Obama "slights" the South in picking his team
Regional rivalries may no longer count, especially in tough times like these.
With about a third of the US population, the American South has established itself as an economic and political juggernaut.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Is the dearth of dyed-in-the-cotton Southerners from the Obama cabinet really an out-and-out snub? Or is it simply a reflection of Mr. Obama’s own social circle – his team includes seven Ivy Leaguers and four New Yorkers – and the political reality that regional rivalries no longer matter as much?
Either way, the implications could be significant for the future of the Democrats’ 50-state strategy and the stature of the South on the national stage.
“It is an interesting shift,” says Gary Jacobson, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, in an e-mail. “Republican rule has had a strong Southern accent going back to the Republican takeover [of Congress] in 1994, and the defeat of that whole regime has resulted in a major regional power shift.”
To be sure, the speed at which Obama named the cabinet – drawn primarily from New England, the Midwest, and the West – indicates to many observers a deliberate political strategy.
Midwest and West, giving rise to picks like new Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano of Arizona or incoming Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack of Iowa over someone like Georgia Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr., who was eyed, but passed over, as the nation’s farm boss.
What’s more, despite well-qualified Southern figures like Rep. Jim Clyburn (D) of South Carolina or former South Carolina schools chief Inez Tenenbaum, the South’s Democratic political farm team has been decimated by years of Republican rule in the region, argues Dan Carter, a retired political science professor in Pisgah Forest, N.C.
Obama’s own roots a factor
More likely, though, Obama’s cabinet picks were a result of his “constitual” approach in the campaign as well as the political realities of an Ivy League-educated Midwestern politician, says Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R) of Georgia.
“Bush took a lot of people from Texas, so this is not all that unusual,” says Representative Westmoreland. “He’s probably doing more political paybacks with [cabinet picks] than worrying about what different areas of the country are being represented.”
Obama transition team officials declined to discuss the makeup of the cabinet on the record, though it’s clear they don’t see the new brain trust as a Yankee cabinet.