A Cabinet That Looks Like America

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CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Rita Braver finds that George Bush's new Cabinet pulls people from diverse backgrounds, but leans heavily to the right. An archive of The Braver Line is available. Rita Braver's email address is rbc@cbsnews.com.
George W. Bush has confounded Democrats by picking a Cabinet that looks like it was chosen by a casting director for a diversity commercial. Two African-Americans, an Asian, two Hispanics - one of them a woman - plus two other women join the seven white guys nominated to run Cabinet-level agencies.

In the past, Clintonites had claimed that their guy had made the world a better place merely by placing a record number of women and minorities in key positions and that these new public officials would inspire the breaking of barriers in the private sector.

But Democrats are not celebrating the fact that the president-elect has continued the policy of spreading the new jobs around. In fact, they are both marveling at the cleverness of Mr. Bush's picks and recoiling in horror at some of his choices. The controversial nominees include John Ashcroft for attorney general, Gale Norton for interior secretary and Linda Chavez for labor secretary.

Ashcroft has been a vigorous opponent of abortion rights and gun control. He was instrumental in killing the federal court nomination of a black Supreme Court judge from his home state of Missouri. Norton has advocated increased use of federal lands for mining, timber cutting, and oil and gas drilling. Chavez has long spoken out against affirmative action and increases in the minimum wage for workers.

But Democrats will be hard pressed to defeat any of these nominees, not only because there is a Republican majority in Congress, but also because Bush has been so crafty in his selections.

Norton and Chavez are both more than qualified for the jobs they're slated for, and their views echo those of the man who nominated them. Republicans thought that Bruce Babbitt and Alexis Herman were too liberal to run Interior and Labor, but both got through.

Ashcroft is a former senator, who is unlikely to be voted down by fellow members of his old club. He graciously conceded when defeated for re-election by a dead man, the late Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan, who perished in a plane crash during the campaign. Ashcroft even stopped campaigning after the accident. So even if all the other Dems in the Senate vote against him (which they won't), Mrs. Carnahan, who's been appointed to fill the seat her late husband won, will surely have to vote for Ashcroft.

What's more, Democrats will have a tough time making the case that Ashcroft symbolizes GWB's insensitivity to women and minorities when so many of those women and minorities have been given choice Cabinet jobs.

It's a lesson that Bush had to have lerned when he watched the confirmation process of Clarence Thomas, his father's nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. Those who opposed Thomas' record on civil rights looked somewhat foolish attacking a black man.

And if Bill Clinton's commitment to creating a Cabinet that "looks like America" deserved a huge round of applause, how can George Bush's new team merit different treatment?