Heh, okay, that was cheesy. But for people wondering what our first president of color is going to do for communities of hue, his transition team selections did bode well.
He was careful to select a number of Asian Americans for the transition team, including three leading figures, and, although that didn't come off without controversy, the controversy was entirely within the Asian American community itself. (And, might I add, typical of the sorts of political rivalries largely immigrant communities fail to leave behind them when they emigrate.)
But, as this commentator points out, Obama's telecom policy has been advanced (and well staffed) from the beginning, so perhaps the number of Indian Americans on the transition team is less about civil rights policy and more about tech development. Of course, of the four Indian Americans currently on the transition team, only Sonal Shah has anything directly to do with tech. But she IS heading up his tech policy, and I'm not being silly or stereotyping when I suggest that Obama's tech and science savvy (not to mention any emphasis on entrepreneurship) could offer more Asian Americans opportunities in his administration.
So the big question on everyone's mind right now is: will he do as well for people of color in appointing his cabinet?
So far, in a word: no.
A cabinet is different from a transition team and -- although I have no doubt Obama's presidency will lead to a number of younger people of color getting on-the-job-training, as it were, in executive administration -- let's remember that Obama is a relative newbie, and the political capital his amazing campaign and win have built up can be quickly spent. He needs to put together a coalition of the powerful, which is why, so far, most of the names thrown around have been white and male.
(Hillary, of course, has already taken the Secretary of State job, but the last two presidencies have turned that position into a stunt casting. Here's hoping Hillary is more the Albright than the Rice model.)
The only Asian American name that has even come up so far is Chris Lu, and -- let's be clear -- not for an actual Cabinet position. Lu, Obama's Transition Team Director and former Harvard classmate, will be his "Cabinet Secretary", which is a White House Staff position. The definition of this position ("liaison between the White House and the heads of executive departments" according to his Wikipedia page) seems to be ... well, vague, and I'm not finding that position in the last three presidents' staffs. Is it a sinecure? Is it an opportunity for Obama to put a trusted friend in a buffer position? Is Obama going to have a padded cabinet? What gives?
Or perhaps all the rumors of Obama appointing a "Cabinet of Rivals," i.e. putting his political rivals to work, are true. Perhaps this is one of his ways of uniting, but having learned the lessons of history, he's also putting someone in place to referee the inevitable fights. Who knows?
The big game in town right now is speculation along the lines of wish-fulfillment. New American Media engages in a little wishing of its own in this speculative article about potential Asian American appointees. The article is essentially a run down, via Dale Minami and Mike Honda, of the most politically powerful Asian Americans in government, which is not the same thing as an acute analysis of what Asian Americans have an ACTUAL CHANCE of getting big jobs.
But we do find out here that Mike Honda has put his hat in the ring for Education Secretary (he doesn't think he has much of a chance). And of course, there's some speculation as to what Obama will do with Norman Mineta ... because SOMETHING must be done with Norman Mineta; he's become a presidential tradition. Minami and Honda want him for ambassador to Japan -- him or Daniel Inouye. Wish fulfillment, or a new model of retirement for old JA officeholders? You decide!
For Defense Secretary NAM likes Gens. Shinseki and Taguba -- but that's simply because they were outspoken in criticism and action against Bush's Iraq policy. Minami and Honda sounded lukewarm on the prospect, and the mainstream buzz doesn't even acknowledge their existence. The main question now is if Obama will keep Gates on for a year or so -- and then which white, male politicians have the most Defense committee experience.
A more realistic possibility:
Illinois Veterans Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth may be up for two
political appointments tied to Obama: the president-elect’s Senate seat
as well as the head of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Interestingly enough, this is a key position at the moment, with the anger at Bush's failed Iraq War policy stirred further by anger at Bush's signal failure to provide for the tens of thousands of Iraq War veterans who have already come home. Ironically, if the hapa Duckworth does a good job, she'll settle down criticism of the Veteran's Administration and actually make her position less important. This is definitely one to watch.
The article goes on to name a number of lesser-known APAs who may very well be appointed to lesser-known positions. Minami does believe that APA participation in the election, Obama's stated commitment to diversity, and his apparent awareness of the existence of APAs (good for him! We're here! We're not all engineers! Get used to it!), bode well for APA representation in the lower staff positions.
There's also been some whispers of an ambassadorship to China for Gary Locke, although Locke himself denies that he's talked to the Obama camp at all. It seems he'd be amenable. And ain't that the case for pretty much all the pretty Asian Americans? If you can't be Obama, join him.