Change WHO Can Believe in?: Why Obama’s Cabinet Choices are a Troubling Sign

Evelyn Crunden ’13
Features Editor

As we closed the book on 2012, a year lauded by some as the “Year of the Woman” and one that brought us the most diverse Congress we have ever seen, many proponents of a progressive and reflective government were cautiously optimistic. After all, Obama, though not the most radical president in history, is nonetheless relatively reliable in certain aspects of his governance and has in the past shown himself to be open to shattering ceilings and charting the way for positive change. After an initial four years with an administration that in many ways presented the American people with a deviation from the standard of white upper-class men, however, it appears the next four will be an extreme disappointment.

Out are the majority of the women and people of color who carried the Obama administration through struggles great and small. In are a group of the good old boys, in a picture reminiscent of the American politics that haunted us all until very recently.

Some Obama veterans are expected to stay, like Janet Napolitano, Eric Holder and Kathleen Sebelius, though the actual guarantee of their tenure remains uncertain.

Despite a few retentions, however, replacement choices for those departing reflect a mentality few progressives are likely to endorse. Where Hillary Clinton, the world’s most admired woman according to Gallup’s annual poll, once ran the State Department, failed presidential candidate and notoriously stiff John Kerry will now be the face of American diplomacy.

Leon Panetta will be succeeded by Chuck Hagel, a seemingly bipartisan but ultimately controversial choice. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who bore the worst of the criticism during the recession, will be replaced by the equally white and male Jack Lew. Lew’s vacant spot as Chief of Staff has been filled by Denis McDonough and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar will be succeeded by David Hayes.

Some nominations have yet to be given. Hilda Solis’ replacement in Labor will certainly be interesting, and we can only hope her legacy will be continued by another appointment reflective of a diverse and ever-expanding workforce. Regardless, the message seems clear: if you were hoping for change and a shift for the better, you’re out of luck.

Where once Obama sought to form a “team of rivals” in the manner of one of his heroes, Abraham Lincoln, he now seems to have retreated utterly from that endeavor. Previously the choice of the formidable Clinton as Secretary of State was a bold but effective one that ultimately created a lasting and beneficial bond. The appointments of Sebelius and Napolitano, though not necessarily the most progressive, were an indicator of a shift in style from the previous administration, and Cabinet members like Solis spoke to the need to pair positions with the people most qualified to fill and relate to them. It seemed that women and people of color would play more than simply a token role in politics, and many voters were encouraged.

Yet, after being re-elected, the president has apparently decided that capitulation to outside criticism and fruitless attempts at appeasement take priority over building a lasting political coalition designed to represent the nation at large. With respect to policies, no cabinet choice has been indicative of a shift forward and there is little indication that will change – with regard to everything from economic policy to education reform.

Ultimately, the most disheartening element of the situation that now remains, above all else, was seen as the time when change could truly have been possible. Instead, we have more of the same, and it hurts even more than it might have in light of how close we finally came towards true progress.

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