- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2000

With the first picks for his administration, President-elect George W. Bush has made it clear he does not intend the White House to be a white male club.

While some conservatives hail the choices as a natural outgrowth of a more egalitarian society, others worry that Mr. Bush might draw himself too deeply into the "game of identity politics."

Mr. Bush already has surpassed the diversity at the top levels of the Carter administration.

The message, Mr. Bush said this weekend, is that "people who work hard and make the right decisions in life can achieve anything they want in America."

Of nine nominees for Cabinet and White House staff-level posts announced so far, six are black, Hispanic or women. In contrast, one woman and two Hispanic men served in former President Bush's initial 14-member Cabinet.

"I think what you're seeing … is that just as he did in Texas, where he reached out to the best minds and appointed people from all walks of life and appointed a diverse group of Texans to lead the state, he is doing the same thing in Washington," said presidential transition spokesman Ari Fleischer. "He is reaching out to various communities … assembling a Cabinet that will help move his agenda forward."

The Rev. Herb Lusk, a Baptist minister from Philadelphia, concurs. "I feel real good about [the diversity in the Cabinet], and I think the country does, too." said Mr. Lusk, a Democrat who spoke in favor of Mr. Bush at the Republican National Convention. "That's a risk on his part. The right side may not like it. He had the guts to do it."

Anita Blair, president of the Independent Women's Forum, said the decisions are almost not news.

Decades ago, there were not enough qualified women, blacks or other ethnic minorities to hire, she said.

"Now we have reached the point where people have the qualifications necessary for the job," said Mrs. Blair. "And the nice thing about George W. Bush is he does not let any other consideration get in the way."

In contrast, Mrs. Blair said, Democrats and particularly President Clinton talk about racial diversity and even make some "window dressing" appointments, but their closest cadre of advisers are still "a bunch of white guys with cigars."

Mr. Bush has chosen Condoleezza Rice, a black woman, to be national security adviser; Karen Hughes, a white woman, as counselor to the president; and Al Gonzales to be White House counsel.

Mr. Clinton started his administration with Chief of Staff Thomas F. McClarty; David Gergen, counselor to the president; and White House Counsel Bernard W. Nussbaum all white males, she noted.

But Ward Connerly, chairman of the conservative American Civil Rights Institute, is worried about where this counting might lead.

He said Mr. Bush's choices to date obviously have been based upon merit, but the timing of their announcements have just as "obviously been carefully orchestrated."

Mr. Connerly says he does not fault Mr. Bush for that orchestration, saying it is a necessary evil "if you are going to play the game of identity politics."

But he added that he is concerned that the incoming president will become obsessed, or at least give the impression that he is obsessed, with making his administration "look like America."

Mr. Connerly fears that Mr. Bush's Cabinet and its deputies will "take their eyes off the ball" and begin making appointments based at least, in part, on sex or ethnicity.

That fear is bolstered, he said, by a Bush transition-team form that asks potential appointees their race.

"You would expect that from Vice President [Al] Gore, not Mr. Bush," Mr. Connerly said.

Richard Semiantin, assistant professor of politics at American University, said calling Mr. Clinton's appointments "window dressing is a little insulting."

He said appointing Janet Reno the first female attorney general was not a token gesture.

But Mr. Semiantin agreed that Mr. Bush appears to have made a good start, although he added that it remains to be seen how Mr. Bush will fill out the rest of his Cabinet, and how those people will pick the nearly 3,500 political appointees beneath them, he said.

Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Rogers, a black Republican, agrees.

He said that Mr. Bush's top-level appointments are "extremely significant."

"Colin Powell [by becoming] the highest ranking African-American, the fourth in line to the presidency, is a hero to so many of us," Mr. Rogers said.

But, he said, "the reality is that there has been a glass ceiling" in government and business for minorities because, in part, blacks and others have not had the opportunity to establish relationships with those in power.

"People have to start somewhere," Mr. Rogers said, adding that he hopes Mr. Bush will "give people an opportunity to show their strengths" at all levels of his administration.

• David Boyer contributed to this report.

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