A political monolith in Bush's Cabinet

Diversity: President's appointees include a balance of race and gender, but that's all.

January 04, 2001

IT'S USUALLY conservatives who preach against quotas in the name of diversity, who say racial, ethnic and gender diversity shouldn't count as much as a variety of thoughts and opinions.

Yet look at George W. Bush's Cabinet.

On the surface, Mr. Bush will have the most diverse senior staff in history -- four women, two black men, two Hispanics, an Asian-American and an Arab-American.

But beneath that rich chord of ethnicity and gender lies a conservative political monotone. Few of Mr. Bush's nominees come from the GOP's center. Worse, he saved his most reactionary picks for departments that control the administration's stance on issues such as civil rights and labor.

This is compassionate conservatism?

That's not to say Mr. Bush's picks are without merit. Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld -- two stars from past administrations -- are fine nominees. Rod Paige, a very successful former Houston school superintendent, is a solid choice to head the Department of Education. And New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman is an inoffensive, if odd, choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

Naming Clinton Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta as transportation secretary is an unusual -- and welcome -- expression of bipartisanship.

But even those strong appointments lack the broad ideological or political diversity many expected from Mr. Bush. They are not complemented in that regard by his appointments for attorney general and secretary of labor.

Former Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft sits far to the right of the political mainstream -- especially when it comes to such issues as civil rights, affirmative action and abortion. Yet he has been tapped for attorney general, the nation's most prominent defender of these critical legal safeguards.

Linda Chavez, the Marylander nominated to head the Labor Department, is also problematic.

She made scores of enemies by staunchly opposing affirmative action, bilingual education and equal pay for women while at the U.S. Civil Rights Commission under Ronald Reagan. And she has dismissed unions in her syndicated column as special-interest groups that unduly influence Democrats, while leveling no such criticism at the oil, tobacco or gun lobbies -- which shower money on Republicans.

Nothing in Mr. Ashcroft and Ms. Chavez's records suggests compromise or even open-mindedness. They bring a viciously partisan tone to a Cabinet that already leans too far to the right.

It will be up to Mr. Bush to hold his new appointees true to the standard of cooperation and compassion he so often championed during his campaign.

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