Recently, the White House announced that Cecilia Muñoz will be the new head of the White House Domestic Policy Council.
Rather than focus on the merits of the move or its policy ramifications, observers were quick to see Muñoz’s promotion as a political play for a single constituency.
The Wall Street Journal noted that the move comes at “the start of an election year where Mr. Obama is counting on strong support from Hispanic voters.” Bloomberg News wrote that “Obama is counting on turnout and support from Hispanics in his re-election bid this year.”
And in the White House press briefing, Press Secretary Jay Carney spoke highly of Muñoz only to face a follow-up question about how this “helps outreach to the Hispanic community.”
This is a common response for a certain subset of appointments and hires. The announcements of Sonia Sotomayor as Supreme Court Justice, Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor and Katherine Archuleta as Political Director of the Obama campaign were similarly viewed through the lens of Latino outreach, though each would heavily impact American society any which way you slice it.
I understand the cynicism. Historically it’s been common practice for political leaders to mistake symbolic gestures for substantive efforts at inclusion. (Never mind that naming a Latina to a prominent post won’t actually curry much favor with Hispanic voters in North Las Vegas or Rio Rancho.)
But this eminently qualified person in this highly substantive position should make us question our assumptions.
Muñoz is a long-time policy wonk who for decades headed up the research and advocacy for a national organization. She’s the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius Grant.” For the last three years, she’s been the White House’s lead liaison with local governments on every kind of issue and, as the President’s statement put it, “a trusted advisor who has demonstrated sound judgment day in and day out.” As Chair of the Domestic Policy Council, she’ll be the main conduit to the President for policy advisors throughout the executive branch.
If Muñoz is able to use her new perch to advocate for policies that benefit the Latino community, then that feather in the president’s cap would be a testament to Muñoz’s ability to manage the many competing interests of the Domestic Policy Council, not the Obama re-elect’s political savvy.
This is a good a moment to reject a logic that, at its extreme, figures that the Sotomayors of the world wouldn’t be where they are if they didn’t share an ethnic heritage with an important voting bloc.
At the end of the day, the calculation that matters is the one Carney used from the White House podium: “I think Cecilia is the best person for the job.”