Latinos in the President’s Cabinet? It’s Not Just About “Optics”

obama cabinet roomBy Victor Landa, NewsTaco

I have a problem with pundits and commentators calling President Obama’s lack of diversity in his cabinet a matter of “optics.” As if the President were an optometrist and his cabinet were a set of lenses. As if the president’s cabinet were not so much a working kitchen cabinet but a china cabinet, where things are placed to be seen and seldom used.

In the past couple of weeks the two Latinos on President Obama’s cabinet – Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar – have announced their departure from the White House. The announcements coincide with the increasing drumbeat call for more women and minorities to fill Obama’s second-term cabinet posts. And that drumbeat has been prompted by the fact that Obama’s cabinet picks, so far, have all been white, middle-aged men.

The take-away, if one is to swallow the opinions of the media pundits, is that things just don’t look right. And they have a certain point. It was, after all, the Obama campaign that mercilessly pelted presidential candidate Romney for the male-whiteness and lack of diversity of just about everything that the Romney campaign did or said. Already some commentators are asking for a “binder full of women” to be sent to the Oval office for the President’s perusal. So, yes, the President brought some of this on himself. But that distracts from the more vital issue.

The problem is not how things may or may not look. A president picks his or her (one must accommodate the possibility) cabinet according to a series of factors: comfort level and loyalty, qualification, specific agenda priorities, vetting, and optics. The problem, as many Latinos know, lies in the insidious idea of there not being “enough qualified Latinos” to chose from.

We know this isn’t true. There are plenty of qualified Latinos to fill the White House from basement to attic, East wing to West wing. It’s just that Latinos need to do a better job at developing their own bench. Latinos need to promote Latinos:  You want binders full of qualified Latinos? Put one together from our own contact lists.

Getting more Latinos in the President’s cabinet is not going to happen because it looks good. It’s going to happen when we call attention to our qualifications, when we position ourselves in levels of comfort and loyalty with whoever may be residing in the White House, when we prove valuable to a national priority.

So, yes, Latinos will make the cabinet look better (we make everything look better…), but the point is that Latinos will make the cabinet stronger, more efficient, and better serve the nation. And if calling attention to the lack of Latinos at the highest posts is going to make the pickers look harder, then it’s not just about “optics,” it’s about making America better.

[Photo by The White House]

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