Skip to main content

Elena Kagan and the undergraduate gotcha game

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.


namefromthepast said…
Your comments are well written concerning change over a lifetime. Everyone changes sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad.

Following your lead however, we'll need to hear from her why she thinks socialism is such a miserable failure and why she now rejects its ideas and principles.

We need to hear why now after a lifetime of experience she is now a good choice to defend the personal liberty and freedom assured to every legal citizen through the Constitution, when earlier in her life she was off to such a poor start.

Favoring the "dispised and disadvantaged" as she affirmed judges should do in a law review simply isn't congruent with securing "justice for all" though impartial application of the Constitution and law.

I don't hold out much hope we'll hear something from her that is as clearly defined and genuine as your example. I hope I'm wrong.

Popular posts from this blog


I've been making some life changes lately — trying to use the time I have, now that I'm back in Kansas, to improve my health and lifestyle. Among the changes: More exercise. 30 minutes a day on the treadmill. Doesn't sound like a lot, but some is more than none, and I know from experience that getting overambitious early leads to failure. So. Thirty minutes a day.

One other thing: Yoga, a couple of times a week. It's nothing huge — a 15-minute flexibility routine downloaded from an iPhone app. But I've noticed that I'm increasingly limber.

Tonight, friends, I noticed a piece of trash on the floor. I bent over at the waist and picked it up, and threw it away.

Then I wept. I literally could not remember the last time I'd tried to pick something off the floor without grunting and bracing myself. I just did it.

Small victories, people. Small victories.

Liberals: We're overthinking this. Hillary didn't lose. This is what it should mean.

Nate Cohn of the New York Times estimates that when every vote is tallied, some 63.4 million Americans will have voted for Clinton and 61.2 million for Trump. That means Clinton will have turned out more supporters than any presidential candidate in history except for Obama in 2008 and 2012. And as David Wasserman of Cook Political Report notes, the total vote count—including third party votes—has already crossed 127 million, and will “easily beat” the 129 million total from 2012. The idea that voters stayed home in 2016 because they hated Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is a myth. We already know the Electoral College can produce undemocratic results, but what we don't know is why — aside from how it serves entrenched interests — it benefits the American people to have their preference for national executive overturned because of archaic rules designed, in part, to protect the institution of slavery. 

A form of choosing the national leader that — as has happened in …

I'm not cutting off my pro-Trump friends

Here and there on Facebook, I've seen a few of my friends declare they no longer wish the friendship of Trump supporters — and vowing to cut them out of their social media lives entirely.

I'm not going to do that.

To cut ourselves off from people who have made what we think was a grievous error in their vote is to give up on persuading them, to give up on understanding why they voted, to give up on understanding them in any but the most cartoonish stereotypes.

As a matter of idealism, cutting off your pro-Trump friends is to give up on democracy. As a matter of tactics, cutting off your pro-Trump friends is to give up on ever again winning in a democratic process.

And as a long-term issues, confining ourselves to echo chambers is part of our national problem.

Don't get me wrong: I expect a Trumpian presidency is a disaster, particularly for people of color. And in total honesty: My own relationships have been tested by this campaign season. There's probably some damage…