Creating a cabinet reflecting today’s KoreaPARK HYUN-YOUNG
The author is the Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
On April 1, 2021, a photo was posted on U.S. President Joe Biden’s official Twitter and Facebook accounts. It contained a short caption; “A Cabinet that looks like America.” Twenty-five people, including the U.S. president, vice president, secretaries and high-level staff members were looking at the camera after the first full cabinet meeting held after the Senate confirmed all appointees nominated by Biden.
Many of the cabinet members are firsts. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen is the first woman to hold the position. Lloyd Austin is the first African American secretary of defense. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg is the first openly gay cabinet member. Deb Haaland is the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary. Avril Haines is the first woman to be the Director of National Intelligence. The appointment decisions are based on experience and competency — and with freshness and unconventionality.
Compared to Biden’s Cabinet, President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s cabinet choices are outdated. It may be unfair to compare Yoon’s choices with the Biden administration, which is considered the most liberal in history. But Yoon’s nominees are mostly men in their 60s, at 63.1 percent from Yeongnam region, 42.1 percent, who graduated from Seoul National University, 52.6 percent. Among the 18 ministerial candidates and presidential chief of staff, only three are women, and they are serving ministries with relatively minor responsibilities and authorities.
The mainstream of America is also white males. Why did Biden make alternate choices? It was his election campaign to build a Cabinet that looks like America. He believes the cabinet should be a miniature of American society. A cabinet equipped with diversity and inclusiveness can implement policies that reflect the will of the public.
Biden’s administrative goal is to unite the divided America. The Biden administration is composed of 46.2 percent somen and 53.8 percent men, with 50 percent white, 23.1 percent black, 15.4 percent latin and 11.5 percent asian — quite similar to the composition of the American population.
Yoon also speaks of national unity, but his approach is very different. He claims he was only looking at competency without making balanced choices. But in today’s world with a vast talent pool, it is very possible to make balanced appointments from competent people. Just as Biden said, “Building a diverse team will lead to better outcomes and more effective solutions to address the urgent crises facing our nation.” Diverse identity provides different perspectives and insights and offer alternative and inclusive solutions. It can provide better advice to the president.
A cabinet lacking diversity goes against the global trend. It goes against the value of fairness the young generation wants. A cabinet meeting full of men in black suits may soon become the image of Korea. It is not natural to have only people in a certain gender and age group. That’s not what Korean society looks like. I look forward to seeing a Cabinet that really looks like today’s Korea.