May 17, 2010 -- In my callow youth I had a few dates with Second Base, a young woman who played that position on a company, semi-pro softball team, and although I never got to first I am quite sure there was no question of her sexual orientation. When she zinged one to tag an out at home plate you could tell she had a good arm, but there was nothing wrong with the other body parts either. The lady was athletic, but feminine.
Playing soft ball is not an indication of sexual orientation, but tell that to some in the field of pompous opinionists who seem to be obsessed with the closet of President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, who was outed as a softball player by a photo of her in uniform and at bat by the Wall Street Journal. You can always count on Murdoch journalism. Last week everyone with a keyboard and a place to post its output has had something to say about this earthshaking question, from one prospective or another; is she or isn’t she a lesbian? Doesn’t she owe it to the public to tell us one way or the other? Is it any of our business? Aren’t the people who are bringing this up despicable, or are they justified because of the importance of the Supreme Court position? Do we, or should we even, really give a damn? If collected and printed what’s been said and written would rival l the Harvard Classics. We might as well get in on the fun. Aside from the soft ball thing, what else is there? She is fifty and never married; smokes cigars; plays poker;
and according to Jeffrey Toobin of CNN, “smart, funny, self-confident, extremely intelligent but not obnoxious about it.” If you substituted, ‘corps commander of his military school for softball’, this sounds like a description of a business associate and friend of mine of over thirty years ago, but it didn’t make Jerry straight any more than it makes Kagan gay. He was openly gay, but never announced it because, I’m sure like Nathan Lane who explained why he went for years without publicly acknowledging his gayness, “I never thought I had to.” Those of us who knew and worked with Jerry didn’t care about his sexual orientation, we just appreciated his fine work and enjoyed his company. Same could be said about a number of other men and women I have known and worked with over the years.
So she has not married. One of her college roommates and a life-long friend, Sarah Walzer, talks about the student years, how they both dated, compared notes, and scoped out the guys they would like to consort with says she is definitely not a lesbian. So does Eliot Spitzer, who says while he did not date her he had friends who did, and if anyone ought to know about sex it surely is Spitzer. As Walzer says, “she just didn't find the right person.” Or, perhaps it was like what comedian Tina Fey said in explaining how she happened to remain a virgin until her mid twenties, “couldn’t even give it away.”
The way our little minds work when anyone, male or female, reaches mid life without experiencing marriage is the subject of this kind of speculation. Condoleezza Rice and Harriet Miers, President Bush’s misguided and brief choice for the Court in 2005, faced it. So did Justice David Souter. Assuming she makes the cut, Kagan will be only the seventh never-married justice of the 112 who have sat on the Supreme Court. Let us now put the lesbian question to rest. The Kagan mitzvah was bat, not bar. Appropriately.
The next question is why isn’t this private, and why should we have to know one way or another? On the one hand, influential blogger Andrew Sullivan, who is gay, insists Kagan should say she either is or she isn’t, claiming it is part of who she is and the public has a right to know. Of course all of the “family values” people on the right want her to set the record straight (so to speak) for obvious reasons. Sullivan‘s position has been widely attacked. I would ask Sullivan if he wants every applicant for office to state as part of their credentials their position on sex: heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual (what Woody Allen referred to as doubling your chances for a date on Saturday night), homophobic, and so on.
It’s been a lot of years since I retired from corporate life but as I recall when conducting an interview for a new employee I was not allowed to even ask if the applicant was male or female. You just don’t ask someone to describe their genitalia. And you certainly shouldn’t ask them what they do with it.
Would it matter if an avowed lesbian were appointed to the Court? Some observers, this one included, think it would be a good thing, the more diversity the better. With Annise Parker becoming the first openly gay mayor of one of America's largest cities, Houston, we’ve reached the point of widespread public acceptance. I must say I should apologize to Houston. I never would have thought it could become La Cage aux Folles.
On Saturday, the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles consecrated the church's first openly lesbian bishop. Catholic Church, please take note. Country singer Chely Wright announced that she is a lesbian (new Western song: I Love Those Chaps But I Don’t Mean Guys). On Larry King, ex-First Lady Laura Bush said she endorses the same rights for all committed couples and believes same-sex marriage will come. That ought to give some relief to what has been called overcrowded Republican closets.
Archie comic books announced they are adding a new gay character. Had they already done so, it would have given “rent-a-boy” something to read on his marvelous adventure to Europe with George Rekers, Baptist minister and clinical psychologist and one of the founders of the Family Research Council. The married, 61-year-old Reverend is the man with the “cure” for homosexuality and goes around the country collecting six figure fees for talking about it. He says he went to Rentboy.com to hire someone to carry his package, no make that luggage, on his trip to Europe. The hypocrisy of so many anti-gay religious figures who turn out to be actively gay themselves is staggering.
Is Ms. Kagan qualified to be a Supreme Court Justice? She is known as an intellectual heavyweight, the first woman to serve as dean of Harvard Law School and the first woman to serve as solicitor general. But she has never been a judged? Not a requirement or even desirable. Out of 111 Justices who have served on the Supreme Court 41 got there without judicial experience. It looks to me as though she is an Obama Goldilocks choice: not too liberal, not too conservative, but just right. In an OpEd piece in the New York Times today Stephen L. Carter, who once clerked for Thurgood Marshall as did Kagan, says Kagan: “brought harmony to a Harvard Law School famously riven by ideological strife, an accomplishment that augurs well for her ability to work constructively in a fractious court.”
Republicans will, of course, make every effort to demonize her in order to smear the Obama administration. I have already received one e-mail picking up on four or five words she used in some obscure document written when she was teaching law in Chicago which purportedly shows that she is against the first amendment, kind of yelling of “Fire” in a crowded theater kind of thing. According to the e-mail this is just the first step by Obama in a nefarious scheme to take away our first amendment rights.
NYT columnist David Brooks, the relatively sober sided sensible conservative, complains because she has left a very scant paper trail, no controversy, therefore he says no one can tell what she stands for. He comments about the nominating system: “a president can only nominate people with sterling credentials that don’t involve ruling, or commenting, on controversial issues. Second, the nominees are encouraged to mislead the senators who have to vote on them” (Chief Justice Roberts would be a prime example). Furthermore, “In the case of Elena Kagan, it gives a brilliant and gifted person a strong incentive to be reticent and cagey.”
It is good sport to watch Republicans wallow in hypocrisy, in this case over the question of no experience on the bench. The issue came up in 2005 when then President Bush started to nominate his close friend and personal lawyer Harriet Miers.
Then, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX): “I mean, one reason I felt so strongly about Harriet Miers's qualifications is I thought she would fill some very important gaps in the Supreme Court. Because right now you have people who've been federal judges, circuit judges most of their lives, or academicians. And what you see is a lack of grounding in reality and common sense that I think would be very beneficial.”
Cornyn now: “Ms. Kagan is likewise a surprising choice because she lacks judicial experience. Most Americans believe that prior judicial experience is a necessary credential for a Supreme Court Justice.”
Then, top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL): “It is not necessary that she have previous experience as a judge in order to serve on the Supreme Court,” it is “perfectly acceptable to nominate outstanding lawyers to that position.”
Sessions now: “Ms. Kagan's lack of judicial experience and short time as solicitor general ... is troubling.”
Then, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) thought Miers was a "wonderful choice."
Hutchison now, “has some concerns over Elena Kagan's lack of judicial experience."
Similar comments come from Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Sen. John Thune (R-SD). What a difference five years make.
The new makeup of the Court is interesting. Kagan will make three females on the Court for the first time in history. In what Southern Baptists believe is a “Christian Nation,” namely their version, there is not a single Protestant justice. The sage of Foxdom Glenn Beck tells us “Jesus doesn't want a cap-and-trade system.” I have not heard what Jesus told Beck about Kagan.
Why so much fuss, time, space effort spent on one judicial appointment? Because if confirmed she will probably serve on the Court until about 2050 making judgments on all matter of things affecting the lives of all Americans. Presidents come and go but the Justices are with us a very long time. Their appointment are as, or more, important than Presidential elections.
Meanwhile, across the Pond, our British cousins having gone through their equivalent of Presidential elections now have a new government, coalition version with power shared by conservative David Cameron and liberal Democrat Nick Clegg. At 43 years old, both are younger than Jon Stewart. This should make “Prime Minister’s Questions,” for a long time my favorite television program, a joy to watch. Will they both stand side by side, each with a big book in hand, taking turns answering questions? I fantasize a kind of vaudeville version on the order of an old Gallagher and Shean routine. To refresh our memory, here is a sample of the original act:
Sheen: Oh! Mister Gallagher. Oh! Mister Gallagher!
Gallagher: Hello, what's on your mind this morning, Mister Shean?
Shean: Ev'rybody's making fun of the way our country's run. All the papers say we'll soon live European.
Gallagher: Why Mister Shean. Why Mister Shean. On the day they took awayour old canteen, cost of living went so high. That it's cheaper now to die.
Shean: Positively, Mister Gallagher.
Gallagher: Absolutely, Mister Shean.
Now, standing in the center of the parliamentary hall:
Clegg: Oh! Mr. Cameron. Oh! Mr. Cameron
Cameron: Why it’s my parliamentary partner Mr. Clegg
Clegg:. If it’s we who have the power. To rule Britain at this hour. It’s in trouble and we better shake a leg.
Cameron: Why Mr. Clegg …. Why Mr. Clegg. We’ll knock the fiscal crises down a peg. Torries to a man, sir Say “cut taxes” that’s the answer
Clegg: Positively, Mister Cameron
Cameron: Absolutely, Mister Clegg.
In all fairness, Cameron promises “compassionate conservatism” but I seem to have heard that phrase before and it didn’t work out so well. As our chief executive President Obama put it last week, Republicans are like “bad drivers who still demand to get the car keys back.”
Executive orders and the precise use of words were topics of a soul searching piece in the New York Times today. It concerned the ordering by the Administration what they called the “Targeted Killing” of an American citizen, Anwar sl-Awlak, who it believed was plotting attacks on the United States. There were reader protests at using a whitewash of the word “Assassination.” Well, it seems assassinations are prohibited by law signed by three presidents, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan. But the executive orders did not define “assassination,” so “targeted killing” takes the curse off of it to make it sound legal. I am in debt to my friend Arthur Hersh who has yet a better suggestion, using a more familiar, gentler term: “put to sleep.” It is hard to get comfortable with the idea that our government is going around in our name assassinating people which sounds so spy thrillerish, but put to sleep? That’s the equivalent of parents telling the children that beloved dog Spot has been taken to a farm in the country.
In what sounds more like something from a SciFi thrillers, scientists have found giant plumes of oil forming under the Gulf, as large as ten miles long. This is the oil slick that ate the South. It just keeps getting worse. BP keeps telling us they’re working on it, they’re working on it. Congress keeps telling them they are going to have to pay for the whole thing, but as it seems to be growing so big that it will take more money than even a Goldman Sachs executive can imagine.
Actually, Goldman did very well this last quarter, as did Bank of America, Citigroup, and JPMorgan. Each one finished the period without losing money for even one day, an event as rare as the perfect game of baseball pitched a few days ago. If these guys could just play ball with Congress and the President.
The President had a meeting in Washington with someone else he is trying to get to play ball, Hamid Karzai, whom NYT columnist Maureen Dowd calls the “caped capo who runs Afghanistan.” I hope as a parting gift Obama gave the President a DVD of the Godfather. The only purpose of the meeting seemed to have been to butter him up.
As Karzai heads home, the Republican Party announced where they will be heading in 2012 for their national convention, Tampa Florida. I must say Republicans are consistent. Tampa is known as the ‘lap dance capital of the world’ with 56 different clubs that are adult-oriented. The city has an ordinance called the ‘six foot rule,’ requiring customers to stay six feet from the dancers, but they don’t ordinarily enforce it. They no doubt will in 2012. All things considered I’ll bet the dancers will WANT to stay six feet from all of those Republicans.
Over dinner with a friend the subject of TV commercials came up. We were in agreement in questioning the wisdom of showing all of those rowdy, wild party beer commercials, wondering if it doesn’t sublimely promote drinking to excess as we ordered another Rusty Nail. I added that I felt the same way about automobile commercials that feature cars at high speeds, whizzing around city streets or racing along coastal highways hanging over cliffs. Oh no, my friend who owns sport cars said, that is different. They are being driven by professionals. It occurred to me some of those boisterous beer drinkers have a professional look about them, too. Perhaps the beer commercials need a disclaimer: do not try this unless you are an experienced professional.
Now add to the party atmosphere of the beer commercial weapons of you choice. NYT columnist Gail Collins reports Georgia lawmakers have sent a bill to the governor to sign that allows concealed weapons in bars if the owner says it’s O.K. As Collins said it establishes the “right to bear arms in the company of the inebriated.” That calls for another Rusty Nail.
Those disclaimers in the TV ads for health care products get pretty ludicrous by telling you all of the ugly things you experience by using the product, which sound worse than what it is trying to cure. And the ads for the products that are a substitute for cigarettes to help you stop smoking. Depression? Sleeplessness? Suicidal tendencies? No kidding. You gave up cigarettes, didn’t you? What did you expect? You are depresses, sleepless and suicidal because you gave up smoking, substitute or no substitute.
I went to a wine dinner this week and got to thinking about the difference between that event and the scenes depicted in those beer commercials. Wine is an alcoholic beverage, but we don’t dance around wildly to throbbing music, sniffing, and swirling and shouting out I get the hint of truffles, the touch of currents, wet dog or saddle or whatever, arguing about the finish. No, we sit, and do so with solemnity. Thinking about the contrast kind of makes you want a beer. If you are fully armed, of course.