President-elect Obama's Cabinet choices have for the most part been a pleasant surprise. I was one of those who said during the election that based on his past associations and affiliations, he was a black nationalist at heart. (I'm not yet entirely unconvinced of that notion.) But the Secretaries he has chosen for the most part seem to have been picked for competency rather than ideology.
There have been a few, like Bill Richardson, given the inconsequential Commerce position, who were rewarded for loyalty (in Richardson's case, for dropping out of the Democratic primary early and throwing his support to Obama).
Then there was Hillary, given the highest profile position of all, whose selection may have been downright Machiavellian. Obama obviously wanted his biggest rival within the Democratic party close by, in order to defuse any potential intraparty sniping from her (and her loose cannon of a husband), as well as to throw a bone to her frustrated supporters from the primaries.
It may also be possible Obama wanted his Cabinet to resemble a sort of All Star team, composed of people who are of (or at least see themselves as) Presidential timbre themselves.
But Obama's other picks have by and large been more commonsensical than political, such as Tim Geithner for Treasury.
Obama has kept Republican Robert Gates on as Secretary of Defense, making good on his promise to reach across the aisle. He has also appointed James Jones as National Security Advisor. Jones is coy about his party affiliation, but the six foot four, crew cut, four star Marine General certainly does not emit left wing vibes.
One of Obama's more interesting choices has been Larry Summers as next head of the National Economic Council. Summers was the Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton, and also President of Harvard University from 2001 to 2006. Summers is by all accounts abrasive as well as brilliant; both qualities emerged during his stint in Cambridge.
At one faculty meeting he criticized African American Studies department head Cornel West for missing three weeks of classes to work on Bill Bradley's Presidential campaign, for contributing to grade inflation, and for his rap album, which Summers characterized as an embarrassment to the university. Later, at a Conference on Diversifying the Science and Engineering Workforce, Summers had the temerity to broach the possibility that there might be an intrinsic difference between the abilities of men and women when it came to the sciences.
While the student body at Harvard overwhelmingly supported him, the faculty bridled at Summers' lack of diplomacy. And the fact is, it does take a fairly ornery character to be so honest about such politically sensitive topics. So Summers was eventually pressured to leave.
Obviously, anybody who is aware of the five point IQ differential between men and women (and the lower, wider bell curve with wider tails representing the male distribution of IQ's) is also undoubtedly aware of the fifteen point differential -- on average -- between whites and blacks. And anybody blunt enough to publicly discuss gender differences might just be capable of discussing racial differences. But any such talk would of course be anathema in an Obama administration, at least for anybody who wanted to keep his job.
My bet is that should the topic at the National Economic Council turn to, say, the intractably high unemployment rate in the ghetto, Larry will heed his Harvard education and and keep his mouth shut.