home North America, Politics I don’t know Kagan, and neither do you

I don’t know Kagan, and neither do you

On TV this morning, I heard a talking head say President Obama might have selected Elena Kagan as the Supreme Court nominee because, like Obama, Kagan is a good mediator.

The former dean of Harvard Law School probably did have to quell mutinies every few minutes. Of course, it appears the victors of these mediations were “largely white men,” but nevermind. At some point, she probably threatened to saw a baby in half, thus saving the very fabric of Harvard Law School, Queen Kagan-style.

The talking head is right about one thing.

Obama and Kagan do share a trait: both serve as targets for Progressives’ ideological projections. While Obama campaigned as an incremental moderate technocrat, much of the enthused Democratic and Progressive base hailed his arrival as the return of the Great Liberal Savior, who would bring us all universal healthcare and end all the wars. Upon Obama’s victory, confetti would rain from the heavens and every American would receive a brand new Golden Retriever puppy. Or something.

To Obama’s credit, he never promised any of this. With the important distinctions of being a gifted orator and running a brilliant marketing campaign, Obama spoke in the same bloodless triangulating vocabulary of the Clinton era. He just dressed it up a bit, and made it sound pretty. Go back and listen to any Obama campaign speech. Most of them are comprised of platitudes. Seriously, who is going to heckle “Hope”?

In the same way, some Progressives and Democrats are projecting their desires onto Kagan, who is largely a blank slate. She has never been a judge, so there is no paper trail of her ideologies in the way there was with Sonia Sotomayor.

Rightly, some individuals have praised Obama’s decision to go outside the judicial monastery to find fresh blood, but can we drop the business about Kagan being some kind of model-busting cultural outsider?

She attended Hunter College, a high school for intellectually gifted students located on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Then, she went to Princeton, and then Oxford before transitioning into Harvard Law School.

One mustn’t conflate outrage over class inequalities with anti-intellectualism. It’s super Kagan is a smart lady, but she’s still a representative of the oligarichal plutocracy – a rich, white lady, who was surrounded by lots of rich, white dudes, who she clearly prefers over others because she hired lots of them while at Harvard.

Now, it’s very possible the Harvard hiring drama, and the Goldman Sachs connections are all being overblown, and Kagan is going to storm the Supreme Court and start handing down rulings like a pissed off Mother Jones.

The point is, no one knows what Kagan is going to do, and there were much, much safer liberal options (ladies, too!) for Obama to choose from, like Diane Wood. Wood has a very long, very clear record as a real left-winger, and a roaring liberal is precisely what the court needs in order to remain balanced.

The Supreme Court has strayed so far to the right over the past few decades, that the retired “roaring lion,” Justice Stevens, is actually a Republican. Of course, Stevens’ breed of conservatism is unrecognizable to the modern GOP, but that’s precisely why a diehard liberal is needed to maintain the court’s equilibrium.

To many, Kagan is a giant question mark, but this hasn’t stopped desperate people from making wild assumptions about her personal preferences. Many gay readers contacted me to vehemently defend her because she opposes Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Some even went so far as to claim Kagan will be a great ally to the gay community because she is allegedly a closeted lesbian (her close friends say she’s not gay).

To me, this is the most glaringly obvious example of projection. Even if this gossip is true, and Kagan is gay, how does her repressed sexuality indicate an allegiance to the gay community? Furthermore, as solicitor general, Kagan actually supported the Defense of Marriage Act. I’m not claiming one act cancels out the other, but this contradiction should at least make gay rights supporters pause before assuming Kagan is “in the bag” for the gay community.

At the very most, one can only claim she’s shown limited support for gay rights, hardly something to start busting out the champagne over, especially when considering the court just lost Stevens, the man who wrote, “the fact that the governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice,” words later used in Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 court case that overturned bans on sodomy.

Stevens also signed onto the majority opinion in a case that overturned a Colorado law that prevented cities, towns, and municipalities from enacting anti-discrimination ordinances protecting people on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. And the list goes on.

That’s what a true champion of gay rights looks like. Especially when contrasted against Stevens, Kagan should only inspire an indifferent “meh” from the gay community, and Progressives, in general.

Think Progress’s Matt Yglesias beautifully demonstrated this liberal projection/denial when he argued that the defense of a Kagan nomination would be simple because “Clinton & Obama like and trust her, and most liberals (myself included) like and trust Clinton & Obama.”

Understandably, this statement deeply troubled Glenn Greenwald:

Just think about what that means. If the choice is Kagan, you’ll have huge numbers of Democrats and progressives running around saying, in essence: “I have no idea what Kagan thinks or believes about virtually anything, and it’s quite possible she’ll move the Court to the Right, but I support her nomination and think Obama made a great choice.” In other words, according to Chemerinksy and Yglesias, progressives will view Obama’s choice as a good one by virtue of the fact that it’s Obama’s choice. Isn’t that a pure embodiment of mindless tribalism and authoritarianism?

Yes, it is. The little we do know about Kagan isn’t good. She’s a fierce defender of executive power, which will put her neatly in line with the most conservative members of the court. She is from an isolated world of vast wealth and power, and she appears to prefer the company of other elites. But most importantly, she’s a blank slate for liberals to use as space to doodle their every wish and dream.

How many times must Progressives and Democrats be burnt by these fantasies before they wake up?

One thought on “I don’t know Kagan, and neither do you

  1. *wincing* This is a great analysis of what’s been going on with Kagan’s nomination, and the projection upon her blank slate is really bugging me. This just reminds me of things that were going on with the right under the last president — if he says it’s good enough, then it is. That’s not the way it should work.

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