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“I, For One, Am Sick Of Waiting”: The Overwhelming Urgency Of Hillary Clinton’s Cabinet Promise

The other day Hillary Clinton made the kind of pledge that makes waves, but which should not, in all honesty, have to be made at all: “I am going to have a cabinet that looks like America,” she said to Rachel Maddow at MSNBC’s Democratic town hall, “and 50 percent of America is women.” I all but swooned.

Government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people should, by definition and without need for further clarification, represent all the people — though of course, when President Lincoln said those words in the killing fields of Gettysburg, the majority of people living in America (all women, millions of enslaved and free African Americans, and hundreds of thousands of Native Americans) couldn’t even vote. Fulfilling the Constitution’s promise that we will together build “a more perfect union” is clearly an ongoing task.

But okay, here we are. It’s 2016 and a mere 96 years after the 19th Amendment declared that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged… on account of sex,” we have a very real chance of electing a female president. Shirley Chisholm paved the way in 1972, and Clinton herself came pretty close in 2008, but now it really might happen.

To be sure, representation doesn’t require some kind of one-to-one proxy arrangement, and I’ve already argued that feminism doesn’t require a blood oath to candidate Clinton. I’ve felt very well represented by many men in politics — not least President Obama and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin — and rest assured that if the 2016 election had come down to Carly Fiorina and Any Male Democrat, I would have very happily (and with a certain degree of urgency) voted for Any Male Democrat.

Ideally, with no legal obstacles in the way, meritocracy would work as intended and the most qualified people would rise to the top of their respective fields as a matter of course. Easy-peasy, no quotas or sweeping pronouncements necessary. We can see how well that’s worked out for women in business, academia, the legal system, Hollywood, sports, journalism, punditry, and Clinton’s chosen field of endeavor, politics.

In fact, Clinton’s candidacy is its own a cautionary tale against such magical thinking. American women have had the vote for 96 years, and in that near-century of time, there has been a single viable female presidential candidate — not once, but twice. The same woman.

During that near-century, how many women have served in cabinet positions? Writing for The Washington Post, Paul Waldman did the math and the answer is dismal: 29 — eight of them in the last eight years. Alongside 509 men. No woman has ever served as secretary of the treasury or defense.

Humanity will not quietly shed centuries of cultural expectations, social conditioning, and institutional structures (such as, for instance, the rules that until the mid-20th century kept women out of America’s top law schools, which have always served as political launching pads) just because a few good laws are in place and a few nice things are said about equality. Consider that five decades after the Voting Rights Act was passed to ensure African Americans equal access to the most basic right and responsibility of citizenship, the battle to strip that right is once again underway. Human progress is not inexorable — we have to fight for, and then defend, every inch.

Classes of people who have been systematically prevented from participating in the fullness of civic life require more than good laws or good intentions. They require policies and actions that help mitigate the wrong that has been done. Put another way: If the only people in your professional contacts list are straight, white men — you need to start calling people you don’t know.

I would argue that the entire country — men, women, and children; black, brown, and white; straight, gay, and other — would benefit if we were to allow ourselves the wisdom, creativity, and experience of a genuine cross-section of our citizenry. You get a better country! You get a better country! Everybody gets a better country!

But honestly, much as I like sounding like Oprah with the cars, that’s not even my point. My point is that women — some of whom are black; Latina; gay; handicapped; Sikh; Muslim; and every other systematically underrepresented group in this country — have the right to be fully represented in America’s democracy. We are 50 percent of the country. We deserve to have a voice commensurate with our numbers.

And anyway, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did exactly what Clinton is proposing when he took office. When asked why, he shrugged and said: “Because it’s 2015.”

Come on, America, let’s get on it. We’re already a year behind Canada. And I, for one, am sick of waiting.

 

By: Emily L. Hauser, The Week, April 29, 2016

May 1, 2016 Posted by | 19th Amendment, Hillary Clinton, White Men, Women in Politics | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Far Nastier Than Anything Revealed By Gates”: Cabinet Officials Going Rogue, A Brief History

Washington is predictably hyperventilating about the swipes against the Obama White House delivered by his former secretary of defense in a new memoir, but the fact that a cabinet official had differences of opinion with a president is hardly a shocking development. Pick any history book about a presidential administration, and you will find loads of palace intrigue, bruised egos, grudge matches, and sharp words from those who lost internal arguments.

Furthermore, battles between presidents and cabinet members have been known to be far nastier than anything revealed by Gates.

You may recall that President George W. Bush was wounded when Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill unloaded to reporter Ron Suskind. O’Neill accused the White House of systematically putting politics ahead of policy, revealed the blind obsession of some officials with invading Iraq, and quoted Vice President Dick Cheney defending tax cuts for the rich by saying “deficits don’t matter.” O’Neill’s revelations became the centerpiece of Suskind’s 2004 book The Price of Loyalty, which helped shape the narrative of the Bush presidency, even though it failed to derail his re-election.

Ronald Reagan’s second term was famously hit with a double blast of vengeful books from former cabinet members. People Magazine observed at the time that “Ronald Reagan is the first president in the nation’s history to suffer — while still in office — such opportunistic vivisection by former associates.”

His first budget director David Stockman published The Triumph of Politics: Why The Reagan Revolution Failed in 1986, which popularized the terms “rosy scenario” and “magic asterisk” to explain how budget gimmicks were deployed to mask the failure to cut spending. Later, former Treasury Secretary and Chief of Staff Donald Regan slammed the White House in For the Record, which revealed how Nancy Reagan sought to control the White House with the help of astrology.

Indeed, fierce scraps between presidents and key cabinet officials are par for the course, if not always well known or remembered.

President Harry Truman’s secretary of state, the wildly popular war hero George Marshall, told him to his face that if he recognized the new state of Israel he would vote against him for re-election, an implicit threat to sandbag his campaign. Truman was stunned, but he held firm and Marshall backed down, kept his opposition to himself, and rebuffed suggestions he should resign in protest.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had an ugly tangle with his first budget director Lewis Douglas. In 1933, Douglas, horrified by Roosevelt’s plans to take American currency off the gold standard (he privately deemed it “the end of western civilization”) began leaking to the press that some administration officials considered the monetary strategy to be unconstitutional. But Roosevelt thought Dean Acheson, then undersecretary of the Treasury, was the leak and fired him instead.

The following year, Douglas resigned in protest of Roosevelt’s decision to increase public works spending to fight the Depression instead of ending all “emergency expenditures.” Once out of the White House, Douglas publicly lashed out at the New Deal as having a “deadly parallel” to Soviet communism, and campaigned for the Republican presidential nominees in 1936 and 1940.

President Woodrow Wilson perhaps dealt with the harshest rebuke from a cabinet member when his Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, a huge political force in the Democratic Party, resigned in protest of Wilson’s handling of Germany during the run-up to World War I. Bryan proceeded to travel the countryside, rallying support against any moves toward entering the war and threatening a fatal split in the party. Yet Wilson’s own barnstorming in favor of military preparedness kept the Democrats unified, allowing him to win re-election and steer Democratic Party foreign policy away from isolationism for the next 100 years.

Compared to the above, the Gates memoir — with its reported mix of praise and criticism — seems like a gentle ribbing.

More importantly, the history of cabinet tensions reminds us that the view from one cabinet member can’t give a full picture of a president and an administration. It is only one account, and needs to be reconciled with several others, and assessed alongside the final outcomes of presidential policies, before it can be properly analyzed. The Gates memoir is sure to be an important artifact of the Obama historic record, but it’s unlikely to be the Rosetta Stone.

 

By: Bill Scher, The Week, January 9, 2014

January 10, 2014 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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