Ramesh Ponnuru flags this long blog post by Paul Campos examining Elana Elena Kagan’s career. Campos argues that Kagan was not as focused on hard work and credentialism as her detractors, both left and right, seem to think. Instead, she advanced her career by leveraging connections, especially political connections, to overcome what were actually weak credentials. Campos relies exclusively on unnamed sources, but if the narrative is accurate, it shows how perfectly suited Kagan is for Washington, and why Obama picked her.
Here’s how Campos thinks Kagan got to where she is:
But Kagan’s rise to national prominence is also very much a tribute to how crucial it is to have many friends in high places – in particular friends like Lawrence Summers, whose academic and political connections seem to have played such a crucial role in the revival of Kagan’s flagging career. In other words, a critical examination of Kagan’s accomplishments belies claims that she’s particularly well qualified to serve on the Court. No one doubts that Kagan is intelligent, hard-working, well-educated, legally knowledgeable, and adept at charming and otherwise impressing influential people. Those qualities, however, do not distinguish her from quite literally thousands of other people who are by such standards equally well suited to serve on the Supreme Court.
The bottom line is that a close look at Kagan’s formal credentials to serve on the Court reveals there is nothing extraordinary about her, other than the extraordinary combination of social privilege and the ability to exploit it that has put her in her current position. This makes it all the more imperative that the public process leading up to Kagan’s confirmation should have produced a satisfactory answer to the almost wholly unresolved question of what Kagan’s fundamental legal and political views actually are. This it has completely failed to do.
And here’s his conclusion:
The relative ease with which Elena Kagan is being confirmed to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court illustrates the extent to which Establishment America believes that a member of the club in good standing – someone who has gone to the right schools, and gotten the right kinds of jobs, and befriended the right sorts of people – can be counted on to do the right thing, even though her own legal and political views remain largely unknown. Naturally, from the establishment’s perspective, the right thing is to do nothing that might seriously disturb any of the social arrangements that continue to serve its interests so well. And in the end, Obama’s faith in Kagan is most likely based on a well-warranted belief that, as a Supreme Court justice, she will prove to be as acceptable to that establishment as Obama himself.