Monday, May 10, 2010

The Kagan Network

A few days back, I wondered about Elena Kagan's meteoric rise. My answer was that one cannot underestimate the importance of "privilege and connections." Privilege and connections are also not unrelated to how one becomes the leading candidate for the Supreme Court. One must be smart, work hard,and be focused; all of those qualities must be credited. But "the force of social networks and 'the people you know'" are not only extremely useful but almost necessary. I suggested that some of this explained why Elena Kagan would be nominated for the Court.

According to an insider to the process, this is precisely what happened. The many criticisms on Kagan as a viable candidate did not hurt her prospects. Due to her work in the Clinton administration, an activist suggested that "she has a lot of powerful liberal friends in this town. She has been very effective in using her progressive allies."

This should surprise no one; and yet, paradoxically enough, I am still surprised.

That the world works in this way is not terribly revealing. In case any reminding was needed, this debate has made clear that networks matter and connections can buffer seemingly damaging facts. No shock there.

Yet, it is still surprising that President Obama and the Obama administration did not struggle more with Kagan. This is a man who taught a "racism and the law" seminar at Chicago, and later promised us "change we could believe in." The expectation from many of us was that President Obama, a person who understands the Black experience in this country, would be sensitive to refortifying and rewarding connections and privilege. This is why the contrast between Sotomayor and Kagan is so sharp and illuminating.

With Kagan as the nominee, it feels as if two different Presidents made the last two nominations. I cannot deny that I am more enamored by the President Obama who nominated Sotomayor and puzzled by the one who would nominate Kagan.

I am with Taylor Marsh on this one: the President is "on his own."

1 comment:

  1. This is what I hope the historians will examine about President Obama; his relentless need (almost to the point of blind obsession) to compromise. Sotomayor was a nominee for the people of color, and those without connections whose vote and support put him over; Kagan was for the well connected, well financed liberals whose vote and support put him over! Now everyone should be happy...