Say Watt?

Seems that Department of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff got into a little hot water on Capitol Hill the other day, at a hearing about whether DHS lags behind other departments in hiring women and minorities to senior positions (because, as we know, race and gender are the most important qualifications for the job). Chertoff showed up before the Congressional committee with several staffers -- all apparently Caucasian males. As the linked Washington Post story notes:
Rep. Melvin Watt (D-N.C.) returned to the diversity question. "You brought 10 staff people with you," he said, "all white males. . . . But I hope you've got more diversity in your staff than is reflected here. Please reassure me that is the case."

"I think that is definitely the case," Chertoff said.

"Okay," Watt said, and appeared to begin moving to another question.

But Chertoff continued: "I wouldn't assume that the ethnic background of everybody behind me is self-evident."

Watt replied: "I wouldn't assume the ethnic background of everybody behind you is self-evident, but I think I know an African American when I see one. . . . If anyone wants to stand up and volunteer and tell me they are an African American, I hope they will do that right now."

No one stood. Some in the audience began laughing.

"If anybody is a female that's sitting back there and wants to stand up and volunteer to tell me that," Watt continued, "I hope they will do that right now. And I want the record to show clearly that nobody stood up to volunteer in either one of those categories.

"So if you want to make that point and be cute about it," Watt said, "let me be explicit about it. . . . If we are going to do law enforcement in this country . . . we need to understand that there is an element of diversity in our country that is not represented here."

I guess that it wouldn't have been good for Chertoff to follow the example of Reagan-era Secretary of the Interior James G. Watt (no relation, I'm sure, to Congressman Watt of North Carolina), who famously lost his job after noting the diversity of his staff by saying, "I have a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple. And we have talent."

No, that wouldn't have gone over well at all.

The WaPo article continues:
As it turns out, there was indeed diversity in the group, a DHS spokesman said yesterday. One of the men was of Peruvian heritage, he said, another was born in Russia of Jewish heritage and a third was a lawyer originally from Iran.
Well, thank goodness they weren't all WASPs! Hopefully this lesson hasn't been lost on Secretary Chertoff: When going to a racially-charged hearing on Capitol Hill, for heaven's sake, take some obvious minorities with you -- and some women! -- even if it's just for show. Yarmulkes and wheelchairs are optional.