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The biggest day of her life: Elena Kagan, Chelsea, and Prop 8

By Alexandra Petri

It’s that day every little girl dreams of. It will mark the beginning of a new life as part of something bigger than herself. Centuries of tradition have determined what she’ll wear, what she’ll say. Some have objected, but they’ll hold their peace on the big day.

Forget Chelsea’s wedding! I’m talking about Elena Kagan’s confirmation as a Supreme Court justice.

Weddings, confirmation hearings -- potato, potahto! They’re practically the same. Both are the focus of years of longing and preparation. People wear funny outfits and family members cry. If you’re lucky, Antonin Scalia is there! (Okay, maybe that’s just my dream wedding.)

Still, there was something in the above paragraph that probably made us think "wedding." Why do people still see "little girl's long-awaited big day" and think white gowns rather than black robes?

When Chelsea Clinton wed Marc Mezvinsky (I bet they were attracted to each other by their mutual alliteration), I was struck by many things: the dress, the fuss, the security officer who kept insisting that I leave. But what stuck with me most was the comment, from Bill Clinton to Ryan Seacrest, that "it’s the biggest day of her life, probably."

This remark struck me as a straggler from another era, the way it would have if he’d said, "I’m giving them a Model T!" or "She’s spent the last decade furnishing her hope chest!" For me, the idea that a wedding is the biggest day of a little girl’s life falls somewhere between "I’m going clubbing-and-dragging-back-to-my-cave" and "I’m going clubbing!" I always thought that for my generation of women, sure, weddings were important, if only because they allowed you to put tiny scale models of yourself on cakes without people thinking you were some sort of weirdo, but they weren’t that important. If you didn’t marry and wound up becoming a Supreme Court justice instead -- who cared! As long as you threw a nice reception with those toast things, wore something blue and invoked the Fifth a lot, or whatever it is you’re supposed to do.

But I think I was wrong. There’s still something about marriage.

The news of Kagan’s confirmation followed on the heels of something else -- the judge’s ruling that overturned Proposition 8. Somehow, the only objection to that I haven’t heard is "Not more weddings! Weddings aren’t important! No one cares about them!" Everyone, it seems, still puts a value on these things.

Perhaps that’s because, while only three in every 100 million of us will turn out to be Supreme Court justices (better than the odds of being killed by a shark, a fact I will attempt to use with the next shark that bothers me), the odds are pretty excellent we’ll get married, sometimes six or eight times. It’s one of those rituals we all go through at some point, like learning to drive or accidentally killing a hamster. Everyone cared about Chelsea’s big day because a wedding is something everyone can experience -- from your neighbor who wants you to fly to a beach in Ontario to Bristol Palin (oh, wait).

It wasn’t just Chelsea. This day is big not because Bill doesn’t expect his daughter to lead a fulfilling and exciting life -- but because it marks a special occasion that is qualitatively different from a professional milestone like being elected president, the kind that stands out even in a rich life. It is a celebration of finding the proverbial needle of love and commitment in the haystack of the singles scene. Johnson called second marriages "the triumph of hope over experience." Given the divorce rate, so are first marriages. Yet we have them anyway. And with the Prop 8 ruling, more little girls can look forward to that special day -- even two at a time!

Now we just have to see what happens when it gets to the Supreme Court. Talk about big days, probably.

By Alexandra Petri  | August 5, 2010; 6:40 PM ET
Categories:  Petri  | Tags:  Alexandra Petri  
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Next: Friday political opinions quiz: 'Run and tell THAT' edition


Well Chelsea is NO news. Now Elana Kagan is news for the Constitution. She will have to prove herself to the Nation of America. That most assume that the Kagan is middle of the line, not far left that we fear. So time will tell how she will vote. Hope she proves us wrong that she is far left of center. The position has to be that of someone that loves our Constitution and the American way. God Bless Us All.

Posted by: annieandpauldonovan | August 5, 2010 9:14 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps if 100 million of us send our new justice a copy of the Constitution she'd get the hint we DO expect her to follow it, NOT avoiding questions as she did during her hearings.
HINT - The Government does NOT have the authority to tell its citizens what we can eat! She could not answer that? No, most of us think she simply refused as we would not like her answer.

Posted by: REBEL-1 | August 5, 2010 9:58 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Petri, will you leave off with this pathetic obsession of yours?

Although neither you nor the Clintons seem to have noticed, the United States not have a hereditory aristocracy.

Posted by: Itzajob | August 6, 2010 9:50 AM | Report abuse

Ms. Petri, will you leave off with this pathetic obsession of yours?

Although neither you nor the Clintons seem to have noticed, the United States does not have a hereditory aristocracy.

Posted by: Itzajob | August 6, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Too bad there are traitors like scalia, thomas, alito and roberts to continue to run this country down the wrong path. Kagan hopefully will go far left to balance a little the dangerous demagogues mentioned earlier.

Posted by: davidsawh | August 6, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Itzajob is right, your obsession with the Clintons is just so obsessiony. Or maybe it's itzajob's angst-ridden obsession with one of the best, most popular presidents of the 20th century that's really the impetus behind their posts.

All these people complaining about you have any respect for her years of study and introspection of our constitution and code of laws? Note: someone who disagrees with you is not necessarily anti-constitution.

Posted by: purpledrank | August 7, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

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