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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Kagan’s Alleged Distance From the “Mainstream”

In their efforts to find something objectionable about Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, some conservatives are resorting to an argument that is so vague as to seem innocuous, but that is also consonant with a serious strain of invidious prejudice: as a lifelong New Yorker, she’s inhabitted a liberal “cocoon” that is remote from the mainstream life of most Americans. Kathleen Parker offered a particularly explicit version of this argument in a Washington Post column yesterday. Here’s a sample:

Certainly New York City dwellers would argue that they struggle with ordinary concerns, just in a more dense environment. But New York, like other urban areas, tends to be more liberal than the vast rest of the country. More than half the country also happens to be Protestant, yet with Kagan, the court will feature three Jews, six Catholics and nary a Protestant. Fewer than one-fourth of Americans are Catholic, and 1.7 percent are Jewish.

This claim that Kagan’s nomination violates some unwritten rules of geographical and ethnic balance on the Supreme Court is spreading pretty rapidly. I did a fairly systematic response over at FiveThirtyEight, noting that (1) this wouldn’t be first time the Court might had three New Yorkers; (2) life in New York isn’t exactly the liberal cacoon that conservatives so often describe it as; and (3) geographical background or even diversity of experience has not in the past been a particulary good predictor of judicial philosphy or contributions to the Court.
If Parker’s argument and many like it strike you as risking encouragement to some very old prejudices, you should check out my response.

One comment on “Kagan’s Alleged Distance From the “Mainstream”

  1. ducdebrabant on

    I suppose this means that the reflexive hatred of New York, and New York City in particular, is re-establishing itself as a well of ill-will for the right wing to draw upon in other parts of the country.
    I had hoped, after the outpouring of sympathy following 9/11 from all parts of the United States (students in Mississippi actually raised money to buy the city a fire engine, which brings tears to my eyes even as I type it), that this ugly attitude might be a thing of the past.
    People actually apologized at the time for calling the city “godless” and vilifying it so unthinkingly. Now “New York” is a dirty name again for for political mobilization in the red states, and for GOP fundraising? It’s a resonant red state insult for a judicial appointee, like “known thespian”?
    We are till the primary target for terrorism (that has been proven yet again, recently). The notion that anybody with a geographical connection to New York is somehow shielded from life’s dangers and complexities and daily realities is a grim joke.
    Please, America, if you think New Yorkers are your enemies; if you imagine that we have nothing in common with you culturally, spiritually and intellectually; and if our foreign enemies feel exactly the same way, then stop sending more of our federal taxes to less-populated states than you give back, and let us use those dollars to defend ourselves.
    If Elena Kagan’s not a true American, and Sonia Sotomayor isn’t a true American, then what the hell do all of you care if we New Yorkers — true Americans none of us — take a dirty bomb for your sins? From where I sit, this is no “cocoon.” Cocoons are supposed to be safe.
    This is one America, like it or not. As much as we in New York may despise people in other states who campaign on the promise to get the teaching of evolution out of the schools, it never occurs to us to think of those people as non-Americans.
    You think New Yorkers are arrogant? We think it’s the people who set themselves up as judges of others’ American-ness (and pretend that any Democrat elected must be an alien, or the Anti-Christ, or the beneficiary of a vote fraud conspiracy of continental proportions) who are arrogant.
    It ceased being “respectable” to de-Americanize New Yorkers on a beautiful September day nine years ago. For shame!


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