Maureen Dowd: There Aren’t Enough Blacks In The Obama Administration

According to Maureen Dowd, Barack Obama's biggest problem is that there are too many white people in this picture.

Continuing what has been a rather annoying obsession with race that seems to have gripped the nation’s political class over the past several weeks, Maureen Dowd argues in today’s New York Times that Barack Obama isn’t hiring enough black people:

The Obama White House is too white.

It has Barack Obama, raised in the Hawaiian hood and Indonesia, and Valerie Jarrett, who spent her early years in Iran.

But unlike Bill Clinton, who never needed help fathoming Southern black culture, Obama lacks advisers who are descended from the central African-American experience, ones who understand “the slave thing,” as a top black Democrat dryly puts it.

The first black president should expand beyond his campaign security blanket, the smug cordon of overprotective white guys surrounding him — a long political tradition underscored by Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 when she complained about the “smart-ass white boys” from Walter Mondale’s campaign who tried to boss her around.

Otherwise, this administration will keep tripping over race rather than inspiring on race.

The West Wing white guys who pushed to ditch Shirley Sherrod before Glenn Beck could pounce not only didn’t bother to Google, they weren’t familiar enough with civil rights history to recognize the name Sherrod. And they didn’t return the calls and e-mail of prominent blacks who tried to alert them that something was wrong.

As Allahpundit notes, Dowd goes against conventional wisdom here by asserting that it was “West Wing white guys” who pushed Shirley Sherrod out the door. To date, both the White House and the Department of Agriculture have said that the decision to fire Sherrod was made by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack alone, without consulting the White House. While Sherrod herself related a conversation with a USDA official saying that “the White House” wanted her fired, there has been some speculation that this may have been a reference to the White House liason inside the Department of Agriculture. While you may not believe that the White House wasn’t involved in the firing, there’s no evidence that they were and Dowd is simply making things up when she attributes the firing to “West Wing white guys.”

But, it gets worse from there:

The president appears completely comfortable in his own skin, but it seems he feels that he and Michelle are such a huge change for the nation to absorb that he can be overly cautious about pushing for other societal changes for blacks and gays. At some level, he acts like the election was enough; he shouldn’t have to deal with race further. But he does.

His closest advisers — some of the same ones who urged him not to make the race speech after the Rev. Jeremiah Wright issue exploded — are so terrified that Fox and the Tea Party will paint Obama as doing more for blacks that they tiptoe around and do less. “Who knew that the first black president would make it even harder on black people?” asked a top black Democratic official.

It’s the same impulse that caused Obama campaign workers to refuse to let Muslim women with head scarves sit in camera range during a rally. It’s the same impulse that has left the president light-years behind W. on development help for Africa. In their rush to counteract attempts to paint Obama as a radical/Muslim/socialist, Obama staffers can behave in insensitive ways themselves.


The president shouldn’t give Sherrod her old job back. He should give her a new job: Director of Black Outreach. This White House needs one.

The first thing that comes to mind about all of this, of course, is the irony of an Upper West side white woman purporting to lecture Barack Obama about race. While Dowd was working a beat as a reporter for the Times, Barack Obama was a community organizer in Chicago where there are, well, actual racial issues. One would think he’d know a little bit more about the subject than she would. The same goes for Valerie Jarrett.

The real sin of Dowd’s column, though, is her assumption that only persons of a certain color can by racially sensitive, and that it was a lack of racial sensitivity that led to the debacle in the Sherrod matter. Even if we accept Dowd’s unsupported assertion that this is all the fault of “West Wing white guys,” though, it’s apparent that this is nothing to do with skin color and everything to do with competence. It doesn’t take an African-American to realize that you shouldn’t base a personnel decision based upon a two and a half minute web video posted on the web site of a guy with a known bias against the Obama Administration. How hard would it have been for someone at the USDA — or, if you accept Dowd’s theory, the White House — to pick up the phone and call someone like Clyburn or Lewis and get their take on this before forcing Shirley Sherrod to pull over to the side of the road and send her resignation in via Blackberry ? That’s not being racially tone-deaf, that’s called incompetence and, as I noted on Wednesday, a sign of basic political weakness inside the Administration. Creating an office of “Black Outreach” isn’t going to help those problems one bit.

FILED UNDER: Africa, Race and Politics, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Tano says:

    “as I noted on Wednesday, a sign of basic political weakness inside the Administration”

    Actually, that is quite a different charge than what you made on Wednesday. Then it was Obama’s presidency that was weak – because they were afraid of Glen Beck. Now it is just “political weakness” somewhere inside the Administration?

    I wonder what you mean by that. Do you think incompetence is the same thing as weakness?
    I think the incompetence was obvious – they failed to check out the story before acting in a way that could ruin someone’s career. But weakness? They made their mistake while taking a strong stand, even against someone on “their team”, who seemed to violate their standards.

    Maybe “weakness” as in “weakness in the head” = incompetence, in the Ag Dept. But you are trying to say something else, I suspect. What is it?

  2. anjin-san says:

    But you are trying to say something else, I suspect. What is it?

    No mystery here. The right wants “Obama” “weak” & “weakness” associated as often as possible, in any context possible. Perception becomes reality.

    Maybe they can reflect on how Obama punk-slapped the GOP on health care reform after the right had pronounced it dead, and get back to us on how “weak” he is…

  3. Drew says:

    Ah, longing for the glory days of Van Jones. Snicker.

  4. Tano,

    My point on Wednesday was that the Administration displayed an appalling amount of political weakness in firing Sherrod without giving her an opportunity to respond to the charges, or apparently even bothering to investigate the matter, because, as she put it, the story was going to be on Glenn Beck that afternoon.

    As someone said on television this morning, if they’re afraid of Beck how are they going to deal with real adversaries like the Iranians ?

    I don’t think my link today was contradictory in anyway

  5. john personna says:

    Dowd wrote an odd piece. I don’t think she really captures these strange times, but then I’m not sure anyone has. (I’ll give her latitude on ‘inside the beltway’ rumor of how the Sherrod thing went down, because her access is far higher than mine.)

    Maybe the bottom line is that no matter that we want to be a post-racial society, we have trouble being a post-racial society.

    I can see why the Obama administration could be a bit at sea. Aren’t we all?

  6. john personna says:

    You know, I came back to ask ‘if this attempt at a post-racial society has failed, is it fair to blame the Obama administration?”

    But when I do come back, the first thing I see in the sidebar at OTB is an ad for “AfroRomance”, with the line “join thousands of members looking for their interracial partner.” I’m pretty sure that is a post-racial “FAIL.”

  7. Drew says:

    “Maybe the bottom line is that no matter that we want to be a post-racial society, we have trouble being a post-racial society.”

    Who’s “we.” Keemosabee? The last think about Obama, or his administration, is “black,” unless we start hearing about pro-black policy initiatives. What I see are inexperienced, incompetant lefty ideologues. To hell with their race. I think the same about Nancy Pelosi.

    On the other hand, dare criticize Obama and the Micheal Reynolds of the world will have you cloaked in racist grab in a nanosecond.

  8. Brummagem Joe says:

    Can’t treat Dowd seriously other than as a queen of alliteration.

  9. john personna says:

    If you are upset Drew, because the “simple” fight against liberals get garbled in a tense racial environment … that’s what I’m talkin’ about.

    I think it is a bit unexpected that the racial situation is this complicated in 2010.

  10. G.A.Phillips says:

    If he hired all black and brown people, now that would be cool!They would all be liberals and that would suck, but there are to many ideological and academic whites holding power off the backs of minorities in that administration, give them the power!!!!!

    ***Maybe the bottom line is that no matter that we want to be a post-racial society, we have trouble being a post-racial society.”***

    we do have one, join us man:)

    aw crap, did I forget red,yellow,pink and gay, forgive me.

  11. john personna says:

    Heh, suggesting that all black and brown people are liberals was a little bit of a fail there, GA.

  12. Michael Reynolds says:


    I’ve called you on that lie repeatedly. It’s a lie. You know it’s a lie. And you know what that makes you.

  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    Incidentally, Drew, we’re all still waiting for you to explain your bizarre statement that Daniel Schorr went “berserk” during the Reagan administration.

    In case you lost the thread it’s right here:

  14. reid says:

    Maureen Dowd can be awful. I’ve read a few of her more famous pieces, and they’re gossipy, fatuous, and drag down the national discourse. I don’t know why people like her so.