May 11, 2010

David Brooks calls Elena Kagan an "Organization Kid" and — developing the evidence — happens to reveal what the issue is.

David Brooks, in Brooksian fashion, has a pet sociological category that will be the theme of his column:
About a decade ago, one began to notice a profusion of Organization Kids at elite college campuses. These were bright students who had been formed by the meritocratic system placed in front of them. They had great grades, perfect teacher recommendations, broad extracurricular interests, admirable self-confidence and winning personalities.

If they had any flaw, it was that they often had a professional and strategic attitude toward life. They were not intellectual risk-takers. They regarded professors as bosses to be pleased rather than authorities to be challenged. As one admissions director told me at the time, they were prudential rather than poetic.
Does Kagan fit that description (and, if she does, is that bad)?
[She] is apparently prudential, deliberate and cautious.
There's that word "prudential" again. It's a very common word used in talking about judges, by the way. It corresponds to judicial restraint and the avoidance of things that might be called activism.
She does not seem to be one who leaps into a fray when the consequences might be unpredictable. “She was one of the most strategic people I’ve ever met, and that’s true across lots of aspects of her life,” John Palfrey, a Harvard law professor, told The Times. “She is very effective at playing her cards in every setting I’ve seen.”
This is a fine quality for a judge!
Tom Goldstein, the publisher of the highly influential SCOTUSblog, has described Kagan as “extraordinarily — almost artistically — careful. I don’t know anyone who has had a conversation with her in which she expressed a personal conviction on a question of constitutional law in the past decade.”
Again, isn't that just what we want — a judge who doesn't inject personal convictions into legal analysis? Well, some people want judges who have the right personal preferences and appropriate the power of their position to put them into action. And, realistically, someone who wanted to be that kind of judge would probably need to be extraordinarily — almost artistically — careful not to let it show until they'd acquired a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.

So, there's the Kagan puzzle. I don't think it's so much whether she fits this sociological category — Organization Kid — that fascinates Brooks. I think it's whether deep down she's judicious or political: Is she really someone who works through legal problems without personal preferences? Or is she a big politico — who, once she gets into that robe, will wreak her will on us?

36 comments:

AllenS said...

Kagan wrote in 1995 that the confirmation process had become a “charade” because nominees were not answering direct questions, and said they should have to do so.

But during a briefing with reporters in the White House, Ron Klain, a top legal adviser to Vice President Joe Biden who played a key role in helping President Obama choose Kagan, said that she no longer holds this opinion.

Klain pointed to Kagan’s testimony during confirmation hearings for her current job as solicitor general, the government’s top lawyer.

“She was asked about it and said that both the passage of time and her perspective as a nominee had given her a new appreciation and respect for the difficulty of being a nominee, and the need to answer questions carefully,” Klain said, prompting laughter from a few reporters
.

She'll be anything you want. At any time you want it.

t-man said...

My operating theory is that anyone with the personality necessary to climb the ranks of an organization of over 20 people should never be trusted.

danielle said...

Brooks has always struck me as a bit of a douche bag.... he seems to try to cover himself with these pseudo-sophisticated arguments, only then to reveal his douchie-ness like he does in the last line of this editorial:

'..and in her willingness to suppress so much of her mind for the sake of her career, kind of disturbing.'

on what grounds is it reasonable to say that she suppresses her 'mind' ? and what does that even mean ? it seems that she deliberately doesnt disclose too much in circumstances that are somewhat risky, where it could come back in ways she cant predict. That sounds pretty darn smart to me for someone who wants to be a judge !

Brooks comes off as whiny because he was not smart enough or purposeful enough at a young age to make be as self controlled and deliberate.

Lawler Walken said...

I think the point here might be that Kagan is the kind of person who's never really figured out what her convictions or principles are except to the extent that one particular position or another or none is or might be more advantageous to her professionally. She believes in everything or nothing, it all just depends on what it means for her.

This is a very helpful approach to getting ahead in life --just ask President Obama-- but it doesn't really work for a justice. A justice on the USSC isn't making decisions for her own career benefit anymore --she's got a lifetime appointment once confirmed. There's no more up after that. It's the top.

Can Kagan function outside of her own narcissistic mental bubble? 50 is pretty old to start learning how to do that.

Lem said...

Dr Elena Kagan or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Cruel Neutrality.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Again, isn't that just what we want — a judge who doesn't inject personal convictions into legal analysis?

Only if "personal conviction" is being contrasted with "jurisprudential conviction". But I took Goldstein to be saying that Kagan has never been known to express a conviction of any sort at all-- leaving me to wonder what will fill the void.

Paddy O. said...

I don't know if she has to be either wholly judicious or wholly political, especially if she is not intentionally moldable, but rather instinctively follows a desire to please in order to facilitate relationships.

The question this raises, I think, is who exactly will Kagan seek to please once she has no reason to please anyone for professional advancement.

Paul Zrimsek said...

If they had any flaw, it was that they often had a professional and strategic attitude toward life. They were not intellectual risk-takers. They regarded professors as bosses to be pleased rather than authorities to be challenged. As one admissions director told me at the time, they were whores.

Fixed.

SMGalbraith said...

In other words, Brooks is saying that Barack Obama nominated Barack Obama?

A.W. said...

I know EXACTLY what brooks is talking about and he is right, this is a real problem, at least in academia. students are so desirous of a recommendation that they never, ever challenge their teachers. And at Yale, they say really crazy sh-t that should be challenged.

Like Guido Calabresi thinks that the courts should be able to overturn statutes just because they don’t like them.

Or Bruce Ackerman says that the constitution was actually amended by the New Deal.

And the irony is that all those professors with the outlandish ideas, really respected a student who would challenge them.

If that is kagan—and I am not convinced of that part—that might mean she believes a whole lot of things she has kept bottled up her entire life. Forget whether she is gay or not, she is the closet on all of her opinions.

Or maybe it means she will reflexively keep it all to herself and thus just follow what she considers to be the crowd she is supposed to follow.

Neither one is encouraging.

And maybe that interacts with my comments before. To recap, my view is that she is such a terrible advocate that she drives people to the other side. What happens when the ultimate joiner suddenly discovers herself on the outs in 8-1 opinions? Maybe she would try to join the majority, but as I said, I think she drives people away from her positions. So then what does she do?

Ralph L said...

on what grounds is it reasonable to say that she suppresses her 'mind' ?
Otherwise, from her meager paper trail, one would think she might not have much of an intellect--Brooks is giving her the benefit of the doubt.

I realized my senior year of college that my ability in my major was much larger than my intellectual curiousity, so I never went to grad school.

We should worry about what she will do with real, unsupervised power--BHO doesn't want to waste a nomination.

Lem said...

Obama did speak with her alone.. together.. they were together alone.. they were alone together..
they got together.. they think alike.. they are of one mind.

George said...

Do you believe that she will participate in Michelle Obama's obesity action plan?

edutcher said...

Ann Althouse said...

So, there's the Kagan puzzle. I don't think it's so much whether she fits this sociological category — Organization Kid — that fascinates Brooks. I think it's whether deep down she's judicious or political: Is she really someone who works through legal problems without personal preferences? Or is she a big politico — who, once she gets into that robe, will wreak her will on us?

From what she's said, I think it's door number 2, Monty. We can all cross our fingers she's The Zero's David Souter (he is proving to be that incompetent), but I wouldn't bet the ranch (or the country) on it.

WV "mytom" What woman says to another when fighting over Tom.

John Stodder said...

Brooks' piece makes this baby boomer sad. Whatever happened to "Question Authority?" Now it's "Appeal to Authority."

It raises the question of what happens when someone like Kagan ascends to the ultimate "boss" position, where they can't make decisions based on pleasing someone else, but instead based on principles. Has she developed any? The other possibility, that she has strong principles but has kept them hidden so as not to upset her professional applecart seems in her case to be unlikely, since she started her career path so young.

I guess she does have a boss, in a sense -- Chief Justice John Roberts. I suppose liberals might want to think about that. What will she do to get an "A" from Roberts?

Larry J said...

She sounds like the kind of person whose first inclination when faced with a decision is to vote "present."

Don't write anything. Don't leave a paper trail that can be used against you. Don't say anything at all unless absolutely necessary.

She's Obama in drag.

ricpic said...

Kagan can't praise Thurgood Marshall highly enough, and especially his pontification about the need for judges to side with "the despised" in deciding cases. In other words she supports social justice, not equal justice, and will rule accordingly.

AJ Lynch said...

Some people notice things and details and patterns that most others don't see.

Brooks see things that aren't there. He has become such a d-bag.

A.G. said...

If they had any flaw, it was that they often had a professional and strategic attitude toward life. They were not intellectual risk-takers. They regarded professors as bosses to be pleased rather than authorities to be challenged. As one admissions director told me at the time, they were prudential rather than poetic.

What a minute. A day ago the narrative was that Kagan was the sassy, socialist-praising, anti-authoritarian who at the tender young age of 13 challenged her rabbi at her bat mizvah. And now she's "prudential" and cautious? Tsk tsk

Good old David "Please don't throw me in the Liberal briar patch" Brooks at it again.

Lance said...

I think it's interesting that the same criticism was made of John Roberts, who of course had actual judicial experience.

Scott said...

It seems Obama and everyone in his administration has taken money from Goldman Sachs at one time or another. Including Elena Kagan.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christian said...

I think the probability is greater that who she has made her self is who she really is.

She would not have gotten that far if she was a ticking judicial time bomb waiting to wreak her havoc once she had power. She's had lots of power and opportunity.

It reminds me of people looking at Bill Gates, saying, "I would be happy with just a few million..."

Yes, that's right. And that's why you'll never get a few million. People who are driven are different than the rest of us.

It's always possible she's gambled her whole life away, hoping one day she'll get "the" job so she can really be who she wants to be.

But more likely she works hard to be the kind of person she wants to be, and what she is is what she is.

Eric said...

In other words she supports social justice, not equal justice, and will rule accordingly.

Great. Another living constitution justice. let's just dissolve Congress now and save some money.

Scott said...

@Christian: Like Obama, Kagan is such a blank slate that it's easy to project one's hopes into her; to fill in the back story that no one can find and that she won't tell.

That may make you comfortable, but to me, it's an unacceptable risk.

AllenS said...

Oh, no! She's like a box of chocolates. Or maybe that's a good thing. She could be a good on the job trainee.

traditionalguy said...

This is a very revealing analysis of Kagan's preferred style. Kagan wants to get to an answer that upholds traditions while she adds a few new points of view...all inclusiveness is her target. We need to confirm this gem of a Justice before the Progressives wake up and turn on her. Judges are people and the few good ones are there for us judged people to be thankful for.

David said...

Another possible conclusion: she is careful when she senses downside to her career.

Once she's on the Supreme Court for life, there is no further career downside. (Roberts is about the same age, so CJ is highly unlikely.)

I've known lots of Organization Kids. Many--though not all--lack courage.

Richard Dolan said...

This sounds really weird: Kagan is “extraordinarily — almost artistically — careful. I don’t know anyone who has had a conversation with her in which she expressed a personal conviction on a question of constitutional law in the past decade.”

The past decade? When she's been a law prof and dean, and during the entire time has never expressed a "personal conviction on a question of constitutional law" even in a private conversation?

That's not a picture of prudence; it's a picture of monomaniacal ambition. What would be the point of a law prof never expressing a "personal conviction on a question of constitutional law" except to position oneself as the ultimate stealth candidate for whatever job might come along?

Lefties who are currently supporting Kagan dumped on Justice Thomas during his confirmation hearings for saying that he didn't recall ever expressing a view about Roe v. Wade. Perhaps in Thomas' case he didn't have to, since his conservative leanings did all the talking that anyone needed to hear. But the claim about Kagan is far more astonishing.

If you're inclined to accept Goldstein's comment as an accurate description of how Kagan has conducted herself over the last decade, I wouldn't take it as a basis on which to predict that she will exercise similar restraint as a judge. Ambition, once it achieves its object, is not often accompanied by self-effacing humility. Instead, hubris is its more frequent companion.

Dead Julius said...

The "Organization Kids" should start wearing black overalls. That way, it will be easier to distinguish them from the common prole.

Scrutineer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jason said...

We need to encourage some of these "organizational kids" to enter the military.

Not too many of them, though. They will probably make able staff officers but lousy commanders.

That said, some of them will carry military values back to their communities in Boston, Manhattan, D.C., and elsewhere. It would be good for the country.

I really never knew 'organizational kids,' of the type Kagan apparently was, if David Brooks was accurate. They seem pretty boring. The tragedy is that the military is too often frowned upon as a career in these circles, or at least treated with disdain.

"But Buffy... you can do so much better than the military."

c3 said...

Am I being played or am I supposed to gradually get the
democratic version of Harriet Miers
vibe?

If that is so AND she gets confirmed what does that say about the strength of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party as compared to the conservative wing of the Republican Party?

Scrutineer said...

...is she a big politico — who, once she gets into that robe, will wreak her will on us?

Kagan's intellect is like health care legislation: "we have to [confirm her] so that you can find out what is in it."

virgil xenophon said...

The Daily Princetonian has just released a signed editorial she wrote after Reagan was elected in which she hoped that a more "leftist left" would arise as a result. One commentator at Cybercast News "Ziggy Stardust" makes the following points which I will quote from at length:

"She received appointments that hundreds of others that were more qualified should have received,and were way in front of the line ahead of her for....as was the case with Obama. She got the very same job at Harvard review as Obama. She has very purposefully left no paper trail on any opinion on just about anything. ,,,,,wrote her thesis on Socialism in New York....She comes from a Radical Socialist Jewish family....her brother was a Radical Socialist as were her parents. She hooked up with Obumbles at the U-Chicago when Obama was teaching Socialist/Communist Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals." They both worked with Bill Ayers and both know George Soros. She has a very secretive rise through academia as he (Obama) did...she was a part-time teacher and in six months became an Assoc. Professor and two years later was given full tenure (Unheard of) She then left in four years to work for Dukakis and Clinton's White House. Then for a law firm that nobody knows what she did there....then straight to Harvard where she became Dean of the Law School in no time and was the one who sealed ALL of Obama's Harvard records. She worked with Marshall, the most liberal judge in Supreme Court History."


"ZS" basically claims she is NO Constitutionalist, and an ultra-liberal pro-abortion Jew who embraces radical Marxist thought/philosophy and is anti-military at her core. She is, according to ZS against prayer in school and against religious counseling when it comes to abortions.

The bottom line, ZS points out is that the parallels with Obama are SCARY..

Zach said...

Maybe she's just a dull person. Dean is an administrative job, after all. You're probably better off not having a first class mind if your job is to deal with a lot of type a, driven personalities who might see you as competition.