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Elena Kagan does not fear locusts

Whether Elena Kagan is gay or not is no concern of mine -- although as in almost all matters sexual, it is of some interest. More to the point, though, is another aspect of her life -- or lifestyle -- and that is the simple fact that she has never had a minor cardiac arrest when the phone rang in the middle of the night and her kid, out with the car, failed a bed check. She is not a parent.

I could say she is not a mom -- the current cutesy term for “mother” -- but fathers know the same fear and may, based on a recollection of their own wayward youth, feel it more keenly. Whatever the case, becoming a parent is admission to a huge club in which the members, no matter what their status in the rest of their lives, experienced an instant loss of control. Parents are humble people.

Becoming a parent is in some ways like becoming a peasant. Peasants are more than poor. Traditionally, they live at the whim of other forces -- their masters, the weather, crop failures, locusts, disease and just about anything else you can name. They have little control of their lives.

Elena Kagan, like so many of us, has had maximum control over her life. She was born into affluence -- not wealth, mind you, but a long way from poverty. She is smart and she had a choice of careers. Money was never a problem and neither, it seems, was health. She was master of her environment, in control of almost anything she wanted to control. In these respects, she is like so many of us. We do not fear locusts.

But becoming a parent changes everything.

Suddenly, a piece of your life – the most valued piece of your life – escapes your control. It happens right off the bat –with conception. Will it be a boy or a girl? Will he or she be healthy? Will he or she have your dazzling eyes or your splotchy skin? None of this is in your control.

The issues and challenges of parenting sooner or later come before the courts –everything from the nature and quality of the schools to the kind of trash permitted on the Internet. Parents are concerned with the mundane matters of public safety and schooling -- among other things. Would a childless judge understand that? Would such a judge have the one quality President Obama once said he sought above all others in a Supreme Court judge –“empathy?”

It’s odd or merely interesting that of the nine justices likely to be on the Court when it reconvenes in October, two are childless, both of them women -- Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. (Sotomayor replaced David Souter, who lacked children but not, clearly, empathy.) So there is no rule. There is only concern or curiosity, but whatever it is called, it certainly has more relevance than sexual orientation or lifestyle.

Right, mom?

By Richard Cohen  | May 14, 2010; 9:21 AM ET
Categories:  Cohen  | Tags:  Richard Cohen  
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Next: An elegant defense of Kagan from an unlikely source


Would this question have even arisen if Kagan was a man? Please.

Posted by: GroovisMaximus61 | May 14, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Are Thomas and Scalia and Roberts parents? Find me a decision of theirs that exhibits even a shred of empathy for young people, or for their parents. This is your dumbest column yet Mr. Cohen, and ridiculously sexist to boot.

Posted by: adlondon | May 14, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

Most recently, Souter and Breyer received passes. Those whole issue is really a non-starter.

THE KAGAN CHRONICLES will inform you with some historical context and political perspective as what is likely to occur during this insufferable process.

Read more:

Posted by: FunkUniversity | May 14, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Of all the "concerns" for someone to have about a Supreme Court nominee, this has got to be the silliest. Cohen is rapidly becoming a slightly younger version of Andy Rooney, just one step short of senility, and rambling from one topic to another without any overall point to be made.

Posted by: andym108 | May 14, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Wow, Cohen, really? REALLY? Isn't it enough that the cult of the child has elevated the state of parenthood to near saintliness; now having a child becomes as important to a jurist as keen intellect and an understanding of the Constitution? I hate to break it to you, Cohen, but any idiot can have children and it doesn't make you any smarter or more empathetic than anyone else. Hmm, did Jesus Christ have children? He was rumoured to be a pretty empathetic fellow . . . What about Mother Theresa? Pretty sure she was childless. . . But what do I know, I don't have kids so clearly I'm a second-class citizen.

Posted by: 7900rmc | May 14, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Cohen, please! Why, oh, why raise THIS issue, which is thinly disguised as a knock on career-driven women? (You protest about fathers also feeling that loss of control, but I don't think that is anything but window dressing.)

Unpleasant 900-pound gorilla that is still in the room in the year 2010: Highly intelligent, alpha female achievers MUST make tradeoff decisions that men are never asked to make. It is IMPOSSIBLE to have two power careers in one marriage. Period. And don't point to Jack Welch and his trophy wife of today; when Jack was clawing his way up the corporate ladder, he needed a helpmate to make it work.

When Elena Kagan was a young college grad, burning the midnight oil in law school, she had the choice of doing it all herself for herself, or trying to split her time between her career and her husband's.

I'm sure she wishes those tradeoffs didn't have to be made, and they probably weren't even consciously made. But today's generation of young, highly intelligent, driven women are asked to make the same tradeoffs in the year 2010. It isn't fair.

Posted by: WarriorGrrl | May 14, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

I think I'm going to throw up. I know hundreds and hundreds of parents who have no empathy whatsoever with children - all because they have children. There must be millions of women who never had children and would be better able to make decisions regarding parenting, children and societal responsibilities than the self-centered parents of today. This is such a lame thought, Mr. Cohen. How about "family values" as a determinant of being an empathetic justice? I find the Catholic stand on birth control and abortion contrary to "empathy" for any daughter, sister, mother or wife. And guess what, the Catholic men on the Supreme Court are all parents and will defend the Catholic position in their decisions and allow their own daughter, sister, mother or wife to suffer the consequences. Do you think that is empathy?

Posted by: qrsi | May 14, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

So Kagan is unqualified because she has no kids (a cutesy term for children?) and because she is from New York City (Kathleen Parker from yesterday)? This is getting ridiculous. This is the "analysis" coming from the Post? Suddenly I'm wishing she had a record so I wouldn't be reading such contrived opinions.

"She's a Supreme Court nominee so I (the pontificator of choice) must weigh in!"

If you have nothing better to write than this drivel you don't need to weigh in.

Posted by: dlwjunior | May 14, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I slept and dreamt that life was beauty and woke to find that life was duty. Time marches on. I am glad to know that unmarried older women are now known for thier piercing perspicacity.

Posted by: almorganiv | May 14, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

What's more...

In both cases - being from New York and not having children - is the Post arguing one must be "empathetic" to those with children or those outside the boroughs?

Surely not?

Posted by: dlwjunior | May 14, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

"It’s odd or merely interesting that of the nine justices likely to be on the Court when it reconvenes in October, two are childless, both of them women -- Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor."

No - it's not a coincidence. It's not odd. It's the sacrifice that many women of their generation had to make to rise the level of achievement necessary to be considered for such a post.


Posted by: Roxie1 | May 14, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Issue of coming from New York and being

Who would worry about childlessness. Maybe she still will do that...

BUT COMING FROM NEW YORK, home of Wall Street greedy crooks, the Bloomberg Taubman
Spitzer, Madoff
et. al. types (the majority) Figure how much of the nation's stink comes from there.

should be a disqualifier for any office anywhere. Perhaps Israel is an exception.
Manhatten should be sawed off an sent

Posted by: whistling | May 14, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Many of the posters here have called this column silly and I agree. What's troubling is that Mr. Cohen is not alone in writing this type of column. I've seen many columns that are concerned with Kagan's sexual orientation, religion, education and geographic origin but precious little about her career or her ideas on Constitutional law.

I believe this underlines the trap that the media falls into with all nominees and candidates for high office - a need to classify or label these folks as a means to understand who they are and their fitness for the job. Not only is it unfair to the one seeking the office, but more importantly, it does the public a disservice. Journalists should be helping us to see through stereotypes, not creating them.

Posted by: rbtewes | May 14, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

The GOP will do what it does best: witch hunt.

Posted by: jckdoors | May 14, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Note to about half of the above posters: Think of this essay as an analogy. Her gayness/nongayness is as relevant to court issues as being a parent is to issues involving minors. It might matter a lot - or not at all, as with a great number of factors.

Posted by: iamweaver | May 14, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Locusts are scary! Why wouldn't she fear them? Maybe it's all part of an entomological liberal plot to overthrow everything good and decent that real Americans have fought to maintain.

Posted by: random-adam | May 14, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Wow-your generational age is showing. The reason the men on the court have children-their spouses did the parenting. I would question how many of the male SCOTUS have even been home when the phone rang, or any other parental emergency arose. Also, there are many parents who have no interest in their children or upbringing. Being a parent does not neccesarily correspond to anything.
I am a Mom of 3 and grandma of 10. My sis has no children-yet we share the same traits, responses ,ideals, and empathy. It has little to do with being a parent-it has to do with the person.
Wake up Cohen-we passed the 1950's several decades ago.

Posted by: alyd69 | May 14, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

"Parents are humble people."

Parents are people. Humble people become parents and demonstrate that humility by letting their kids choose their own way in life, not criticizing parents who make different choices, and generally accepting life as it comes. Arrogant people become parents and instantly become experts on child rearing, denigrate anyone who doesn't do things their way, and blame their children for any deviations from the planned path. Am I to understand you're claiming that you've never met the latter type?

The occasional arrogant person will have a revelation about the uncertainties of life forced upon them by their children, but that's no more likely than a single person being humbled by pet ownership, a home improvement project, or playing the stock market. While parenthood is a significant undertaking, it doesn't have magical properties.

Posted by: hbc1 | May 14, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Another contribution to the silly notion that every possible identifiable ethnic, regional, religious, gender, etc. group must have a "representative" on the Court. What about lesbian Southern Baptist single moms? Don't they "deserve" a justice, too?

Posted by: turningfool | May 14, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Cohen can't help it; it's his heritage. To someone Jewish, if you're not married & a parent, you're just not a real adult. I remember reading a novel about a young unmarried rabbi. The synagogue refused to hire him because "he's just a boy." A member told him not to feel bad, 'cause, to them, "James Bond is just a boy."

Posted by: Dan4 | May 14, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

"Money was never a problem and neither, it seems, was health."


That sentence, and particularly the phrase "it seems," negates everything else about this post.

We don't know that she has/had no health problems keeping her from having a child. If her only course was adoption, she's single--possibly making it more difficult, if not impossible, to adopt. I'm not even talking about the legalities of adoption, I mean the fact that it is a long, strenuous process.

Not that it even have been able to deal with women's issues in the Court, heterosexuals have been able to deal with homosexual issues, so on and so forth. And not that it even matters part II, but she worked for Joe Biden previously, who is a parent who probably feels that helplessness "more keenly" than the majority of parents, due to the loss he faced decades ago. If her childlessness is okay by that guy, maybe Cohen should think about giving her the same pass he's given Souter.

Posted by: dkp01 | May 14, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

I agree that her sexual orientation doesn't matter in the least. I also agree that it is an interesting thing that there would be two justices on the court who were not parents and they would both be women. I also fully accept Mr. Cohen's point that parenthood completely changes one's outlook on life (not being a parent myself, but I have seen it with several friends of mine the moment they get pregnant).

At the same time, I don't see how having two Supreme Court members who are not parents is a bad thing. Taking pretty much every single thing Mr. Cohen said as truth, he still fails to make his ultimate point, that all Supreme Court Justices should be parents.

I have not looked it up, but I would venture a guess that more than 2/9 of the over 18 population of the U.S. are not parents. They have a perfectly relevant point of view for this country, and the last time I checked, there were many important issues facing our country that had nothing to do with children. Many non-parents are wonderful people, concerned about the future of our world and our country, and, perhaps most importantly, are very capable of reading and interpreting the law. So while it is true that parenthood changes one's outlook on life, there is no justification that a parents' viewpoint is the only correct one for the Supreme Court.

For a wonderful analysis of Mr. Cohen's point about Sotomayor, another female, being the only other non-parent on the Court, see Ruth Marcus's article today.

Posted by: andygoldman | May 14, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Cohen raises an interesting sociological point -- one worth studying regarding voting patterns of U.S. Senators, for example.

However, the point is completely irrelevant in regard to the qualifications of any individual nominee for any position -- be it the Supreme Court or local dog warden. I am not certain how to label the question's illegitimacy -- sexist? or something else?

I do think that a public apology is in order.

Posted by: bertilack | May 14, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Cohen,

You disprove your own thesis. If your experience of being a parent had taught you either humility or empathy, you wouldn't speak with so little sympathy or understanding about childless women.

Posted by: bbabcoc1 | May 14, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Nothing wrong being single. More people are choosing it these days.

Posted by: RobRoy1 | May 14, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Expecting a mother to make it to the Supreme Court is just as crazy as expecting a Nobel Prize winning chemist, a concert pianist, an Olympic athlete or a man with 2 full-time jobs making it.

One can simply not be a good mother and have the kind of career that takes you to the SCOTUS.


Posted by: pmendez | May 14, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

People who have been able to have children are lucky. Doesn't their state of relative privilege diminish their empathy to those less fortunate? (It sounds like that has been the case with Mr. Cohen.)

Posted by: Itzajob | May 14, 2010 6:04 PM | Report abuse

When "woman", "black", and "gay" (as examples) become important descriptions of judicial qualifications is it any surprise that "parent" is far behind?

Posted by: scott3 | May 14, 2010 6:15 PM | Report abuse

Well, it must have been a slow day in Cohen's mind to come up with THIS one. As we can tell from most of the posters here, he was REALLY reaching for something to say. Should have just skipped it.

Posted by: cms1 | May 14, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse

As a mother, I can say this to you Leonard. I wouldn't trade my daughter for anything. However, as far as I know having children is not a requirement for holding public office.

Perhaps, being childfree helps with focus. As I recall, Bush and Cheney have children. And then there are Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, Alito. Children have not assisted in humanizing them in any visible way.

Posted by: Farnaz1Mansouri1 | May 14, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

Man, you use a lot of dashes.

Posted by: vistavision | May 14, 2010 6:41 PM | Report abuse

Just, WOW.

Are you so absolutely clueless about the demands of an ambitious law career and the continuing double standard about childrearing that it seems "odd" to you that a top-achieving female lawyer is single and childless?

In highly competitive status careers, a man who keeps a photo of his kids on his desk is thought of as a mensch and a fine family man; a woman with the same photo is thought of as distracted, uncommitted and not giving her all to the job.

How many men do you know who stayed home with the kids for the sake of their wives' careers?

I trust Justice Kagan will have empathy for the millions and millions of working women who are forced into an impossible choice between family life and professional achievement.

Posted by: wrybread | May 14, 2010 8:55 PM | Report abuse

When is the Post going to put this idiot out to pasture. Drivel. He is in fact the worst American writer, or maybe best, for drivel.

Posted by: mtravali | May 14, 2010 9:36 PM | Report abuse

Take away this creature's typewriter, please.

Posted by: mtravali | May 14, 2010 9:37 PM | Report abuse

I could say she is not a mom -- the current cutesy term for “mother”

There is nothing cutesy about the term mom. Children all over America have been calling their mother mom for decades and still do.

Kagen doesn't need to be a mom to serve, but being a woman and a mom is a plus not a minus to my way of thinking. Working moms, some with two or even three jobs understand a lot more about how America works than an elite Ivy League Ivory Tower academic from the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

And about the fact that she never tried a case as a lawyer or a judge or served as a legislator. That is not exactly an enhancement to her thin C.V.

Obama loves Harvard elites and Chicago Professors, that are not too fussy about taking freedom of speech from those who disagree with him.

Posted by: LETFREEDOMRING2 | May 14, 2010 9:48 PM | Report abuse

Dear Mr. Cohen: I assure you that having children is not the only way to experience qualities such as a humbling loss of control, concern -- even terror -- over your loved ones' safety, and empathy. One does not need to be married, or have children, to have meaningful human relationships, laugh and to cry, to have fears and hopes. And trust me, being a parent is hardly the only life experience that qualifies one for having compassion. Indeed, to assert otherwise belies a rather self-centered -- dare I say it -- lack of empathy on your part.
Signed, A Childless Widow

Posted by: tango1 | May 14, 2010 10:44 PM | Report abuse

The only "mother" here is Cohen.

Posted by: BBear1 | May 14, 2010 11:31 PM | Report abuse

Without a doubt, Mr. Cohen is the worst columnist ever to type at a major newspaper in the United States.

I actually teach college freshman with better reasoning skills than Mr. Cohen.

How in the world does anything he wrote have anything to do with serving on the Supreme Court? Guys who sit out on benches in front of courthouses across America have a better grasp of what makes a judge than Mr. Cohen.

Jesus wept.

Posted by: jayeramseysutter | May 15, 2010 5:41 AM | Report abuse

You are the worst columist I have ever read. Your words poison my eyes. Your last sentence (you probably thought it was a clever ending), "Right, mom?" shows you have a strong, weird, unresolved oedipal complex. Do us all a favor and stop writing, go to therapy, and get your head out of your mother's ass.

Posted by: balmoral | May 15, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

You are the worst columist I have ever read. Your words poison my eyes. Your last sentence, which you probably thought was a clever ending ("Right, mom?") shows you have a long term, weird, unresolved oedipal complex. Do the public a favor, quit writing, see a therapist and get get your head out of your mother's ass.

Posted by: balmoral | May 15, 2010 9:58 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Cohen, did it ever occur to you that Ms. Kagan may not be able to have children? Many women are infertile and the subject of it is quite painful to them. Adopting a child can be very difficult if one is a single woman (even more so for a single man).

I too am an unmarried, childless female attorney in my late forties. I guess by the standards applied here, I must be gay and incapable of doing my job. I am not gay, but if people want to call me that I do not consider it the big insult or slur others would make it out to be. Like many women, I never met "the one". I thought about having children on my own, but decided it was unfair to a child to not have two parents to satisfy my needs. Perhaps Ms. Kagan did the same. It was not even remotely an easy decision, but one that brought much heartache and grief. How dare you treat it like a choice not to wear a particular outfit.

When David Souter was nominated in the 1990, he was never married, had no children and lived with his mother. There were no whispers about his sexuality or editorials like yours suggesting that because he wasn't a "Dad" he would be an ineffective Supreme Court Justice.

You should be ashamed of yourself!

Posted by: Mastersona | May 15, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

What a pathetically bad writer. Washington Post, PLEASE put this dumb fool out to pasture. He is an embarrassment to the newspaper, the city, and to adults everywhere.

Posted by: SydneyP | May 15, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

After reading Cohen's column, it appears to me that the Post's use of the phrase:" Block users who violate any of our posting standards," is moronic and ironic. You have no posting standards on your columns, so why have them on your blog.

Posted by: thecuadrados | May 15, 2010 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Parents are "humble?" Hmmmm, most of the parents I know think they have given birth to the next Albert Einsten-cum-Sandy Koufax-cum-Mother Theresa. And Richard, you are a pig. You guys never had to make the choices many baby boomer women--especially average-looking boomer women-- had to make to get to the very top. Show a little sympathy...and respect.

Posted by: Ladyrantsalot | May 15, 2010 9:57 PM | Report abuse

"I could say she is not a mom -- the current cutesy term for “mother” -- "

What the hell? He must think it's 1910. Regardless of how stupid the rest of the article is, has anyone NOT called their mother, mom at some point?

Posted by: eadverts | May 16, 2010 12:50 AM | Report abuse

The last time I checked the job of the Supreme Court was to interpret the laws and how they applied to the Constitution. There should be no other prerequisite to this position than the ability to perform this duty. It is absurd that one's sexuality, religion, or parental status would even be called into question. Columns like this highlight the ludicrous nature of the political discourse in this country.

Posted by: evigndodge52 | May 16, 2010 2:33 AM | Report abuse

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