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Biden Has A Low Bar Of Comparison When It Comes To Cabinet Picks-- Lucky For Him




Honestly, the post before this one was just meant to highlight South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and her gross mishandling of the pandemic. And then it sort of morphed into an anti-identity politics post. Someone responded by suggesting I read the Zeeshan Aleem piece in yesterday's Intercept-- Biden's "Cabinet Of Firsts" Betrays A Cynical Approach To Diversity. Amen to that! Generally his Cabinet is a real shitshow and that because he looked to tick off demographic boxes rather than find the best person for the job. It's a disgrace, but hardly an unexpected one from Team Biden, a shitshow itself.

I'm gay. Do you think I'm dancing in the streets because Biden picked the first openly gay man to serve in a Cabinet? Not at all and that's because Pete Buttigeig who came out a little late in life is a stereotypical McKinsey neoliberal who is a really horrible pick to be Secretary of Transportation. If the fact that we are both gay means anything at all to me-- it doesn't-- it would be shame and embarrassment that this turd is in high office just because he helped derail Bernie's presidential campaign. Aleem noted that "in practice, Biden has at times demonstrated a thoughtless and vulgar attitude toward diversity, one that degrades its meaning and purpose-- and illustrates how Democrats can use the language of multiculturalism without taking bold steps to help marginalized people... [Biden's] actual execution of his promise to make history with diversity has ranged from questionable to cynical. Many of the most influential and prized positions in the White House, like chief of staff, have gone to the typical lot of white men that embody Democratic establishment thinking. In contrast, Biden has been haphazard in his job offerings to people of color. On multiple occasions, Biden offered Cabinet positions to women of color that plainly function as consolation prizes, after declining to give them jobs they’re interested in and qualified for... Diverse appointments seem to be reduced to quotas and fodder for bragging rights, and in the process, policy that actually shapes marginalized communities is neglected. The result is a conflation of diversity with physical appearance, unmoored from the substantive reasons that diversity enriches the institutions embracing it."

The top jobs in the Biden administration-- jobs that will have the most impact on everything the administration does-- all went to conservative white men: Ron Klain, Bruce Reed, Steve Ricchetti and Jake Sullivan. No women there-- no people of color, no gays... and certainly no progressives. The inner circle plays "an indispensable role in shaping [presidents'] worldview, determining who has access to them, and executing their political agenda. The senior staff will often literally be in the room to counsel a president as they make many of the defining decisions of their presidency. A true diversity fanatic would consider this set of personnel a key opportunity to use diverse backgrounds to guard against groupthink and to grapple with the rapidly shifting contours of American politics as the neoliberal consensus crumbles. Biden has largely elected not to do so." And Biden is grappling with senility, making these people able to whisper in his ear even more crucial.

Aleem wrote that Biden's identity politics assignments "debases the jobs and makes diversity look like a crude tally of nonwhite faces. If you really believe in the payoffs of diversity-- the organizational and policy benefits to be reaped from embracing variation in experience, social power, community background, information networks, career path, ideology, and more in staffing-- then you would seek to set people up to succeed with your nominations. Biden’s maneuvering should be seen as a symptom of a broader malady afflicting liberal political culture. [NOTE: Aleem slipped up by conflating a lifelong conservative like Biden with "liberal political culture."] Major newspapers have created incentives for crude face-counting with white-guy quotas and shamefully vacuous reporting on nominations as newsworthy based purely on identity. A crucial part of this ecosystem is congressional caucuses and advocacy groups that reductively insist a specific position must be filled by someone of their preferred marginalized community, and then decline to couple those demands with any kind of policy commitment or meaningful program. An example of how this produces a rather backwards worldview can be seen in the way Politico reported on Biden’s pick for secretary of defense as purely a matter of choosing between a Black man or a woman, while neglecting to discuss their actual track records or provide insights into how they would govern their department. These trends in our political culture have a way of distracting us from discussion of ideology entirely-- and it is advantageous for a figure like Biden, who would rather keep the spotlight on quotas than reckon with the widening ideological rift between moderates [conservatives] and progressives in the Democratic Party."

He concluded by noting that "a true commitment to diversity that would fulfill Biden’s oft-stated commitment to fostering unity might have pursued a Lincoln-esque team of rivals: the assembly of a Cabinet that deliberately leaned into the ideological wars defining the party. Instead, skirmishes over candidates’ identities have helped distract from the fact that Biden’s Cabinet, with a handful of exceptions, has so far been fairly moderate [conservative] and not to the liking of left-wing leaders. Nowhere was the power of substituting identity for ideology more evident than Biden’s vice presidential pick: After a summer of protests, Biden addressed concerns about racism in the American criminal justice system by choosing a Black former prosecutor with a particularly harsh record. It is both virtuous and valuable to enthusiastically embrace diversity in government leadership. As a matter of principle, having an administration that demographically mirrors the population is a positive symbol of commitment to multiracial democracy. And diversity of backgrounds enhances a government’s ability to understand its citizenry, contemplate complex challenges, and adopt a pluralist attitude toward addressing its problems. When diversity is treated as an expedient tactic in a game or a weapon of distraction, its purpose is unraveled."

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