Bean counting, 2008

One of the more jarring moments of Bill Clinton's presidential transition came at a Dec. 21, 1992, news conference in Little Rock, when a finger-wagging president-elect lashed out at feminist "bean counters" who, he asserted, were "playing quota games and math games" in assessing the diversity of appointments to a Cabinet he had vowed would "look like America." Fast-forward 16 years, and the atmosphere is gratifyingly different.

Part of that, certainly, stems from the temperamental differences between the two presidents-to-be and the differing styles of their campaigns and transitions. Mr. Clinton was prone to anger, in contrast to President-elect Barack Obama's cool; the Obama campaign and transition have been astonishingly successful at keeping disagreements and tensions private. Behind the scenes, assembling the diverse tableau of appointments made so far has been more difficult than the surface placidity suggests.

Nonetheless, the contrast can also be attributed to the dramatic progress made by women and members of minorities in the intervening years. The Clinton administration itself helped by providing important experience and credentials to many of Mr. Obama's choices; meanwhile, women and minorities have risen in the political ranks of Congress and state governments. Mr. Clinton's push to select the first female attorney general resulted in a tortured search; Eric H. Holder Jr. would be the first African American to serve as the nation's chief law enforcement officer, but, in large part because of his service as the Justice Department's No. 2 official in the Clinton administration, no one questions whether he possesses enough experience. Likewise, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano comes to the top Homeland Security post buttressed by expertise gathered as a prosecutor and a governor of a border state; her gender is icing on the cake. The fact that there has not been a white male secretary of state since Warren Christopher left office in January 1997 offers another data point suggestive of change.

That's not to say that diversity is easily achieved or that it arrives without the kinds of friction that infuriated Mr. Clinton on that day so long ago. But it's not only the election of the first African American president that illustrates how much the country has progressed.

— The Washington Post

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