When I was 21, it's fair to say that I was to the left of my evangelical Mennonite college campus on the question of homosexuality. It's not that I didn't think homosexuality was sinful -- I did, and thought the Bible fairly clear on that point; I just felt that my fellow Christians were making too big a deal about it.
I've ... changed quite a bit since then. I've left the church, so "sin" doesn't really enter the equation for me; I've been -- for the past few years -- as vocal a proponent of marriage rights for gays as I know how to be. The person I was at 21 was aiming at the person I am at 37, to be certain, but the distance between here and there is considerable.
All of which brings me to this: You'll be hearing a lot over the next few days about Elena Kagan's undergraduate thesis on the "sad" demise of socialism in early 20th century New York City, a kind of knowing "proof" of her (and by extention, President Obama's) radical leanings. And it's silly. Kagan was no older than 21 when she wrote that piece; she's had an entire adult lifetime since then to evolve in her views -- a lifetime in which she's been a person more of the left than the right, to be certain, but without anything in the way of reported socialist leanings since then. Maybe she is a socialist, but the fact that she was sympathetic to socialism at the age of 21 isn't proof of much.
We spend way too much time analyzing the adolescent selves of our leaders when we evaluate their fitness for service. So Bill Clinton's marijuana smoking was seen as troubling, as was George W. Bush's service (or lack thereof) in the Air National Guard. And while perhaps those incidents could tell you something about the way those young men were aimed, they couldn't tell us that much about how they'd govern some 30 years later. We'd be better off judging our leaders by their adult lives and their record of public service. Trying to play "gotcha" with somebody's undergrad writings is a loser's game.