Consider Obama's constant calls for civility -- starting with his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech -- and his harsh characterizations of those who oppose him on issues. The candidate who talked of his eagerness to listen to others, "especially when we disagree," is the president who in a commencement speech laments that through blogs, cable TV and talk radio, "even some of the craziest claims can quickly gain traction. I've had some experience in that regard." Obama fans have taken to calling disagreement "sedition."
To critics, this sounds like a contradiction: the man urging civility engaging in incivility himself. But to the professorial mind, the contradiction may be invisible. University campuses, far from being open-minded forums of opinion, are the most closed-minded parts of our society, with speech codes and something resembling re-education classes for those who violate them.
University administrators seem to believe they have a moral obligation to suppress speech that displeases or offends them. Obama -- the self-proclaimed paragon of civility -- seems, like most professors, to regard Rush Limbaugh and Fox News as outside the bounds of legitimacy.
The one issue on which Kagan has voiced strong opinions is the ban on open gays in the military -- a stand pretty much universally held on campuses, but on which the nation beyond is divided. In barring military recruiters from Harvard Law School, she condemned "the military's discriminatory recruitment policy," "the military's discriminatory employment policy" and "the military's policy."
But it is not the military's policy. It's the law of the land, mandated by a bill passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by Bill Clinton, in whose White House Kagan was nonetheless willing to serve.
As dean at Harvard Law, Kagan signed a brief that sought to overturn the law denying federal funds to universities that barred military recruiters. Yet that brief, written by one of the ablest Supreme Court advocates, Walter Dellinger, was nonetheless rejected by the justices by a vote of 8 to 0.
In nominating Kagan, Obama said he wanted a justice who understood "the real world." But it seems that he nominated someone who, on one important occasion, utterly misjudged the real world beyond the campus.
Friday, May 14, 2010
The Real (Faculty Lounge) World
Michael Barone notes that Barack Obama (Harvard, J.D. ’91) and his Supreme Court judicial nominee Elena Kagan (Harvard, J.D. ’86) were not only both University of Chicago Law School professors, they were both professors at the same time, who could have chatted together in the law school faculty lounge. Barone believes Obama and Kagan share attitudes common to the faculty lounge, but much less common to the America outside: