Trial by Diversity

WHEN Hazel O'Leary was nominated to be Secretary of Energy, she was identified as the second woman and the third black to be named to the Clinton Cabinet. Only then did news stories get around to reporting her background and qualifications. The same could be said of Zoe Baird, the Connecticut lawyer subsequently named by Clinton as attorney general.

It cannot be flattering to Mrs. O'Leary and Ms. Baird - or to other women, blacks, and Hispanics earning appointments - to be made to feel that gender or ethnic origin plays a factor in their success.

"Diversity" is the new criterion, and given the preponderance of white males holding power in Washington, nobody should object to a more equitable distribution of office so that the government can "look like America," as candidate Clinton promised. Nor can feminists be blamed for applying pressure to deliver this promise, concerned as they are to make the Year of the Woman more than a rhetorical flourish. Speaking for minorities as well as women, Eleanor Smeal, head of the Fund for the Feminist Majority,

said, "Our job is to make everybody uncomfortable until equality is achieved."

But speaking with equal candor for the obligations of his new office, President-elect Clinton responded that the criterion of diversity must never replace a "commitment to excellence," forcing appointments to become "quota games."

There is every reason to believe that Mr. Clinton ranks well above average among politicians in recognizing gifted women, blacks, Hispanics - gifted people. It seems premature, at this earliest of stages, to distrust him - to treat as The Enemy a man who looks to be a long-awaited friend in the highest of places. On the question of diversity - as well as excellence - why not count to three before reaching for the battering ram? Thanks to the democratic process, there will be four long years for all 245 m illion varied and diverse Americans to judge the man who is not yet even president.

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