Are Joe Biden and Jen Psaki Pioneers?

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki delivers remarks during a daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., March 8, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Despite the insistence of the White House and its allies in the press that the Biden administration is focused on the wonkish minutiae of public policy, highlighting the gender and race of appointments remains the primary focus of White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

Take her statement on the latest round of judicial nominees named by President Biden:

Representation matters, to an extent. Certainly, I can imagine the positive effects of watching Jackie Robinson, Barack Obama, or Condoleezza Rice ascend to the highest levels of their respective fields. Yet Psaki’s unearned claim of credit seems the result of a basic error in logic: that in order for anyone to believe they can achieve something, they need to watch someone who looks like them achieve the exact same thing. What’s actually important is to demonstrate that anyone can excel on the basis of their own talent and work.

What’s worse than this basic mistake is that Psaki is cynically using it for political benefit, which suggests that it may not be a mistake at all. If not Jackie Robinson, Psaki is trying to sell her boss as Branch Rickey. But the first black woman to be appointed to preside over a federal district court was Constance Baker Motley back in 1966. Amalya Lyle Kearse broke the same barrier at the appeals court level in 1979. Susan Oki Mollway became the first Asian American to become a district judge in 1998. Jacqueline Nguyen followed suit at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2012. And that’s to say nothing of immense success these “types of people” have in all kinds of professional areas, including politics.

Racial minorities have long been able to envision themselves achieving great things in this country, and they don’t need Joe Biden to show them that. The term “white savior complex” is an overused and often-unhelpful one, but it’s hard to think of a better one for describing the Biden administration’s argument that it is responsible for this “paradigm shift.”


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