President Obama’s aides are predicting that a number of Republicans will vote to confirm the nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to fill the place on the U.S. Supreme Court that is being vacated by Justice John Paul Stevens.
That would be appropriate, as Kagan record is hardly that of a liberal firebrand.
Indeed, in her youth, she aligned herself with some of the most conservative thinkers in the country – a move that, with its usual determination to sacrifice even ideological correctness in favor of rank partisanship, the Republican National Committee is now attacking her for doing so.
On the eve of the opening of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Kagan’s nomination, Obama senior advisor David Axelrod was arguing that “this should be an easy decision for the committee and the Senate.”
Even allowing for what the veteran political operative acknowledges is a “charged” and “extraordinarily political” atmosphere in the Capitol, Axelrod said: "I think that there will be many Republicans who will vote for this nominee…”
One reason for this, Axelrod suggests, is that Republicans who might want to embarrass the president in an election year by derailing one of his nomineeshave been unable to “sustain” a steady line of attack on Kagan. Describing the nominee’s detractors within the GOP camp as an “opposition in search of a rationale,” Axelrod said Kagan’s critics have been “jumping around” from one argument to another in hopes that something would cause the great mass of Americans – and perhaps even some Senate Democrats – to have second thoughts about her.
In fact, the “jumping around” might even strengthen the case for Kagan.
The Republican National Committee, in one of its packaged “research briefing” attacks on the nominee put out prior to the hearings, highlighted what the RNC described as: “KAGAN: THE EARLY YEARS” According to a headline on the report: “Elena Kagan’s College Writings Provide Early Window To Her Activist Liberal Philosophy.”
Another headline screamed: “AT PRINCETON, KAGAN EXPRESSED A STRONG LIBERAL PHILOSOPHY.”
Yikes, that’s scary.
So what was Kagan’s crime?
First off, the RNC’s researchers noted, after coming through the nominee’s record, that: “As Editorial Chairman Of The Daily Princetonian, Kagan Argued Against Draft Registration, Calling It "A Manifestation Of A Growing Militarism."
The briefing quotes from an editorial that appeared in the campus newspaper on February 1980, when Kagan, at age 19, was involved with setting the Princetonian’s positions on the issues – even if she did not necessarily write the words.
Referring to an upcoming rally to oppose then-President Jimmy Carter’s proposal to have young Americans register for the military draft despite the fact that the country was at peace, the editorial declared: "At stake is not simply the adoption of Carter’s proposal — although it is, in itself, something we deeply oppose. After all, the rally is not just for the 19- and 20-year-olds recently pinpointed for registration. We should also demonstrate against the proposal because it is a manifestation of a growing militarism in which politically motivated bravado plays too large a part."
Another editorial, written several months later warned that, under Carter’s Democratic administration, the nation was unfortunately’ moving toward “an era in which myopic and over-sensitive ‘national pride’ precludes the thoughtful search for alternatives to an unnecessary draft registration.”
A radical notion?
But not a radically liberal notion.
Among the most outspoken critics of Carter’s draft proposal were conservative Republicans, led by Ronald Reagan, who wrote around the same time as those Princetonian editorials appeared that: "(The argument for draft registration) rests on the assumption that your kids belong to the state. If we buy that assumption then it is for the state — not for parents, the community, the religious institutions or teachers — to decide who shall have what values and who shall do what work, when, where and how in our society. That assumption isn’t a new one. The Nazis thought it was a great idea."
William F. Buckley and The National Review were similarly concerned, arguing that, “Nothing says ‘big government’ quite like forced servitude to the state.”
Congressman Ron Paul, then a new member of the House, objected that “a military draft violates the very principles of individual liberty this country was founded upon.”
These were all echoes of Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign, in which he cut an anti-draft television commercial, who in turn echoed former Ohio Senator Robert Taft, in so many senses the progenitor of modern Republican conservatism. Said Taft in 1946: “There is one step now proposed, supported by government propaganda, which seems to me to strike at the very basis of freedom. It is the proposal that we establish compulsory military training in time of peace. The power to take a boy from his home and subject him to complete government discipline is the most serious limitation on freedom that can be imagined.”
But Taft did not merely make a civil libertarian argument against the draft. He also spoke of the danger of militarism. Speaking of the recently concluded Second World War, Taft said, “We have fought this war to preserve our institutions, not to change them. We have fought it to permit us to work out our problems here at home on a peaceful foundation, not on a foundation dominated by military preparations for another war.”
Worrying about the example that the U.S. might be setting, Taft warned: “On the contrary, if we establish conscription every other nation in the world will feel obliged to do the same. It would set up militarism on a high pedestal throughout the world as the goal of all the world. Militarism has always led to war and not peace.”
Wise words, as wise as those approved by a young Elena Kagan.