Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Greenwald versus Kagan

Glen Greenwald calls it "Washington intellectual dishonesty defined" that, whereas in 1995 Elena Kagan "rightly excoriated the Supreme Court confirmation process as a 'vapid and hollow charade' because nominees refuse to answer any meaningful questions about what they think or believe," now she wants to play by the usual rules.

Personally, I am shocked, shocked by the switch.

This is no knock on Greenwald, whose voice I value in public debate - for example, concerning war crimes. By complaining about it, he's performing the role that he should, but this is how the game has always been played, and always will be.

I myself would hate to be seen (or to see myself) making that sort of all too convenient switch. But if I were playing in that league, I'd have to do it, too. This is one reason I don't want or choose to play there - I'd rather do things I enjoy and respect more. But others will play in that league, and indeed someone has to. YOU try giving honest and thoughtful answers in the environment of a Supreme Court confirmation fight, with idiots and lunatics waiting to Twitter some asinine misinterpretation. So, while in some sense I agree with Greenwald, I view this as an aesthetic preference concerning how I like to see myself, rather than as a realistic account of how we should expect people in the maelstrom to behave.

What fuels Greenwald's rage is his sense of how horrifically off-course business as usual in Washington has gotten us in recent years, with wars of choice, torture as national policy, etc. And he expects and demands more from people swimming in those poisonous seas than I do. But political convenience is a constant, not the cause of what went wrong, and I doubt that the solution (if there ever is one) will come from the sort of moral reform he evidently envisions. It will just happen historically, or else (more likely) not. Meanwhile, people will do what they must to get along. (Basic collective action problem.)

On the substantively more important issues raised by the nomination, such as Kagan's views of executive power, I am modestly hopeful, but admit I don't really know.

No comments: