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May 11, 2010

Kagan Fits the Obama Mold

<h6>Phil Farnsworth/Harvard Law School</h6>
Phil Farnsworth/Harvard Law School

What this photo demonstrates, as much as anything, is Elena Kagan’s similarity to Obama in finessing an issue.

As dean of Harvard’s Law School, Kagan fought to bar the military from using the school’s main recruiting office over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  At the same time, however, she continued to allow the military access to students through another office and refused to back a suit challenging the government’s right to tie college funds to support for military recruitment.

Last year, when Kyle Scherer, a graduate of Harvard Law, was promoted to captain in the Massachusetts Army National Guard, he invited Kagan to his ceremony giving her the honor of pinning his bars on his shoulder. Scherer made a point to emphasize how Kagan remained supportive of students engagement with the military.

In its hands-on support of the military branch (even as it parses support for the troops from support from the institution of the military and its discriminatory policy), the photo should help neutralize any heat Kagan might take from Jeff Sessions and right wing Senators for her already moderated stance in the dispute over campus recruiting.

The backstory.

  • DennisQ

    The Left’s main criticism of Kagan is that she doesn’t despise conservatives enough. In fact, as Dean of Harvard Law School, she seems to have gone out of her way to recruit conservative intellectuals for the Law School faculty. The cry is out: anybody who hires conservatives might as well be one. At the very least, they can’t be trusted.

    Conservatives do a lot to make pariahs of themselves, especially among intellectuals. They’re generally not curious, and they prefer to reason from the general to the particular. That’s why they’re under-represented on college faculties. One of the principal tasks of academics is to develop hypotheses from a variety of isolated data points. Conservatives are just not good at that.

    Being taken for stupid is the price conservatives pay for their lack of curiosity about the world. George Bush was widely denounced as a dummy, but he may not have been. Is it possible that his self-satisfaction was misinterpreted as obtuseness? He could have traveled the world, met interesting people and dined on exotic cuisines; instead he preferred to watch a couple of hours of television and get to bed early.

    Bush’s sense of mental inferiority may have been the source of his belligerence. The conservatives on the Supreme Court display a similar pugnacity. Elena Kagan is correct that confirmation hearings have deteriorated to an exchange of vapid questions followed by evasive answers. Perhaps that’s because in recent years Republicans have been asking the questions of mostly-Republican appointees.

    Kagan is like Obama in her negotiating style. She recognizes that a stable agreement is more likely to emerge when all the parties have an interest in preserving the outcome. Simply put, people who have no incentive to hold up their side of the bargain aren’t going to. That’s why she hired conservatives as law professors – giving them intellectual credibility – and something to lose if they don’t produce anything of value.

    Frankly, conservatives really need to get back to work; mere truculence is not getting the job done for them. At the present time, there really isn’t a lot of difference between Rush Limbaugh and Antonin Scalia . . . or any of the lesser lights. What do we need to do to get emptyheaded thugs of Fox News out of the national spotlight? Kagan’s answer seems to be to recognize and include at least some of them.

    I understand conservatives are despised. However, we need to include them in a national dialogue, if only to shut them up. I can’t think of the last time I’ve read something written by a conservative that has impressed me as well thought out and worthy of serious consideration. Clearly, this has to change. Elena Kagan may be onto something as a way to remedy the ongoing vapidity of the American Right.

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