By I-Hsien Sherwood | ( | First Posted: Jan 28, 2013 05:26 PM EST

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2ndL) greets Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), as Clinton arrives with Senator John Kerry (D-MA) (2ndR), prior to Kerry's confirmation hearing to replace Clinton, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 24, 2013. (Photo : Reuters)

If John Kerry is confirmed as Secretary of State by the Senate, as seems likely, he will be the first white male to hold the position in 16 years.

The fact that this would be an anomaly points to progress. In 1997, Bill Clinton appointed Madeline Albright as Secretary of State, making her the first woman in history to hold that position.

Her tenure was generally well-regarded, even by Republicans. In general, secretaries of state have historically tried to remain or appear neutral regarding domestic politics, focusing instead on challenges abroad.

When George W. Bush took office in 2001, he appointed Colin Powel as the first African-American Secretary of State. Again, Powell, remained mostly neutral and apolitical, resisting attempts to draw him into the fray in Washington.

While he initially supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he changed his mind after new information came to light, angering Republicans, but buoying both his own reputation and the reputation of the office as nonpartisan.

In 2005, Powell stepped down and Condoleezza Rice assumed the role of America's foremost ambassador. Her tenure was marked by more mistrust of the office, as Democrats claimed Rice acted too much as an extension of the executive branch.

When President Obama took office, he appointed Hillary Clinton, his former rival for the Democratic nomination, as his Secretary of State. She has become the most traveled ambassador in American history, rarely staying in one place for long.

Her tenure also marked a zenith for minorities in the upper echelons of American politics. The president and the secretary of state are the most visible American bureaucrats in the world, as the vice president and speaker of the House usually tend to affairs at home.

The image of an African-American president and a female secretary of state did much to reaffirm the reputation of the United States as a melting pot in the eyes of other nations.

Obama had intended to nominate Susan Rice, the deputy secretary of state, who is African-American, to replace Clinton after the latter steps down this year, but Senate Republicans objected to her role in the Benghazi crisis, in which four Americans, including the American ambassador, were killed in an attack by Islamic militants with ties to Al Qaeda.

Rice withdrew her nomination, and Obama moved on to John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, who has been a close ally of the administration during Obama's first term.

Kerry is the embodiment of a patrician politician-the wealthiest member of the Senate, scion of the Forbes family and husband to the heir of the Heinz fortune.

But Kerry's nomination has gone smoothly, with his Republican colleagues praising his skills and accomplishments. He is also popular among Democrats, and gave a rousing speech during the Democratic National Convention last year, with gusto he was unable to muster during his failed presidential campaign.

While it is unlikely his popularity will surpass Clinton's, Kerry is expected to continue her work, if not her grueling schedule, and his mostly progressive politics make him a staunch supporter of equal rights for women, minorities and the LGBT community.

Not bad, for a white guy.

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