Democrats who were hoping to keep riding the post-electoral support of minority groups may have trouble selling that message after numerous miscues have raised questions over the party’s commitment to diversity.
For three of Obama’s most important Cabinet positions, he selected white males to serve; John Kerry for Secretary of State, Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, and Jack Lew for Secretary of Treasury. Civil rights groups were quick to slam Obama for failing to nominate U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to replace former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—both of whom came under fire following the 9/11 Benghazi attacks.
The backlash prompted Obama to urge patience leading up to his second inauguration, in which the president stated:
“I would just suggest that everybody kind of wait until they’ve seen all my appointments — who is in the White House staff and who is in my Cabinet — before they rush to judgment,” he said. “Until you’ve seen what my overall team looks like, it’s premature to assume that somehow we’re going backwards. We’re not going backwards, we’re going forward.”
Now that all Cabinet positions have appointments, it’s immediately clear that progress has gone backwards. Asian-American and Latino representation falls from three members to one (Eric Shinseki and Thomas Perez)—provided Department of Labor nominee Perez is confirmed. And amidst the ongoing national debate over gay marriage, an openly gay nominee has yet to be selected for the president’s progressive administration.
The lack of minority support from the administration could prove troublesome for upcoming Democrat elections, as multiple groups released outraged statements criticizing the Cabinet. National Organization for Women’s President, Terry O’Neil, told Politico:
“I at least expected that more than a third of the jobs would go to women. Women should be half the Cabinet. We’re 51 percent of the population, and more than half of us voted for the president’s reelection. Instead, women have been picked for just seven of 23 Cabinet posts.”
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus voiced her disappointment that there wouldn’t be another Asian-American Cabinet member:
“Seventy-three percent of Asian-American Pacific Islanders voted for the president, they came together to support him and we just want to make sure that his Cabinet reflects that support and is as diverse as possible.”
In addition to issues with the administration’s Cabinet, state-level party leaders have continued to use race as a negative during campaigns. The controversy started in Kentucky when a liberal super PAC Progress Kentucky, attacked Elaine Chao, the wife of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Progress Kentucky questioned the former Secretary of Labor’s citizenship, suggesting she might have allegiances to China.
But that wasn’t the only example of a Democrat leader bringing race into the election equation. Over the weekend, South Carolina Democratic Chairman Dick Harpootlian attempted to rally party activists by guaranteeing that the next Democratic frontrunner would “send [Governor] Nikki Haley back to wherever the hell she came from”. This wasn’t the first time Harpootlian had made controversial comments. During the Democratic National Convention last year, Harpootlian compared Governor Haley to Adolph Hitler’s mistress, saying the governor “was down in the bunker a la Eva Braun.” Harpootlian stepped down from his post on Saturday as apparently planned, but not before the damage was done.
The party’s image concerning race relations continues to suffer in light of these recent gaffes. And while Cabinet position’s and state leader remarks have been shrugged off by Democrats, many minority groups continue to grow skeptical of the party’s placating gestures, which come across as thinly-veiled attempts to support diversity.
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