unethical – for Mr. Obama to simply shift his Chief of Staff to the position of Treasury Secretary. Certainly Lew’s supporters will point to his experience as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, but the question remains: will he advance policies to help turn around the economy – or is he someone who has simply paid his political dues?
It’s true men and women are different and bring different talents and perspectives to the table. But gender must never be sufficient – and how insulting to think it is. Far more important than creating a gender-ethnic-racial balance within the government is finding individuals who believe in the principles of economic liberty, constitutionally limited government, and personal and civic responsibility. The president ought not look for the right gender, but for the candidate that can best serve their country and work to bring real change at a time of difficulty.
Sabrina L. Schaeffer is executive director of the Independent Women’s Forum.