As we count down to his second term, we take a look at minorities on his team.
(The Root) -- Between now and the inauguration on Jan. 21, The Root will be taking a daily look at the president's record on a number of policy issues, including his first-term accomplishments and what many Americans hope to see him accomplish in a second term. Today: cabinet appointments. See previous postings in this series here.
Background: It is arguable that whom he appoints to his cabinet is the most important decision a president can make, since his cabinet ends up shaping his most significant policy decisions. For instance, it is unlikely that there would have been a war in Iraq had President George W. Bush not had the fervent support of cabinet members like his secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld.
Since Robert C. Weaver became the first African-American cabinet member when he served as President Lyndon Johnson's secretary of housing and urban development, and Patricia Roberts Harris served in the same role in the Carter administration, presidents have been judged not only for their cabinets' policy positions but also by their ethnic, racial and gender diversity. (It's worth noting that much earlier, President Franklin Roosevelt consulted African-American advisers, including Weaver and Mary McLeod Bethune, on a regular basis as part of what was dubbed the "Black Cabinet.") When asked about his plans for diversity within his own cabinet should he win the presidency, then-candidate Barack Obama said in 2007 that he would look for political diversity as well, naming Republicans like Sen. Dick Lugar and even Arnold Schwarzenegger as possible cabinet nominees.
First-term accomplishments: One of the president's most surprising, yet politically deft early moves was to nominate his former rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to be his secretary of state. The move, combined with his selection of former opponent Joe Biden as his vice president, led many pundits to compare Obama to a modern-day Abraham Lincoln, remembered for stocking his own cabinet with former opponents, known as his "team of rivals."
Additionally, the president's first cabinet reflected the nation's diversity, with four women, two Latinos and an Asian American in addition to white males. His secondary cabinet posts were diverse as well, with Lisa Jackson serving as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Susan Rice serving as ambassador to the United Nations and Ron Kirk serving as U.S. trade representative. They are all African American.
Second-term hopes: Unfortunately, the president's second-term cabinet nominations have not yet reflected the diversity of his first. Even more disturbing to some, they have not reflected the diversity of his Republican predecessor's. George W. Bush nominated four African Americans to cabinet posts. The president's most recent nominees -- Sen. John Kerry, Sen. Chuck Hagel and Jack Lew -- are white men.
"It's embarrassing as hell," Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) said about the criticism of the president's cabinet diversity. "We've been through all of this with Mitt Romney. And we were very hard on Mitt Romney with his 'women binder' and a variety of things. And I kind of think there's no excuse when it's the second term." In the president's defense, it was widely reported that he was poised to nominate Susan Rice to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. That nomination was thwarted by conservatives before it could even officially be made, in what will widely be remembered by history as a witch hunt.
But in the eyes of a number of progressive critics, although Rice withdrew from consideration, the perception is that the president may not have signaled that he was willing to fight for her the way he has been willing to fight for Hagel. (Hagel was actually one of the Republicans he mentioned for cabinet consideration when he was asked about it during the 2008 presidential campaign.) Also, the fact that Rice was one of the few black women at a high-enough level within his administration to choose from was troubling to many, and signaled that his diversity problem might not be limited to his appointments but might also extend to his staff.
This sentiment was only furthered after the New York Times published a photo of the president with several of his key advisers -- all of them men. (Click here to see a list of some of the most powerful black men and women serving within the Obama administration and beyond.) In a letter to the president, Rep. Marcia Fudge, the new chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, suggested qualified women and men of color for consideration for administration nominations, including Rep. Melvin Watt (D-N.C.) for commerce secretary and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) for labor secretary.
The president responded to the criticism, saying in a White House press conference, "I would just suggest that everybody kind of wait until they've seen all my appointments, who is in the White House staff and who is in my cabinet, before they rush to judgment. Until you've seen what my overall team looks like, it's premature to assume that somehow we're going backwards. We're not going backwards; we're going forward."
Only time will tell if that promise proves true in the diversity of his second-term cabinet.
As we count down to a second term, a look at his record on addressing racial health disparities.
(The Root) -- Between now and the inauguration on Jan. 21, The Root will be taking a daily look at the president's record on a number of policy issues, including his first-term accomplishments and what many Americans hope to see him accomplish in a second term. Today: Addressing health disparities and African Americans' health care needs. See previous postings in this series here.
Background: In 2004, the Sullivan Commission on Diversity in the Healthcare Workforce found that "the civil rights movement of the 1960s ended the more visible racial and ethnic barriers, but it did not eliminate entrenched patterns of inequality in healthcare, which remain the unfinished business of the civil rights movement." Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher told Crisis magazine at the time that the health disparities that existed were a matter of life and death and a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering.
Fast-forward a decade and not much has changed.
Nearly 50 percent of African Americans suffer from some type of chronic disease -- including diabetes and certain cancers -- compared to 39 percent of the general population. The life expectancy of African Americans is five years less than that of whites due to conditions such as heart disease and stroke. Blacks have a higher prevalence of high blood pressure or hypertension than any other group. African Americans are twice as likely to have diabetes than whites and more likely to be overweight and obese than their white counterparts.
Even the nation's first black president has taken note of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes as the striking health disparities between African Americans and other racial groups.
"We know that even as spiraling health care costs crush families of all races, African Americans are more likely to suffer from a host of diseases but less likely to own health insurance than just about anyone else," President Obama said in July 2009.
Currently an estimated 20 percent of African Americans are uninsured (pdf), contributing to the growing health disparities that exist in America's communities. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) introduced legislation to create an annual report on health disparities.
"Every person," said Davis, "should have access to high quality comprehensive health care that is affordable to them without regard to their ability to pay."
First-term accomplishments: President Obama signed the historic Affordable Health Care Act in 2010, which extended health care coverage to 7 million African Americans.
"There's a lot in this law for people of color," said Brian Smedley, vice president and director of the health policy institute at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, in an interview with The Root.
Smedley pointed to many provisions that are already in effect. For example, insurance companies can no longer deny claims based on pre-existing conditions, and young adults can now stay on their parents' health care plan until they reach age 26. That means 230,000 black women and 180,000 black men between the ages of 19 and 25 can continue to have health insurance under their parents' plan. The legislation also raised the eligibility requirements for Medicaid, providing 4 million more African Americans access to health insurance coverage. Seniors will now be able to get annual wellness exams, diabetes screenings and colorectal cancer screenings.
But even more importantly, said Smedley, the Affordable Care Act tackles the structural inequalities that disproportionately hurt highly segregated communities of color, the conditions in neighborhoods that lead people of color to be sicker in the first place. He points to the inequality in education, employment and housing in segregated communities where neighborhoods are food deserts, overrun by fast-food restaurants and convenience stores that sell unhealthy deli and junk food.
The Affordable Care Act addresses these issues with the Prevention in Public Health Fund and Community Transformation Grant. In 2011, the new Prevention and Public Health Fund distributed $300 million to states and communities to increase preventive care. The administration notes that 5.5 million African Americans can now get blood pressure and cholesterol screenings, screenings for breast and cervical cancer, annual mammograms for women over 40 and colon cancer screenings for people over 50 -- at no cost.
The Community Transformation Grant provides support for community initiatives that reduce health disparities. For example, the grant provides resources for programs that improve nutrition and increase physical activity. In addition, the legislation provided $11 billion for infrastructure enhancements to community health centers, which are often the first stops to preventive care. The Office of Minority Health will be charged with monitoring and evaluating the success of these programs at the state and federal level.
"For the first time there's a dedicated source of federal investment into things like community-based primary prevention," Smedley said. "In public health we call these 'upstream interventions' that allow us to hopefully tackle some of the very community conditions which lead people of color to be at risk for poor health in the first place."
Second-term hopes: As the administration looks ahead, it hopes that the Affordable Care Act will be able to provide health insurance coverage to an estimated 3.8 million African Americans who otherwise would not have any by the year 2016, said Anton Gunn, director of external affairs in the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
"That's what we know we're working towards going forward," Gunn told The Root.
The Affordable Care Act also calls for more diversity in the health care workforce, said Gunn. The legislation triples the number of people in the National Service Health Corps. The administration hopes that growth will lead to an increase in the number of physicians of color in the nation. Currently African-American physicians are about 18 percent of the National Service Health Services Corp, compared with only being 6 percent of all providers in the workforce.
"So that's three times as many African Americans in the National Health Service Corp being trained, getting their loans repaid and getting scholarship money to go to school to become doctors because of the Affordable Care Act," said Gunn.
Gunn also notes that about 4 million African Americans will no longer have a lifetime limit on health care coverage.
"Let's say you have a health insurance policy, and when you signed up for the policy, the policy said you have $1 million in coverage," said Gunn. "God forbid you got breast cancer, and you're in the middle of chemotherapy and you get a letter from your insurance company telling you you've reached the maximum lifetime limit on your coverage, and so they stop covering your chemotherapy for your breast cancer. So there are many people who are caught in that bad place where they had a lifetime limit of a million dollars or $2 million, and they had a really bad illness during that time and their coverage was yanked away from them when they needed it the most. That can't happen anymore, thanks to the Affordable Care Act."
Gunn says there are tremendous benefits that are available to communities of color through the Affordable Care Act and hopes African Americans will take full advantage of them.
Smedley called the law an important first step that addresses many of the needs of communities of color. But it cannot be the only step. "We've got to keep pressing forward for more comprehensive strategies, including strategies that address inequality in many sectors of American life outside of health care."
Republican leaders must ask themselves how their party can become racially tolerant and relevant in 2013.
(The Root) -- As President Obama grapples with criticism that his Republican predecessor's cabinet better reflected the diversity of our country than the first black president's, one of President George W. Bush's most high-profile black cabinet members is harshly criticizing the GOP for racial insensitivity. In an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, Powell declared himself still a Republican but also made it clear that the party has a long way to go in gaining the trust and votes of African Americans. Citing specific instances of racially offensive comments, Powell said, "There's also a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party. What do I mean by that? What I mean by that is they still sort of look down on minorities."
He referred to Sarah Palin's use of the term "shuck and jive" -- which Powell called "a racial-era slave term" -- in a Facebook post about the president. He also referenced Mitt Romney campaign surrogate John Sununu's dismissal of the president as "lazy" after his poor performance in the first presidential debate. Powell went so far as to insinuate that historically, racial slurs often followed when a black man was called lazy. "He didn't say he was slow, he was tired, he didn't do well; he said he was 'lazy.' Now, it may not mean anything to most Americans, but to those of us who are African Americans, the second word is 'shiftless,' and then there's a third word that goes along with it."
Powell's critique rippled through the political chattering classes, in part because he is the highest-profile black Republican to speak so candidly on the record about the party's racial baggage. But his comments also highlight one of the major hurdles the GOP faces in its quest to reclaim the White House and the Senate: how to avoid stepping on the land mine that is race in the age of Obama and how to remain politically relevant when you are a predominantly white party in an increasingly brown country.
The pre-Obama GOP was not the complete disaster the modern-day one is when it comes to minority voters. In 1996 Bob Dole won 21 percent of the Latino vote and 12 percent of the black vote. In 2000 George W. Bush won 8 percent of the black vote and 35 percent of the Latino vote. In 2004 George W. Bush won 11 percent of the black vote and 40 percent of the Latino vote. John McCain won 31 percent of the Latino vote and just 5 percent of the black vote. In 2012 Mitt Romney won 24 percent of the Latino vote and just 2 percent of the black vote.
The numbers tell the story. The GOP has experienced a steady decline in its support among voters of color over the last eight years. While some of the erosion of support among black voters may be due to there being a viable black presidential candidate on the ballot the last two elections, that can't account for the shift entirely, particularly considering the dramatic decline in Latino support for the GOP as well.
Part of the shift may also derive from the fact that the most recognizable black political figures in the country during President George W. Bush's terms in office were black Republicans like Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Bush's cabinet included other minorities, including Secretary of Education Rod Paige, who is African American.
But the other shift appears to be the tone of the GOP. Whereas the party of Bush was known as one of "compassionate conservatism," the modern-day GOP has become known for Tea Party extremism. Much of the extremism has become synonymous with racial intolerance, beginning in the early days of President Obama's first term. A poster of civil rights icon Rosa Parks was ripped up at a Senate town hall about health care reform during the president's first year in office, and a member of Congress called him "boy." There were so many racially charged jokes, email forwards, tweets and Facebook posts by Republican activists and elected officials his first year that New York magazine actually compiled a slideshow.
What's especially troubling is that some of the racism appears to be so ingrained that many of the offenders appeared genuinely unaware that their comments and behavior have no place in 21st-century America. (Here's looking at you, Sarah Palin.) So the question becomes, how does the party grow and evolve into one that is racially tolerant and relevant in 2013?
Well here's a suggestion. After the GOP lost female voters overwhelmingly in the 2012 election -- in large part because of a number of offensive comments about rape and abortion that Republican candidates made -- former Bush adviser Karen Hughes had this to say: "And if another Republican man says anything about rape other than it is a horrific, violent crime, I want to personally cut out his tongue. The college-age daughters of many of my friends voted for Obama because they were completely turned off by Neanderthal comments like the suggestion of 'legitimate rape.' "
Perhaps she needs to issue the same warning and zero-tolerance policy to GOP leaders when it comes to discussing race.
As we count down to a second term, a look at his record on a much-debated tool for equality.
(The Root) -- Between now and the inauguration on Jan. 21, The Root will be taking a daily look at the president's record on a number of policy issues, including his first-term accomplishments and what many Americans hope to see him accomplish in a second term. Today: affirmative action. See previous postings in this series here.
Background: Since the end of government-sanctioned segregation, affirmative action has emerged as the last of the great legal battles in the war for racial equality in America. The origins of affirmative action as we know it today began in the 1960s. President John F. Kennedy first used the term "affirmative action" upon issuing Executive Order 10925, which created the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, the precursor to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The order required that projects using federal funds take "affirmative action" to ensure that projects are free of racial bias in areas such as hiring.
During his tenure as assistant labor secretary in the Nixon administration, Arthur Fletcher, a prominent black conservative, outlined the first plan to use sanctions as incentives for employers to diversify their workforces. Fletcher, whose plan was first used among construction workers in Philadelphia, would become known as "the godfather of affirmative action."
In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled in the country's first major court decision on affirmative action. The court determined that Alan Bakke, a white applicant who had been denied admission to the University of California at Davis Medical School and who claimed racial quotas favoring minorities had caused him to be passed over for less qualified candidates, deserved admission. Affirmative action was declared constitutional, but the court's ruling said that while race can be considered in admissions, it cannot be a determining factor via quotas of any kind.
In 2003 the Supreme Court heard two affirmative cases involving the University of Michigan. While the court struck down the university's use of affirmative action at the undergraduate level in Gratz v. Bollinger, deeming it as quota-based for employing a point system to applicants that included race as a consideration, the court upheld the university's limited use of a race as an admission consideration in its law school in Grutter v. Bolinger. (After the ruling Michigan voters would pass a ballot referendum to prohibit race and gender from being considerations in state college admissions, public hiring and the distribution of public contracts. Just after the 2012 election a federal appeals court overturned the ban.)
First-term accomplishments: President Obama has indicated that he believes affirmative action should begin to address class-based inequality even more more than it does racial imbalances. During the 2008 election he stated that he does not believe his daughters should benefit from race-based admissions, considering their privileged backgrounds. His administration did, however, file an amicus brief in support of the University of Texas' use of affirmative action in law school admissions for the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin lawsuit, an affirmative action case that will be heard by the Supreme Court in the coming year.
Second-term hopes: In a 2009 interview with the Associated Press, the president said, "I do think that there are still circumstances in which on a college admissions or on a hiring decision, taking into account issues of past discrimination, of diversity of a workforce or a student body, can still be appropriate." But in recent weeks he has come under fire for a lack of diversity in his own hiring.
There has been endless criticism of the number of white males recently appointed to his second-term Cabinet, and the New York Times recently noted the predominantly white, male composition of President Obama's senior staff. The president's own workplace reinforces the fundamental challenge that affirmative action faces today. While most Americans agree diversity is a worthy goal, most also agree that successfully achieving that goal is not always easy. But it is much tougher to accomplish without targeted remedies aimed at achieving it.
Many are hopeful that with the Fisher case set to refocus the nation's attention on the subject of affirmative action, the president will take more of a leadership role in demonstrating the importance of diversity in his own workplace and in articulating its importance to the American people -- particularly now that he is no longer facing a re-election campaign in which discussions of race must be carefully avoided as lethal political landmines.
As we count down to a second term, a look at his record on unemployment in our community.
(The Root) -- Between now and the inauguration on Jan. 21, The Root will be taking a daily look at the president's record on a number of policy issues, including his first-term accomplishments and what many Americans hope to see him accomplish in a second term. Today: black unemployment. See previous postings in this series here.
Background: The unemployment rate of black Americans has been an ongoing challenge for the black community, policymakers and presidents since the government began tracking unemployment data. The rate of unemployment among black men and women has been practically double the unemployment rate for white Americans since records started being kept on the subject in 1972.
But the numbers have been particularly dismal in recent years. In 2007, when the latest recession began, unemployment among black Americans was 7.9 percent, compared with 4.2 percent for white Americans. In the years that have followed, the unemployment rate for black Americans has risen faster than the rate for white Americans or Latinos.
First-term accomplishments: In January 2009, the month President Obama took office, the unemployment rate for black Americans was 12.7 percent, compared with 7.1 percent for whites. By August 2011, the government's own data confirmed that the unemployment rate for black Americans had reached its highest levels since 1984: 16.7 percent. It has since fallen but was still at 14 percent in December 2012.
In an interview with The Root, then-Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) had this to say about the rate of unemployment among black Americans during our first black president's first term: "Look, as the chair of the Black Caucus, I've got to tell you, we are always hesitant to criticize the president. With 14 percent [black] unemployment [pdf], if we had a white president, we'd be marching around the White House."
Second-term hopes: Finding a viable policy solution to address unemployment rates in the black community has stymied most presidents, but the issue is proving particularly vexing for the first black president. In part, this is likely because many black Americans have higher expectations for him on issues affecting the black community, and few issues are affecting the community as deeply as unemployment.
But many issues underlying the black unemployment crisis involve the political landmine of race, a landmine that has proved perilous for the president in addressing in the past. Now that the president has been safely re-elected, many are hoping that his administration will be less wary of potential landmines.
For instance, a Princeton study published in 2007 found that race still plays a prominent role in hiring decisions made by white small-business owners, to the detriment of black applicants. Yet revisiting the role of affirmative action in hiring has not been publicy explored at length by the Obama administration, despite its weighing in on an upcoming Supreme Court case involving affirmative action in higher education. (Read more on how Obama will tackle affirmative action on The Root tomorrow.)
However, the Obama administration introduced a groundbreaking program to provide tax breaks for businesses that hire veterans to help address staggering unemployment rates for men and women who have served in the military. Mayor Michael Nutter praised a similar program in Philadelphia for helping to increase employment for another underemployed population: former felons. Mayor Nutter called the program "one of the best crime-prevention programs we'll ever have," indicating that employment can lower recidivism rates among former prisoners.
So what does this have to do with black unemployment? According to the NAACP, "One in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime." In the city of San Francisco, the unemployment rate of former felons was between 25 percent and 30 percent. For this reason, a local elected official there introduced a measure similar to the one championed by Nutter in Philadelphia: to provide tax breaks to businesses willing to hire someone who has been released from prison.
The fact that such measures have gained traction in major cities affirms that there are viable solutions. The question is whether or not the Obama administration is willing to take the risk of trying such out-of-the-box thinking. If it doesn't, it is possible that the first black president's administration may be forever remembered, not for hurting the plight of black Americans but, rather, for not doing much to help them economically.
Tell us what you would like to see President Obama do concerning the black job crisis during his second term, using the comment box below.