President-elect Obama announced Bill Richardson, Democratic Governor of New Mexico, as his Secretary of Commerce on Dec. 3, securing the most respected Hispanic in current U.S. politics into Obama’s administration.
But Obama and Richardson’s following press conference turned awkward when reporters accused Obama’s pick as a “consolation prize.”
This accusation comes in light of Richardson’s former cabinet job as the Secretary of Energy – a job that currently manages more than 100,000 employees and a $23 billion budget – in the Clinton administration. Some say that Obama has effectively demoted Richardson by hiring him to this new position – which manages 38,000 employees and $6.5 billion.
Demotion is a strong word in this instance. It’s hard to believe that a politician who endorsed Obama during the primaries, thus boldly sacrificing his connection from his former employers – the Clintons – and who helped steer the Latino vote in Obama’s direction would receive a meager reward. That’s just not Barack’s style. No, Obama is just too cool for that.
Rather, Obama wants to bring the role of Secretary of Commerce to the forefront of the executive political arena. Obama wants to reinvent this secretary seat by enlisting a widely-respected Hispanic veteran heavyweight.
The President-elect knows Richardson is no farce. In addition to serving as Energy Secretary under President Clinton, Richardson worked as an ambassador to the United Nations, a congressman for more than 20 years, and the Governor of New Mexico for the last six years.
With the economy steadily sinking, Obama needs someone with the experience to jumpstart U.S. industry and employment.
The significance of the number of individuals that will work for Richardson pales in comparison to the timeliness of his nomination. More than 533,000 Americans lost their jobs in November, bringing this year’s total employment losses to 1.9 million.
Richardson will have to work with Obama in creating almost 2 million jobs. That makes Secretary of Commerce the most important cabinet seat at this point in time. Obama reiterated this at the press conference where he announced Richardson’s nomination.
“It’s a member of my key economic team that’s going to be dealing with the most significant issue America faces right now, which is how to put people back to work and rejuvenate the economy,” Obama said. “Bill Richardson has been selected because he’s best person for that job.”
The latter sentence was not simply flattery or “consolation.” If Obama were truly looking to “console” Richardson, he would have just invited him for an apologetic chat over dinner at the White House. The state of the union is in far too poor health to be appeasing former rivals with immensely important cabinet positions.