Elena Kagan & the Obama Effect

I haven’t been able to get too worked up about much politically these days. It’s all going so fast, tumbling end over end over end, and half of it is just a bunch of noise. I’m tired of not knowing who to trust, and of entertaining that sneaking suspicion that no one who will do anything helpful is in a position to do so. I am struggling against the great apathy that the noise machine is designed in part to instill. Nevertheless I am keeping up and occasionally I’ll follow a story in the media until I finally have something worked up to say, or find a cause worthy of commentary.

Kagan, 1993

Such is the case with Elena Kagan, whose media trajectory I’ve been following for some time now. Put down the coffee for a sec, because what I’m about to say may surprise you. In the continually twirling roller coaster ride that is politics in the modern age, I find myself siding with Obama on his selection of Elena Kagan. And her story has been causing me to think again about the complexity of my opinions on Obama. Looked at from a distance, away from the magnifying influence of political sharks and news peddlers, Obama’s presidency will in some ways be a net gain for America.

The attacks against Kagan began early, starting in mid-April with Glenn Greenwald, who I am now convinced is not only sexist*, but also a purity troll. He has very precise requirements of Supreme Court candidates, and they apparently include absolute agreement with him on everything, and, if you’re a woman, more experience. More! More! More! Whoever she is, she’s never the right woman for Greenwald.

In the wake of Greenwald’s obsessive attacks on Kagan, others piled on. Just before Obama made the announcement, after a weekend whispering campaign that she would be the chosen one, several of her colleagues in the legal education field attacked her based on her record of diversity in hiring, never even pausing to consider what it meant to attack a candidate who would herself be a diversity candidate (Kagan is Jewish and female). Reading the article I understood the definition of cutting off your nose to spite your face in totality.

Here’s something for those trying to filter through the political noise machine to consider: If Elena Kagan is confirmed, the Supreme Court will be the only government institution in the land to reflect the goal of the 30% solution. Recall the 30% solution was included in Carolyn Maloney’s book that electrified political readers in 2008, Rumors of Our Progress Have Been Greatly Exaggerated.

A lot of us woke up to the fact that we needed new strategies to achieve progress for women. Some of us, and I count myself here, decided that more women, no matter the women, would eventually make a difference. I still think this is right, and I believe it even more now. How could I not in the wake of Obama? He has managed to change what it means to be black in America, and it really has nothing to do with the content of his character, which is as questionable as ever; it has everything to do with the color of his skin.

It’s not that Obama is like the hagiographic assessment of him coming from some quarters. He’s not particularly special, and in fact his presidency has thus far played out predictably considering his inexperience. Even his signature legislation, health care, has been a massive failure before it’s even gotten off the ground. In the end, it didn’t matter which black man made it to the presidency. What mattered was that a ceiling was shattered, and that almost magically manifest gains began to accrue to African Americans.

Just three years ago, for example, commercials looked decidedly different. Almost all household cleaning products and grocery food commercials featured white, properly matronly (but still attractive) white women, and often their intact, nuclear white families. Black actors in commercials were usually limited to the token friend in a beer commercial, or props for black athletes. Nowadays there are so many commercials featuring nameless black actors and their families that one can’t help noticing the difference if one is paying attention.

The benefits have accrued in many areas, including journalism, politics, education, and online media. This is really happening and it’s really a good thing, maybe the only good thing about Obama’s presidency. While the cynical, demoralized left continues to exploit race as a wedge issue because they have found it so effective, decrying that racism is still alive in America (which it is, but not to the degree and not necessarily from the people they claim), they are missing some of the most exciting aspects of racism dying in America.

They’re missing the effect of doors being thrown open. They’re missing the fact that racial sensitivity among white Americans for African Americans has increased dramatically, that many people think consciously, instead of subconsciously, about race and what’s fair now. That thinking is becoming habitual, and it will continue to have beneficial effects. Conversations about race are had that could not have been had before, despite the hurtful and incendiary false charges of racism lobbed at anyone who resists the left’s arrogant rhetoric. And this is a fantastic thing, and why I wrote a congratulatory post on election night, even though Obama was not my candidate. I saw this coming.

Progress is happening, and they’re missing it.

And they’ll miss it again with Elena Kagan. I truly fear they will “Harriet Miers” her. They’ll miss all that progress and what that can do to a little girl’s heart and mind as she watches fully 1/3 of the Supreme Court looking like her. Jewish girls and boys would have a role model and an example; they would be able to see that it can happen. Progressives who argue against Elena Kagan are arguing against progress. It’s dizzying to watch. It doesn’t matter who the woman is, though Kagan is by most accounts a fine choice of a candidate with a long legal career. She is not the blank slate Greenwald and others have framed her as being, nor is she some stealth conservative candidate as the paranoid gay activists itching to out her have suggested.

She’s not the perfect woman for some, nor can she be perfect for all, but she is a woman. Let the next woman be perfect; the same standard we have for men. It’s the Supreme Court we’re talking about, not the presidency, so it won’t have the same effect Obama had (or Palin will :D) but it will have an effect. Every woman selected for or elected to a position of power has a net effect, and the benefits accrue to all women.

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*Invariably someone will ask how Greenwald can be sexist if he was supporting Diane Wood over Kagan, but I’ve maintained since 2008 that Greenwald is sexist. The proof is in the pudding, and three months of reading him will show anyone not practicing that tribalism he keeps bitching about while he promotes it that he is. He always reserves his biggest attacks for individual females and rarely picks on individual men like he does women. He’s also obsessive in his focus when he targets a woman.

The most telling piece of evidence of all, however, is his argument that Kagan is a “blank slate” (the single most ridiculous charge coming from a bunch of morons who voted into office a bigger blank slate in 2008.). Greenwald himself supported Obama in 2008, even after he expressed reservations in the wake of Obama’s FISA vote. Why was it okay for Obama to be a blank slate in his quest for the presidency, the single most powerful office in America, but not for Elena Kagan, who will be one of nine voices on the Supreme Court? Why does Kagan have to measure up in every way with Greenwald, but Obama didn’t?

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13 comments on “Elena Kagan & the Obama Effect

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by mbfromhb, annabellep. annabellep said: Elena Kagan & the Obama Effect: http://wp.me/pfr8d-178 […]

  2. SYD says:

    I agree with you on every point here. And I continue to support the appointment of Elena Kagan.

    I may not agree with every decision the woman will ever make on the high court. But… I don’t have to. I think she is capable of making good calls.

    And… as for Obama’s legacy… Yes! A stable, centrist, Supreme Court with a palpable female presence may be one of it’s lasting benefits.

    One can hope.

    • Anna Belle says:

      Thanks for the comment and the linky-love, Syd. As an update, Greenwald has gone Sullivan-over-Palin crazy about Kagan, posting two more articles this morning attacking her.

  3. Tony Smith says:

    There are so many other women academics (and judges) who stand for liberal and progressive values. Kagan strikes me as very guarded, like Obama. She managed to get through decades of teaching without a paper trail of her ideas. That’s stunning — since all we do as professors is “profess” ideas. I am not saying she isn’t qualified, and I value diversity as well. Without even thinking, I could list 5 highly qualified women who would undoubtedly support progressive causes on the bench. Kagan is not the only highly lettered and accomplished woman attorney.

    • Anna Belle says:

      Tony, it’s never the right woman. It doesn’t matter who the woman is, just as it doesn’t matter who the black man is.

      The reality is that parity is paramount. The greatest progressive thing anyone can do for the world is to promote global female parity. Once we reach parity, once we achieve full equality, then other arguments come into play. Meanwhile, it’s ridiculous to act like women have already reached parity, which is exactly what one does when they say a woman is not the right woman.

      • Tony Smith says:

        No — I do not believe that gender equality or racial equality has been reached. I supported the last woman appointed to the bench (Sotomayor) and advocated for her strenuously. I think Kagan has great accomplishments, but I do not support her nomination. That does not make me a sexist.

        Furthermore, I didn’t say she was not the “right” woman. I said that in order to accomplish progressive goals AND appoint a woman, there were better choices. I stand by this.

        Contrary to what many people belive, there are hundreds of lawyers who could qualify for a seat on the bench. Many of them are women. Some are strong feminists. Some of them could get confirmed; some could not. Check out the background of Reva Siegel, Pam Karlan, or Martha Minow. Only Karlan would stand a chance of confirmation, but that list preserves gender equality and brilliance. These women have a long track record in promoting feminist legal theory. Call them the “right” women if you like; I think they are better progressive choices than Kagan.

        • Anna Belle says:

          I never said you were sexist, for the record. You are conflating details from our discussion with the post we are discussing. My claim of sexism is directed at the reaction to Kagan coming from certain quarters, most notably in this post Glenn Greenwald, as evidenced by his nearly month long obsession with jettisoning her nomination.

          My defense of Kagan is predicated on the notion that it doesn’t matter who the woman is, as evidenced by the fact that Obama made inroads for AAs despite the fact that he is the most right-leaning Democratic president we’ve had in some time. If your position is that Obama is perfectly progressive and that is why he has made racial inroads, well then, I can’t help you. I can’t help anyone who won’t pay attention or who subscribes to tribalism.

      • Dario says:

        I disagree. Maybe you can explain why you would vote for Meg Whitman and against Jerry Brown. The views a person holds is much more important than the gender. Having a woman with progressive views is the ideal, but sometimes all we have is a Meg Whitman who would not defend the very policies that would allow us to reach parity, such as education, or a Margaret Thatcher who worked to destroy labor unions in the U.K.

  4. […] The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda. This article has been cross-posted. […]

  5. Dario says:

    I guess I’m consistent. I didn’t vote for Obama because he was a blank screen. I want to know who the person is, from his/her history. If it wasn’t a good idea to send a blank screen to be president, it’s certainly not a good idea to send another blank screen to sit on the bench. I’m not as opposed to Kagan, because at least she worked for her success, and there are hints that she’s supported liberal causes, but I would prefer someone who has a record defending the constitutional ideals that are dear to me. There are too many good women judges to take a chance. My support for the 30% solution has limits. I will not vote for Whitman in CA. Being a woman is not enough.

    • Anna Belle says:

      That’s the beauty of this country: you own your vote and can cast it how you will. I’ll cast mine how I will too, and I would support Meg Whitman in a heartbeat. Even over Jerry Brown.

      • Dario says:

        Thanks. We’re usually on the same side. We part on this one, but I’m sure we’ll meet again because I don’t think we’re that far apart. I would support Palin because, though I disagree with many of her positions, I admire her. Meg Whitman is just another corporate hack as far as I’m concerned, and we’ve had enough of those.

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