Foes exaggerate Obama's 'war on women'

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Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee waded this week into what Republicans once considered the stagnant waters of identity politics.

"Now a lot of those females who supported Barack Obama are scratching their heads, and they're saying, 'Whoa! How come there is so much testosterone in the Obama cabinet and so little estrogen?' " the former Republican presidential candidate said. "Because, if you look around, all of these high-powered appointments that he is making are all white guys."

In short, the American people are witnessing a real "war on women" now that the election is over. This is an interesting observation coming from Mr. Huckabee, of all people. If anyone is in a position to talk about an institution's lack of diversity, a folksy, Bible-thumping talk show host on a network where most of his on-air colleagues come in three tightly regimented flavors -- white, blond and Christian -- certainly qualifies.

Still, a front page story and photo in The New York Times this week supports his argument, to a superficial degree. The headline, "Obama's Remade Inner Circle Has an All-Male Look, So Far," wrote the check that the photo of the president in a room with 10 middle-aged men cashed. Because Valerie Jarrett, the only woman in the Oval Office, was obscured from view, it looked like a casting call for a Cialis commercial.

The optics weren't cool, but the photo had more to do with the caprice of the newspaper's photo editor than any conscious plot to freeze women out of Mr. Obama's inner circle. Still, the presence of only one woman in the room was glaring because it doesn't reflect the diversity of the America that re-elected the president.

While raising legitimate questions about the gender imbalance at the White House, it would have been nice if the reporter had also noted the president's appointment of two women to the U.S. Supreme Court -- one of them a Latina.

In any case, the photo isn't a snapshot of a Cabinet meeting. U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who was demagogued out of the secretary of state gig by Republicans seeking scalps for Benghazi, isn't in the shot. Nor are two of Mr. Obama's new Cabinet nominees. Adding to the drip-drip-drip of disappearing women was the unexpected resignation of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

Conservatives and more than a few token liberals on Fox News were rending their garments and bemoaning the shots taken at Mitt Romney for his notorious "binders full of women" gaffe. Suddenly, Mr. Romney was looking like a suffragist compared to the chauvinistic oaf occupying the White House.

During an awkward segment on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Thursday, hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski squabbled for an excruciating 20 minutes about whether the media were giving a pass to Mr. Obama. Petulant and full of righteous indignation, Mr. Scarborough insisted that liberals would be livid had it been a Republican in Mr. Obama's shoes. Never mind that the Republicans' "war on women" was about far more substantive things than Mr. Romney's "binders full of women" statement.

Incredibly, Mr. Scarborough sulked enough to compel Ms. Brzezinski to apologize on-air for suggesting that he was being even a teensy bit chauvinistic for continually interrupting her, and that was after he snapped his fingers to silence her during one brutal exchange. No wonder Rachel Maddow and most of MSNBC's liberal female political analysts give "Morning Joe" a wide berth. Ms. Maddow would've made short work of Mr. Scarborough's argument and not apologized for slapping him around later.

Maybe I'm a bit too contrarian, but I'm less concerned about the gender of Mr. Obama's appointments than their world views. Honestly, I think Sen. John Kerry is a much better pick for secretary of state than Susan Rice because he's less enamored of African dictators than she has been.

On the other hand, elevating John Brennan to CIA director strikes as perverse those of us who are appalled by his supervision of America's killer drone program. Moving White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew to Tim Geithner's seat at Treasury isn't going to strike fear in the hearts of Wall Street bandits, either.

A lot of folks say Michele Flournoy would make a better defense secretary than former Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican, but that Mr. Obama is sacrificing gender balance on the altar of bipartisanship. Maybe, but I don't think Mr. Obama has a "woman" problem, per se. He has an aversion to sharp-elbowed progressives of either gender.

tonynorman

Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631. Twitter: @TonyNormanPG.


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