Editorial: Nothing to See Here

Jewish Light Editorial

President Barack Obama has had two Supreme Court vacancies to fill. Both were filled with women.

Through mid-December 87 of Obama’s 217 judicial nominees were female, with about 40 percent of those being women of color (contrast that with President George W. Bush’s record about half that percentage of his judicial appointees being women). As the National Women’s Law Center noted recently, “President Obama has taken an important step towards increasing the representation of women, including women of color, on the federal bench.”

His first-term Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, was a political rival, yet her appointment proved exceptional, and she’s garnered high praise in many circles for her indefatigable globe-hopping to advance the cautious incremental approach of the emerging Obama Doctrine.

Yet with his recent Cabinet nominations, Obama has taken heat from a variety of groups and public voices for a lack of female representation. He’s chosen men for the lead spots at Defense, State, Treasury and the Central Intelligence Agency, leaving only two women with Cabinet-level positions.

There should be more, of course; diversity is both an admirable and essential goal. With our history of glass ceilings and racial divides, it’s easy to see why even our first African-American president sits under a diversity magnifying glass with each passing appointment.

But if the suggestion is that Obama is demonstrating any evidence of discrimination or paternalism in his approach, we say that’s not even remotely close to what’s happening.

What we desire is an egalitarian society in which we don’t have to even stop to think about whether a candidate possesses a particular racial, gender, ethnic or other innate characteristic. If the job calls for intelligence, leadership and management qualities, experience, expertise and skills, that should be the end of the discussion, right?

Not quite. Truth be told, the president has about a year and a half to achieve his policy goals before national politics once again interfere.  Preserving Obamacare, adopting immigration reform and promoting an effective economic policy have been among the top domestic priorities, and gun control just got added by outcry on the heels of the Sandy Hook massacre. Internationally, maintaining a steady and strong stance toward Iran, and ensuring a strongly defended Israel, are others we very much desire.

So when the goal is to marshal his troops to find timely and effective solutions to his priority issues, he, as with any president, must be sure that there is a level of professional intimacy, comfort and trust with his lieutenants, no matter the substantive area, to ensure the highest potential for success.

The fact that three or four high male appointments happened almost simultaneously may have created the perception of a shun, but the reality is otherwise. There’s no clear evidence that Obama wanted Clinton to resign and he chose a well-respected senator in Sen. John Kerry, (D-Mass.), who’s had tons of international diplomatic exposure in his lengthy career. The other key appointments – John Brennan at the CIA, former Sen. Chuck Hagel for Defense, and Jack Lew for Treasury – need virtually no ramp-up time in their respective areas.

There’s no expectation that a position will remain perpetually with a person of the gender or ethnic identity of its current incumbent. We don’t expect Jack Lew’s successor as White House Chief of Staff must be Jewish, simply because he and his predecessor, Rahm Emmanuel, happened to be. Would you want to go back to the days when there was a supposed “Jewish” seat on the Supreme Court? Given there are three Jewish justices now, we doubt that you would.

What we do expect is that appointees demonstrate and advocate for the values important to us as citizens. As United States citizens, we strive for leadership that over time is reflective of the great diversity inherent in American society. As Jewish-American citizens, we also advocate for our leaders to be strong on issues near to our hearts and history, issues such as civil rights, freedom from persecution, economic opportunity and of course, the safety, security and prosperity of the State of Israel.

Looking at a few expeditious presidential appointments as evidence of anything other than a desire for quick and effective political results is foolish. The measure of the president is his record over time on matters of inclusion, policy and legislation. If his overall string of appointments looks anything like it has to date on diversity, he will be judged well. If his appointments lead to success on his agenda items, he will be judged even more favorably, at least from the perspective of those who agree with what he is attempting to achieve.