Kagan in Context: Shafting Progressive Values

If President Obama has his way, Elena Kagan will replace John Paul Stevens — and the Supreme Court will move rightward. The nomination is very disturbing, especially because its part of a pattern.

The White House is in the grip of conventional centrist wisdom. Grim results stretch from Afghanistan to the Gulf of Mexico to communities across the USA.

“It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills,” President Obama said in support of offshore oil drilling, less than three weeks before the April 20 blowout in the Gulf. “They are technologically very advanced.”

On numerous policy fronts, such conformity to a centrist baseline has smothered hopes for moving this country in a progressive direction. Now, the president has taken a step that jeopardizes civil liberties and other basic constitutional principles.

“During the course of her Senate confirmation hearings as Solicitor General, Kagan explicitly endorsed the Bush administration’s bogus category of ‘enemy combatant,’ whose implementation has been a war crime in its own right,” University of Illinois law professor Francis Boyle noted last month. “Now, in her current job as U.S. Solicitor General, Kagan is quarterbacking the continuation of the Bush administration’s illegal and unconstitutional positions in U.S. federal court litigation around the country, including in the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Boyle added: “Kagan has said ‘I love the Federalist Society.’ This is a right-wing group; almost all of the Bush administration lawyers responsible for its war and torture memos are members of the Federalist Society.”

The departing Justice Stevens was a defender of civil liberties. Unless the Senate refuses to approve Kagan for the Supreme Court, the nation’s top court is very likely to become more hostile to civil liberties and less inclined to put limits on presidential power.

Here is yet another clear indication that progressives must mobilize to challenge the White House on matters of principle. Otherwise, history will judge us harshly — and it should.

For more than 15 months, evidence has mounted that President Obama routinely combines progressive rhetoric with contrary actions. As one bad decision after another has emanated from the Oval Office, some progressives have favored denial — even though, if the name “Bush” or “McCain” had been attached to the same presidential policies, the same progressives would have been screaming bloody murder.

But enabling bad policies, with silent acquiescence or anemic dissent, encourages more of them. At this point, progressive groups and individuals who pretend that Obama’s policies merely need a few tweaks, or just suffer from a few anomalous deficiencies, are whistling past a political graveyard.

At the same time, with less than six months to go before Election Day, there are very real prospects of a big Republican victory that could shift majority control of Congress. Progressives have a huge stake in averting a GOP takeover on Capitol Hill.

The corporate-military centrism of the Obama administration has demoralized and demobilized the Democratic Party’s largely progressive base — the same base that swept Nancy Pelosi into the House Speaker’s office and then Barack Obama into the White House. National polls now show Democrats to be much less enthusiastic about voting in November than their Republican counterparts.

The conventional political wisdom (about as accurate as the claim that “oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills”) is that when a Democratic president moves rightward, his party gains strength against Republicans. But Democrats reaped the whirlwind of that pseudo-logic in 1994 — after President Clinton shafted much of the Democratic base by pushing through the corporate NAFTA trade pact against the wishes of labor, environmental and human-rights constituencies. That’s how Newt Gingrich and other right-wing zealots got to run Congress starting in January 1995.

For progressives, giving the Obama administration one benefit of the doubt after another has not prevented matters from getting worse.

At the moment, U.S. troop levels are nearing 100,000 in Afghanistan.

Massive quantities of oil are belching into the Gulf of Mexico.

The White House has signaled de facto acceptance of a high unemployment rate for several more years, while offering weak GOP-lite countermeasures like tax breaks for businesses.

Nuclear power subsidies are getting powerful support from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, while meaningful action against global warming is nowhere in sight.

The Justice Department continues to backtrack on civil liberties.

And now, if the president’s nomination of Elena Kagan is successful, the result will move the Supreme Court to the right.

Progressives should fight the Kagan nomination. the Kagan nomination.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He writes the Political Culture 2013 column. Read other articles by Norman, or visit Norman's website.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on May 18th, 2010 at 9:34am #

    US may move rightward, but not because of kagan; it is already gone more right than nazis have in dealing with aliens.
    But then again, may be nazis wld have A-bombed some peoples had they continued to stay in power.

    And even if US moves more rightwards at home, kagan wld not be much of a cause for it. The cause for moving more right wld be, i conclude, america and planet getting poorer.
    And it is a fact that planet is getting poorer. When america was getting richer from 60’s on to 2001, america had been moving left. Now, if it is getting poorer, wld move right, but not because of an insignificant person. tnx

  2. Maidhc Ó Cathail said on May 18th, 2010 at 10:58am #

    True to form, Norman Solomon manages to avoid putting Elena Kagan’s appointment into its proper context.

    For a less PC but truly progressive analysis, see James Petras’ superlative piece “Elena Kagan and the Supreme Court: A Barnyard Smell in Chicago, Harvard and Washington.”

  3. PhilipK said on May 18th, 2010 at 12:34pm #

    It sucks that Presidents have to nominate people who are designed to slip through the confirmation process. Kagan’s lack of a judicial record and scant legal writing during a career spent mostly in politics and the deanship of Harvard Law School leave open the strong possibility she’ll turn out to be more conservative than many of those who voted for Obama would want a nominee to be. In theory I like that she stands for judicial restraint, but the right has such a manipulative snake oil salesman way of pushing their agenda that being hesitant to strike down laws and leaving things to Congress can and will backfire. I want Democrats, Obama included to show some spine. Like what this Adam guy is talking about.
    I see this as a move forward but more as a roll over.

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain said on May 19th, 2010 at 3:35am #

    Philip, Obummer can’t ‘..show some spine’, because he is doing exactly what he was created and programed, by hisZionist controllers and bank-rollers, to do. Six of the last seven Democrat appointments to the Supreme Court have been Jews, all, I dare say, loyal Zionists. Enough said, really.