Sisterhood Blog

Is Elena Kagan 'One of Us'?

By Sarah Seltzer

  • Print
  • Share Share

One of the biggest questions Jewish groups and feminists have debated since the nomination of Elena Kagan is whether it’s possible to effect genuine but incremental change from within or more desirable to work outside the system. This kind of insider/outsider anxiety is particularly potent for contemporary Jews, who are mindful of our historical status as outsiders but fascinated when one of us gets a place in the halls of power (See the excitement over David Axelrod.) 
 From her bat mitzvah onward, Kagan has never presented herself as someone who stood at the gates and demanded revolution. Instead, she’s someone who has marched through the gates, climbed the ladder inside, and been pragmatic once she got there.

As a result, she’s made a lot of compromises. Her roots, her much-debated senior thesis and a few hints suggest to many that she’s “one of us” — that is, a liberal, intellectual Jew with high-minded ideals. And yet the endless shroud of mystery over her genuine political passions and her reputation as a compromiser has led to lots of suspicion from the progressive Jews and feminists who have, in their own lives, taken the risk of putting their strong, sometimes unpopular beliefs on display. As

Amanda Marcotte noted recently that Kagan seems far too eager to immediately jump on the bandwagon of conciliation.

My sense is that Kagan is a political animal. Why? Take this story, for example. Kagan also urged President Clinton to support sentencing laws that treat the possession of crack cocaine as more serious than the possession of powder cocaine, even though it’s the same drug. The only real difference between the drugs is a class difference, and the result of these sentencing laws is functionally racist. There’s really no question that the sentencing laws are deeply unjust, but Kagan advised Clinton to support them anyway to send a signal that he was tough on crime.

These types of stories make me nervous. It’s not that I don’t respect Kagan’s path. In fact, I recognize it. I’m someone who has always vacillated between journalism and activism, between being the token feminist at mainstream media organizations and being a member of a group that protests those organizations. And I’ve found through experience that the agitators on the outside need sympathetic ears on the inside and vice versa. It’s also true that when you’re implanted in the mainstream, it’s impossible to fully follow your gut convictions and still get things done. Compromise is essential.

But the worry with Kagan is that — as I sometimes fear about her boss — compromise itself is her ideal rather than the end result of a hard-contested battle. And that makes her more “one of them” than “one of us.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Supreme Court, Elena Kagan

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
  • For 22 years, Seeds of Peace has fostered dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian teens in an idyllic camp. But with Israel at war in Gaza, this summer was different. http://jd.fo/p57AB
  • J.J. Goldberg doesn't usually respond to his critics. But this time, he just had to make an exception.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.