January 10, 2009
Affirmative action by any other name
Posted by: Chris
Round about the time I posted about gay grassroots lobbying for Barack Obama to name Fred Hochberg as Secretary of Commerce, news broke that the openly gay Hochberg has been slated to run the U.S. Import-Export Bank instead. Activists found themselves torn, since on the one hand it's a prestigious appointment but on the other, that almost definitely means Obama's cabinet will not include an openly gay secretary.
(ABC News' Jake Tapper did report that Hochberg will be "the first openly gay director of the bank," though I have to wonder if he really did research the sexual orientation of every previous director since the bank's founding in 1934.)
A group calling itself Equal Rep, which previously pushed openly gay hopefuls for Interior and Labor cabinet slots, is left considering next steps:
"It was devastating to learn that gay Americans wouldn't have a seat at the table within Barack Obama's Cabinet administration. They are the only minority group to have never been appointed in the history of the United States." said Paul Sousa, Equal Rep founder.
That statement, contained on the group's website, is of course factually inaccurate, since any number of homosexuals have been appointed to the Cabinet positions in any number of administrations; they've just been closeted, whether at their own choice or out of perceived political necessity.
And no one has answered the factual question I raised in my previous post: Since Hochberg served as acting administrator of the Small Business Administration at a time when Clinton had elevated the agency to cabinet-level, hasn't Hochberg already broken this particular glass ceiling, albeit in a temporary capacity?
Sousa did take serious exception to the rest of that post, and without disclosing his private correspondence, I can say that he rejects out of hand my characterization of his group as advocating affirmative action for gay Cabinet selections. Take, for example, Sousa's quote in a story on the Hochberg effort in the Washington Blade:
“We’re not pushing his name just because he’s gay,” Sousa said. “We’re pushing his name because he’s highly qualified and the fact that he’s openly gay is kind of icing on the cake there.”
Of course Equal Rep was pushing for Hochberg because he's gay. Are we really to believe that in all three cases, Equal Rep independently evaluated the qualifications of all the leading candidates for Interior, Labor and Commerce secretary and coincidentally concluded the gay candidate was the most qualified?
No, they were arguing for each and every gay candidate that emerged as a contender for a spot in the Cabinet. Unless Sousa and his compatriots honestly believe that Obama is actively discriminating against openly gay candidates, then they are arguing that merit alone should not determine the selection and sexual orientation should play an affirmative role.
That's not evil, but it is affirmative action. And for the reasons I laid out earlier, it's also bad policy and a poor choice of priority for the movement.
(Photo of Paul Sousa via Facebook)
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