Suspicions are growing that President Barack Obama presides over a White House culture that’s more like Animal House than The West Wing, with criticisms coming from Lefty bloggers and women’s advocates after Obama hosted a basketball game that included no females playing. The administration makes no secret that the Commander-in-Chief is a dude’s dude: since taking office, he’s shown on ESPN that he has a network analyst’s knowledge of college hoops; showed his chops on weekends at the golf course; thrown back suds during a much-ballyhooed “beer summit;” and indicated a preference for adopting a “big rambunctious dog,” rather than a “girlie dog” (remember, too, that this is a U.S. chief executive who brags that he has in place the “best basketball-playing cabinet in American history”). And, he oversees a White House that’s crammed with fist-bumping young aides who refer to each other as “dude,” not to mention highly-charged personalities like chief of staff Rahm Emanuel (well-known in D.C. for his use of “four-letter” euphemisms), economic adviser Larry Summers (who, while president of Harvard University in 2005, got into hot water when he said that innate differences between the sexes might explain why fewer women succeed in math and science careers), and press secretary Robert Gibbs, whose preferred metaphors relate to sports.
The cry of “foul!” over the president’s all-male B-ball game is a concern in an administration that has struggled with the image that the president’s inner circle is a boys’ club, and that the chief executive is spends too much time in all-male company— not only when playing sports, but also when engaged in policy decisions. And although Obama has appointed women to fill high-profile jobs (including Hillary Rodham Clinton as Secretary of State, and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, one of the president’s closest confidantes), women close to the West Wing have complained that his female advisers aren’t as visible as their male colleagues, and possibly not as influential. Dee Dee Myers, a former press secretary to Bill Clinton, said, “Women are Obama’s base, and they don’t seem to have enough people who look like the base inside of their own inner circle.”
Obama, during an interview on NBC, called the basketball ruckus “bunk,” noting that players were picked from participants in a regular Congressional game and that those invited to play were reviewed by female White House staffers. Said Obama, “I don’t think it sends any kind of message or signal whatsoever.” He also points out that at home, he’s surrounded by strong females (and that he’s the only non-canine male). Adviser Jarrett also rejects the idea that the West Wing is overrun by the Y-Chromosome set, saying that it’s “a Washington perception that has nothing to do with the reality on the ground.” In addition to Clinton at State, Jarrett points to other prominent women appointed to high posts, including six other cabinet-level officials, domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes, Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and health care czar Nancy-Ann DeParle. And personnel records indicate there is a 50-50 gender split among White House employees. Critics however, say that certain administration jobs — notably in national security and economics — are the purview of men. Obama’s closest advisors include the aforementioned Emanuel and Gibbs, as well as senior adviser David Axelrod (who are collectively known to some female White House staffers as “The Boys”).
Obama (who, in addition to hoops and golf, also reads comic books and is a fan of Star Trek) is certainly not the first president to give off a “guy vibe.” President Ronald Reagan was a horseman who enjoyed doing physical work at his California ranch. He was followed by George H.W. Bush, who cultivated an image of a pork-rind eating, horseshoe-tossing Texan (forgetting his Connecticut and Kennebunkport pedigree). Then came cigar-smoking, Big Mac-pounding Bill Clinton, and sagebrush-clearing, mountain bike-riding George W. Bush. Mark McKinnon, a media adviser to President Bush-43, said, “We see them as president but know they can also shoot hoops and put the hammer down on a chain ring, which makes them more accessible, normal and likable.” And other women in the Obama administration say that discussions of White House culture should also account for the long dominion of men in politics – a situation that is still changing but is now more inclusive than ever before.