Rod Dreher

David Brooks really is onto something in his column about how you can’t really say anything bad about Elena Kagan, whose achievements speak for themselves, but how it’s kind of creepy that the only thing she’s really known for is … achievement. Excerpt:

What we have is a person whose career has dovetailed with the incentives presented by the confirmation system, a system that punishes creativity and rewards caginess. Arguments are already being made for and against her nomination, but most of this is speculation because she has been too careful to let her actual positions leak out.

How did we get here? It started with Robert Bork, a distinguished legal scholar who saw his career made into a malicious caricature, for partisan benefit. And now any legal scholar, liberal or conservative, who has taken a stand on any controversial issue has to know that he or she will be turned into the Devil himself (or herself) by the political opposition. It’s natural selection at work: if you make interesting people who have a record of commitment to ideas susceptible to being attacked and perhaps professionally destroyed during confirmation, you’re more likely to get the Woman in the Grey Flannel Pantsuit.
Megan McArdle:

What’s disturbing is that this is what our nomination process now selects for: someone who appears to be in favor of nothing except self-advancement. Then we complain when the most passionate advocates for ideas are the lunatic fringe.

A great, great point, that last line. It’s interesting, though, to think about what disdain for Kagan’s record of professional achievement tells us about character. On paper, you cannot fault the woman. She has met every professional benchmark you could possibly hope for. She is ideally credentialed. But who is she, really? It raises the question of what constitutes character. For all I know, Elena Kagan may be a saint, but making straight As, playing by the rules and staying out of trouble is not the same thing as having good character, or having character at all.
Still, is this Kagan’s fault? Or is it our fault that we think we want people of good character in public office, but we magnify the faults or facets of their character that make them human, and distort them so much that we turn them into monsters. It’s gotten to the point where the last thing I’d want my kids to do is to grow up to be servants of a ideologized public that has grown far too intolerant.

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