President Barack Obama suffers from Groucho Marx syndrome: He favors those in the club he doesn’t belong to. Otherwise how to explain why he is fighting for Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense but didn't for Susan Rice to be secretary of state?
At the rate he is going, Obama is going to have a Cabinet that looks more like the Augusta National Golf Club than America. The four top Cabinet posts will probably go to white men: John Kerry at State; Jack Lew at Treasury; Hagel; and the replacement for Attorney General Eric Holder at Justice -- the short list of which consists of, you guessed it, men.
Obama to Mitt Romney: Could you please send me your binders full of women?
Actually Obama doesn’t need help. Washington is bursting with qualified women. Hagel is a fine choice, but there’s never only one. In plain sight was Michele Flournoy, the undersecretary of defense for policy until about a year ago. In the financial sector, there’s the economist Janet Yellen, vice chairman of the Federal Reserve; Lael Brainard, undersecretary of Treasury for international affairs; and stars from the private sector such as PepsiCo Chief Executive Officer Indra Nooyi and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. As for lawyers, there are outstanding lawyers on practically every corner in Washington.
Obama does have a chance to get a woman in a Top Four slot when Holder hands in his expected resignation. The Great Mentioner mostly lists (highly qualified) men to replace him: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride of Virginia, Deputy Attorney General James Cole. What about state attorneys general such as Martha Coakley of Massachusetts or Lisa Madigan of Illinois? Just because they weren’t good gubernatorial candidates doesn’t mean they don't have fine records. Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri have long legal experience. Either would be a great loss to the Senate -- but you can do so much more from atop the Justice Department.
This is not to say that Patrick or Lew, who’s managed the often unmanageable White House well, shouldn’t be elevated. Obama’s problem is that he doesn’t look beyond his nose. Hagel was already on his foreign policy advisory board. Kerry hung out with him during debate prep.
Obama may be resting on his laurels. His first-term appointments were among the most diverse in history. He can’t help that many of his stalwarts are gone or going: Christina Romer of the Council of Economic Advisers; Carol Browner of the Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy; Lisa Jackson of the Environmental Protection Agency; and of course Hillary Clinton.
Maybe the lack of women on short lists is actually a good thing: After all, those names are often orchestrated by ambitious aides. And now that women see who Obama fights for and doesn’t, not being on the list may be advisable. No woman wants to be Riced.
(Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow her on Twitter.)
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