Ignoring contrary evidence, Matthews, Bloomberg criticized Obama's Cabinet as devoid of Southerners


On Hardball, Chris Matthews cited a Politico article as purported evidence that "zero -- count 'em, zero Southerners have been named to the Obama Cabinet so far," and a Bloomberg article similarly asserted that Obama's Cabinet is lacking in Southerners. These claims either ignore or discount Obama's selection of Lisa Jackson, Hillary Clinton, and Robert Gates.

During the December 15 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews cited a December 14 Politico article in claiming that "zero -- count 'em, zero Southerners have been named to the Obama Cabinet so far." A December 16 Bloomberg article similarly asserted that Obama's "star-studded roster lacks ... Southerners." However, these claims either ignore or discount the following Obama selections: Environmental Protection Agency administrator-designate Lisa Jackson, who was raised in New Orleans and attended Tulane University; Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton, who was first lady of Arkansas for 12 years; and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who previously served as the president of Texas A&M University.

Matthews, the Politico, and Bloomberg were not the first media figures or outlets that claimed Obama has yet to select a Southerner for his Cabinet. In a December 11 blog post, Atlantic associate editor Marc Ambinder wrote: "A reader wonders: Is there going to be a Southern accent anywhere in the Obama cabinet/WH ? Does not seem so so far and I don't see many credible Southerners in the remaining rumored names." In response, Ambinder wrote, in part: "But, aside from incoming White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, there ain't none, y'all." In a blog post later that day, Politico's Ben Smith wrote: "An Ambinder reader notices a gap in the diversity of the otherwise extraordinarily, thoroughly diverse Obama cabinet: Southerners." Smith added: "Their absence is part happenstance, but also reflects the declining political power of a region that used to be crucial, and also the fact that -- as Jonathan Martin and I wrote just after the election -- Obama's win sprang in some organic way from the newer, faster-growing, better-educated regions of the country, which don't include most of the South."

In fact, Obama has selected individuals who were either raised or spent several years working in the South:

  • Lisa Jackson: In a December 15 press conference announcing Jackson's nomination, Jackson described herself as "a native New Orleanian." Jackson's official biography from her previous job as New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection commissioner also describes Jackson as a "native of New Orleans." According to a December 11 New York Times profile, Jackson was born in Philadelphia, "adopted a few weeks later and raised in the Ninth Ward in New Orleans." The Times also reported that Jackson attended St. Mary's Dominican High School in New Orleans and received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Tulane University's School of Chemical Engineering. On December 16, the Times-Picayune of New Orleans reported that Jackson's "deep roots are in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward, where she grew up and where her mother lived until Hurricane Katrina."
  • Hillary Clinton: Clinton was Arkansas' first lady for 12 years. She practiced law with the Rose Law Firm from 1976-1992 and was on the faculty at the University of Arkansas School of Law in 1975.
  • Robert Gates: Prior to serving as defense secretary in the Bush administration, Gates spent six years at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. Gates served as interim dean of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M from 1999 to 2001 and served as the president of the university from 2002 until 2006, when he became defense secretary.

Matthews did not address any of Obama's specific Cabinet selections during the segment, even though the press conference in which Jackson called herself "a native New Orleanian" occurred hours earlier. The Politico article Matthews cited, headlined "No Southerners yet in Obama Cabinet," quoted an anonymous "senior Democratic aide" saying that Clinton "doesn't count because she's not even an Arkansan anymore. She's a Yankee." And Bloomberg suggested that Jackson is not a Southerner because she "has largely spent her career in New Jersey, even though she was born in New Orleans."

But by not counting Clinton, who lived in the South for more than 15 years as an adult; Jackson, who lived in the South as a child and a college student; or Gates, who lived in the South immediately before rejoining the government in 2006, as "Southerners," these media outlets effectively set the standard that only those who spend their entire lives in the South can legitimately be described as Southerners.

From the 7 p.m. ET hour of the December 15 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: Now for tonight's "Big Number." When it comes to positions in this new administration, everyone expects a seat at the table. Well, today, Politico, the political magazine, picked up on one group that may be feeling left out.

It turns out -- zero -- count 'em, zero Southerners have been named to the Obama Cabinet so far. Granted, that way may change, but the president-elect still has some slots to fill for now. But at least now, zero Southerners -- this is going to be heard in Dixie -- zero Southerners, zero appointees from the old Confederacy have made it on to the Obama Cabinet, and that hasn't happened going way back past the Kennedy administration. Tonight's "Big Number": zero.

From the December 16 Bloomberg article, by Hans Nichols and Julianna Goldman:

Barack Obama has moved faster than any modern president-elect in selecting his Cabinet, scouring Wall Street, academia and the Senate to assemble a diverse team that has won bipartisan praise.

"He has every basic entity within his government," said U.S. Representative David Scott, a Georgia Democrat. "He's got Jewish people, he's got Protestants, he's got white, black, you name it."

Republicans including Arizona Senator John McCain, Obama's opponent in the presidential election, also have applauded his choices.

Still, the Democrat's star-studded roster lacks representatives from two groups: Southerners and the Republicans that he vowed to appoint during the campaign.

Forty-two days since winning the presidency, Obama has picked 11 members of his Cabinet and 11 senior White House aides. That's more than twice the number named by Bill Clinton at this point in his transition to the presidency. It also puts Obama ahead of former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, according to the White House Transition Project.

The appointment yesterday of Nobel laureate Steven Chu to head the Department of Energy kicked off a week in which Obama plans to fill the remainder of his Cabinet. He also announced Lisa Jackson -- who has largely spent her career in New Jersey, even though she was born in New Orleans -- as his choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.