11.22.08

Obama's Cabinet Isn't Female Enough

Spain now has more women than men in its cabinet, a standard the President-elect should emulate.

cabinet, a standard the President-elect should emulate.

In her November 18th blog posting on The Daily Beast, Tina Brown asked, “ Will Secretary of State be enough for Hillary’s army?

No, certainly not is our resounding reply. We will not be appeased with the appointment of one stand-out woman in a high profile position. The New Agenda is calling for "the most women ever" in President-elect Obama’s cabinet. The only appropriate response for a man touting “change” and leading our nation in an unprecedented economic crisis is to exceed the standard set by Presidents Bush and Clinton.

The hammering endured by Senator Clinton and Governor Palin at the hands of the media and pundits has served as a wake up call.

According to a ranking released by the World Economic Forum, the United States lags far behind much of the world when it comes to women holding positions of power. For the first time in history, a European country has a government with more women in the cabinet than men. The new Spanish cabinet has nine women alongside eight men, including the country’s first woman defense minister. The index based its ranking on economic participation, educational attainment, political empowerment, health and survival of women in 130 nations.

Bear in mind that Spain is the country whose exaggerated respect for all things masculine brought the word "machismo" to the English language. The Independent newspaper reports that many Spaniards can still recall the days when no woman could open a bank account, apply for a passport or sign a contract without her husband's permission.

Women have also made tremendous strides in national legislatures all across Europe. Sweden tops the list with women comprising nearly 50 percent of all members of parliament. Countries like Slovakia, Estonia, and Latvia rank ahead of the U.S. Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the forum, told the BBC, "Greater representation of women in senior leadership positions within governments and financial institutions is vital not only to find solutions to the current economic turmoil but to stave off such crises in the future."

The hammering endured by Senator Hillary Clinton and Governor Sarah Palin at the hands of the media and political pundits has served as a wake up call. It is reminiscent of a famous scene in the WWII movie Tora, Tora, Tora about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese commander in charge expresses grave reservations about the impending bombing because he believes it will provoke a mighty foe.

Not since Anita Hill was humiliated by a panel of 15 all-white male U.S. Senators have Americans been so provoked by the imbalance in power in this country. In 1991 Hill’s televised testimony became a lighting rod for the nation’s attitudes about sexism and racism. The outrage over Anita Hill’s mistreatment created a tsunami effect for women in politics. One year after Clarence Thomas was confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court; women ran for office in record numbers and won.

At The New Agenda we know our country needs talented women in leadership positions and we need them now. Senator Clinton would be a tremendous asset to our nation if she serves as Secretary of State. Clinton has traveled widely, is respected by foreign leaders in all corners of the globe and has spoken out for women and children in countries where they have no voice. Her confirmation would be a solid step toward repairing our nation’s image on the world stage. But, Clinton is not the only woman ready and able to serve. There are loads of women with the intelligence, talents and energy to help solve the tremendous challenges we face as a nation.

The Obama team needs to step up its efforts if it is to meet our challenge to smash century’s old precedent by appointing a woman majority cabinet. There appears to be just one other woman under serious consideration. Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano is being touted as a frontrunner for the head of Homeland Security. Many will remember Napolitano’s role preparing Anita Hill for that notorious hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Those hearings exposed the committee’s including its chair Senator Joe Biden embarrassing ignorance of sexual harassment issues.

This and other commissions and omissions leave us pondering where are the other women on the Obama team’s list? Candidate Obama promised the end of politics of division. So why is it that the only Republicans mentioned are white men? What about drawing upon the experience of a moderate like the former head of EPA and New Jersey Governor Christie Todd Whitman? Why not tap into the dynamism of Republican businesswomen Meg Whitman the founder of eBay or Carly Fiorina, formerly of Hewlett- Packard?

What about the elected officials who abandoned one of their own to support Obama in the primaries? U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill and Amy Klobuchar and Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius all have reformer track records.

General Ann Dunwoody the first woman 4-star general would be an inspired choice to head Veterans Affairs. Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm would be an excellent choice for Commerce, Labor, or HUD. The Lt. Governor of Wisconsin Barbara Lawton should be considered for Energy and Education. She would also be an excellent person to head the possible President's Commission of Women.

The history making need not end on election day. The Obama team could lift the spirits of millions of women and men by elevating women of distinction in more than 50% of his cabinet positions. President-elect Obama has an opportunity to demonstrate early his commitment to change and to leadership smart and strong enough to regain our global and economic eminence. That’s change we can all believe in.

Amy Siskind is co-founder of The New Agenda, a non partisan organization devoted to advancing women’s rights.