Kagan the calculating?
Another point I’ve been meaning to make about Elena Kagan and the notion that she has carefully plotted her course to the Supreme Court, taking extreme care to shield her true beliefs from public view: How, exactly, can one fit Kagan’s writings about the confirmation process into this narrative of strategic caution?
Kagan wants (supposedly) to preserve her confirmability above all else. So she chooses to write a book review about the confirmation process? She chooses to urge a let-it-all-hang-out model for the confirmation process that she would surely resist -- or at least be advised by administration handlers to resist -- when in the hot seat herself? She chooses to characterize the confirmation process as a “vapid and hollow charade,” with “an air of vacuity and farce,” in which the senators are elected potted plants who allowed themselves to be “stonewalled”?
She’s right, of course, but deriding the process -- and the senators -- that you’re plotting to be in front of does not strike me as the smartest strategy. Her description of the process is delightfully injudicious. So something is a little off in the careful Kagan narrative.
Something is a little off, too, in the White House response to Kagan’s writings. That-was-then-this-is-now is about the best that can be done in this situation. But to suggest, as administration officials have on some occasions, that Kagan hadn’t completely thought through he implications of her position is a discredit to the nominee.
"The passage of time and her perspective as a nominee [have] given her a new appreciation and respect for the difficulty of being a nominee and the need to answer questions carefully," Ron Klain, Vice President Biden’s chief of staff, told reporters. The White House needs to come up with a better defense than one that boils down to: our nominee didn’t understand the process well enough before writing her naive law review article.
Perhaps Kagan is less cagey than her critics think -- and smarter than the White House is giving her credit for in this instance.
UPDATE, 1:32 p.m.: I’m going to eat a bit of virtual crow and retract my criticism of the White House in this post. The full quote from Klain -- I had only see a truncated version -- attributes that position to Kagan herself, at her confirmation hearings for solicitor general: "She was asked about it and said that both the passage of time…," etc. Kagan did a reasonably artful job at the confirmation hearings at trying to wriggle out of the box she had built for herself, and attributing those words to Kagan herself gives them a different meaning.
| May 21, 2010; 11:46 AM ET
Categories: Marcus | Tags: Ruth Marcus
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