A Cabinet of Incredible Diversity

CARL T. ROWAN

December 29, 1992|By CARL T. ROWAN

Washington. -- Bear with me for one more column, please about the social-racial-political ''miracle'' that Bill Clinton and Al Gore are producing with regard to this nation's new leadership.

The changes I see these two white Southerners provoking have deep personal meaning to me. When I joined the Kennedy administration in 1961, the Cabinet was all-male and all-white. My getting a relatively middle-power job of deputy assistant secretary of state was front-page news across America.

When I became director of the U.S. Information Agency in 1964 and President Johnson decreed that I sit in meetings of the tTC Cabinet and the National Security Council, I walked into Cabinet meetings noting that there was not another black face, nor a Hispanic or female one in view.

Now we see the fires of violence in Los Angeles, the racial and ethnic passions of Detroit, Crown Heights and other places, and it is easy to believe that over the last generation the United States has gone downhill in all its human relations.

But just compare the white-male Cabinet that I joined 28 years ago with the one that will gather in January: four black members, four women, two Hispanics. It will be the first Cabinet in the

nation's history to look reasonably like the people of America.

There is talk that President-elect Clinton was ''paying off political debts,'' ''knuckling under to pressure groups,'' or ''adopting quotas'' in selecting his top advisers. But I have yet to hear anyone cite a single member of his Cabinet as unqualified.

The process of social-racial evolution is fascinating. Georgian Jimmy Carter named 10 white men, one white woman and one black man to his initial Cabinet. That was deemed ''great progress'' by many. It should also be noted that Mr. Carter took dramatic steps to name blacks and women to the federal judiciary, which had been dominated by white men for 170 years.

Ronald Reagan put 12 white men and one black man in his first Cabinet. George Bush chose 10 white men, one white woman, one black and two Hispanic men to his initial Cabinet.

Presidents Reagan and Bush returned to the policy of naming white men to federal judgeships.

You can bet your parking-ticket money that Mr. Clinton will resume the effort to make the judiciary and all other aspects of the federal criminal-justice system reflect the population of America. His naming of the first female attorney general in history is a clear sign of his desire to have a Justice Department that cares about justice.

I remember the meetings of the Johnson Cabinet and wonder whether LBJ might have been saved from destruction by the Vietnam War if he had had a Cabinet as diverse as the one Mr. Clinton has put together. I also wonder how many Americans are left who see something horrible about women, blacks, Hispanics, sitting in the Cabinet room, advising the president on how to protect and improve America.

However numerous they are, I'll take my chances on this Cabinet of incredible diversity.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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