The Corner

Without Liz Holtzman, Hope is Lost

I’m not nearly as deep in the weeds on President Obama’s latest nominee as some of my colleagues, but I laughed really hard when I read this opening from the Washington Post’s profile:

Ronald Reagan was heading to the White House, and Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman — a champion for women’s causes for whom Kagan had toiled 14-hour days as a campaign press assistant — was leaving Capitol Hill. Kagan, then 20 and imbued with the liberal principles on which she had been raised, said she was flirting with despair that “there was no longer any place for the ideals we held. . . . I wonder how all this could possibly have happened and where on earth I’ll be able to get a job next year.”

Her piece for the Daily Princetonian on Holtzman’s 1980 defeat was a rare moment, then and since, in which Kagan publicly described her emotions and politics in such strikingly personal tones. In the elite spheres of academia and government in which she has learned and worked, Kagan, 50, has more typically exhibited an analytical style, a knack for forging consensus, a pragmatism rather than a passion for her own ideas.

I understand that Liz Holtzman was somewhat less synonymous with career hack in 1980 than she is now and yes, I understand that some people — particularly young people – get very invested in the politicians they work for. But suffice it to say, if Liz Holtzman was the only viable torch-carrier for Elena Kagan’s ideals, then it is a good thing she opts to emphasize “pragmatism” over her own ideas.


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