Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Obama and the White Male Power Structure

Resolved: White men run America.  You know it.  I know it. We all know it.  Let's not waste each other's time debating about whether or not this is a fact.  Of course it's a fact.  Nobody said it was fair, it just is what it is.  It may make a few of you uncomfortable, but that doesn't stop it from being true.  What, you're not convinced?  You actually need proof of this?  OK, fine.   Let's start with the basics:
  • We've had 44 Presidents throughout the history of the United States - 43 of them (97.7%) have been White men
  • White men make up 90% of the House Majority Party (the Republican Party)
  • White men make up 70% of all House Representatives
  • Within the leadership of the House: the Speaker, the Majority Leader, the Majority Whip and the Majority Chief Deputy Whip are all White men
  • White men make up 77 of the 100 U.S. Senators
  • Within the leadership of the Senate: the President, the President Pro Tempore, the Majority Leader and the Assistant Majority Leader are all White men   
  • White men make up 5 of the 9 U.S. Supreme Court Justices
  • Within the leadership of the U.S. Supreme Court: the Chief Justice is a White male
  • There are 7 members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who run our nation's military - all 7 are White men
  • If we turn to private industry, White men make up 43 (86%) of the top 50 wealthiest Americans
  • If we look at the top 50 "Fortune 500" Companies, White men make up 43 (86%) of the top 50 CEO's 
Need we go on?

Now that we've established that there is a White male power structure in America, it is easy to understand some of the criticisms of late with respect to President Obama's 2nd term cabinet appointments:
  • Secretary of State: John Kerry
  • Secretary of the Treasury: Jack Lew
  • Secretary of Defense: Chuck Hagel
Let's just stop there for a moment.  These 3 cabinet positions are the 3 highest cabinet positions available.  If the President dies or is unable to do his duty, the order of his successors is as follows:  (i) the Vice President; (ii) the Speaker of the House; (iii) the President Pro Tempore of the Senate; (iv) the Secretary of State; (v) the Secretary of Treasury; (vi) the Secretary of Defense.  It's notable to observe that, after Obama's new picks take effect, all 6 of these positions will be held by White men.  

Obama has chosen to fill several other cabinet positions with White men as well, but before we go down that road, let me be clear on something.  When it comes to what is most beneficial to the Black Community, I have consistently maintained that the single most important factor for any Presidential appointment is the ideology of the individual, not the color of their skin.  The Black Community is not helped in any way, shape or form by appointing a dozen Clarence Thomas or Alan Keyes types to the Presidential cabinet.  Indeed, that would be a major step backwards for the Black Community.  So we must concede that there's more to a Presidential appointment than the color of the candidate's skin.

That being said, one cannot help but feel that there is certainly a missed opportunity for so many qualified and politically viable minorities and women who could have been chosen by the President to fill these highly coveted positions.  Again, we have already established that White men can run this country.  They've been doing so for the past 224 years.  Moreover, we all know that this is Obama's second term, meaning that he's free to appoint whoever he wants.  Such being the case, why not give somebody else (as in not another White male) a chance to show that they, too, can run the country?

After all, isn't that why Barack Obama's presidency is historic in the first place?  Finally, after 200 years of White men running the White house, we the people chose to give somebody else a chance.  And it blew everybody's mind.  Whoa, a non-white guy in the White House...who knew?  And then, ironically, 4 years later the "non-White guy" overlooks alllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll of the many excellent minority and female choices for his cabinet, and instead reinforces the notion of the legitimacy of the White male power structure.  As NYU Professor of government, Paul Light, recently observed:  “Obama has given away the big presents to the white guys . . . It reflects to me a lack of conscious concern for the issue.

And that, to me, is the point here. 
Invariably, whenever this topic comes up, many are quick to say that we should only be concerned with choosing the best person for the job.  And that's true.  We absolutely should put the best person for the job in each position.  That's as true for government as it is for the private sector.  I only have one question, however, for those who repeat this mantra:  out of all the millions of extremely talented and gifted people in America, how can it be possible that the "best" person for the job almost always turns out to be a White male?
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