SAN DIEGO — There are so many scandals swirling around the Obama administration that Americans can be forgiven for missing one that has been largely ignored by the media.
There are two reasons for the lack of attention. First, the issue deals with a subject that major media companies haven’t mastered in their own right: diversity. Second, as an African-American and a Democrat, Barack Obama will never be held to the same standard on the diversity front as, say, a white Republican.
The president has made all of his choices for his second-term Cabinet and he has named only one Latino: Thomas Perez for secretary of labor.
Ah yes, the Labor Department. That is small potatoes. And this is becoming a kind of barrio for the administration: Hilda Solis, a Latina, was labor secretary in the first term.
And that’s assuming that Perez gets confirmed. Here’s a sign that his nomination is not in the best shape: Perez was recently endorsed by Attorney General Eric Holder, who is enmeshed in a scandal over obtaining phone records from The Associated Press as part of what the administration claims was a leak investigation.
Members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee recently voted – along party lines – to support Perez’s nomination and move it to the full Senate. Yet the Harvard Law School graduate, who heads the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, has made no friends among Republicans with his left-wing brand of legal activism.
In a recent appearance before the House Judiciary Committee, Holder praised Perez for bringing a record number of cases alleging discrimination, voting rights violations and police misconduct, and said that he would make a great labor secretary.
But back to the numbers. If Perez is confirmed, he will be the only Latino among the heads of 15 different executive departments. This means that Latinos will represent 6.7 percent of Cabinet positions.
Bill Clinton – who, in his two terms in office, named Latinos to head the departments of Energy, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development as well as to serve as head of the Small Business Administration and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations – promised an administration that “looks like America.”
Well, as far as Latinos are concerned, Obama’s Cabinet looks like America all right – circa 1980. That year, according to the Census Bureau, Latinos accounted for 6.4 percent of the U.S. population.
Today, they make up 17 percent. By 2030, the Census Bureau estimates, Latinos will account for nearly one in four Americans – 22 percent. Corporate America has taken note, and some of the nation’s largest companies are in hot pursuit of the $1.3 trillion that Latinos spend annually on goods and services.
But Obama still seems clueless about Latinos. It’s as if, because he grew up in a black-and-white world, he doesn’t appreciate what Latinos have contributed to this country and doesn’t realize what they could contribute to his administration.
Here’s the silver lining, such that it is. I know that many of you – even those who consider yourselves liberals – are sick and tired of this racial and ethnic number-crunching. You think to yourselves: “Who cares how many Latinos are in the Cabinet? We should have the most qualified person in every position.”
Well, you are in luck. Because that’s all over with now. Quietly and discreetly, the curtain has fallen on this whole racial and ethnic accounting system. In the future, it’s likely that there will be very little attention given to how many minorities have been nominated to this board or appointed to that commission.
You see, the fact that Obama is getting a pass from the media and the progressives on underutilizing Latinos in his second-term Cabinet will come back to haunt them the next time we have a Republican in the Oval Office.
If that future president puts together a Cabinet that doesn’t reflect America because it is loaded with white faces – as is often the case – the progressives will holler and scream. And because of their current indifference to Obama’s scandalous treatment of Latinos, no one will listen.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for U-T San Diego. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.