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Obama cabinet: most diverse in US history

world Updated: Jan 20, 2009 11:25 IST
AFP
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As the first African American president to be, Barack Obama has put together a historically diverse cabinet, with minorities taking up half the positions, but it is only a small improvement on past administrations.

The cabinet and non cabinet level members of the incoming Obama administration include 11 whites, four blacks, one Hispanic and two people of Asian origins. They will all serve under Obama, the first black US president.

"We are talking about a relatively small margin for Obama, yet it's correct there has never been such a diverse group in numbers," said Brookings Institute resident and retired University of Wisconsin professor Charles Jones.

Ex president Bill Clinton in his 1992 election campaign said he would appoint the first cabinet "that looks like America," finally settling for a government that, because it included four women, had a majority of non white men.

The incoming administration closely mirrors the demographic reality of the United States in the 21st century, where an August Census Bureau report said its current two-thirds white population will cease to be majority in 2042, a decade earlier than anticipated.

With Obama, African Americans are well represented in government, with Eric Holder in the Justice Department, Lisa Jackson in the Environmental Protection Agency, Ron Kirk as US Trade Representative and Susan Rice as Ambassador to the United Nations.

Beside cabinet level positions, African Americans will also take up key posts in the Obama administration, including Melody Barnes as director of the Domestic Policy Council, and Valerie Jarrett, a longtime friend from Chicago and transition team co-chair, as senior White House advisor.

After Bill Richardson was forced to resign his nomination as commerce secretary because of a campaign finance probe, Hispanics are represented in the Obama cabinet by Ken Salazar and Hilda Solis, respectively interior and labor secretaries.

Rounding out the future cabinet, Asian Americans Steve Chu will take the top spot in the Department of Energy and Eric Shinseki in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"He didn't trumpet the diversity," Jones said of Obama. "He did a service to the people he appointed because the emphasis was the ability of the people, not that they were black, or Asian or Hispanic."

"I don't think Obama ever said 'I'm going to have diverse a group' and leading then everybody to count. They do it anyway," Jones said.

In each of his presentations, "he emphasized the background and ability of the person," he added.

Regarding gender, Obama's future cabinet will have 15 men and five women, the same as Bill Clinton's and just one woman more than outgoing President George W Bush, who has four women cabinet members.

"We always want more. There is no question about it," Nancy Pelosi, the first woman in history to head the Congress, told CNN recently when asked if the gender balance in Obama's cabinet picks was to her liking.

"When I went to my first meeting at the White House as a leader and looked around and saw that I was the first woman in history to be seated at that table, my first thought was, 'We want more,'" she said recalling events in 2002 when she was minority Whip, or the second highest ranking person in the Democratic party.

"But I feel confident (in) the diversity in (Obama's) cabinet and among the advisers to the president, who, as you know, are as important in many ways as members of the cabinet," Pelosi said.

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