Monday, May 10, 2010

Senior thesis blowback 

It will occur every time a Princeton graduate rises to some position of national prominence, but the habit of using excerpts of a decades-old senior thesis to try and discern a person's present day core beliefs is not the most optimal use of time or resources, particularly at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. Whether it is Samuel Alito or Michelle Obama or Elena Kagan, pulling out sentences written when they were 20 or 21 years old is not going to enlighten us very much about who they are today.

Heck, if Sean Wilentz had been my thesis advisor (wrong department, fortunately), I would have gone into every meeting with him crying about how it makes no sense that Reagan had just been elected by such a huge margin, though I suspect Prof. Wilentz was not a big Jimmy Carter fan, and may have supported Anderson in 1980, once the Kennedy insurgency collapsed.

The whole point of junior ("JP") and senior year research papers is to be able to examine and dissect an issue in some form of original scholarly work. The very best ones might be comparable to mini-Ph.D. dissertations at other universities, but most reflect the earnest hard work of undergraduate students trying to satisfy reasonably challenging graduation requirements. Writing my senior thesis provided me with some analytical tools that I would build on later in life, but I would hate to be judged today by the quality of a document nearly three decades old, written before I even had held a meaningful job. Then again, there was that life guard stint during the summer -- it didn't pay much, but there were perqs, and I vaguely recall one rescue. I wonder if they're hiring.


By Anonymous Just Because I'm Paranoid, at Tue May 11, 06:42:00 AM:

The bigger issue to me is that Elena and Obama go way back together to Hyde Park Chicago. In my full paranoid mode, I'd worry about Kagan being Obama's mole. Her being first made Solicitor General is a tell that Obama's been grooming her for a Supreme Court seat all along.

One of the elephants in the room -- there are several -- is that a coterie of the "Inner Inner Party" is now running the legislative process out of the White House. "Separation of Powers" is a real issue. Kagan's appointment should put this question front and center.
The Supreme Court could have a big role to play over the next few years in the push back on Obama-ism.

Otherwise, she's fine as an Obama pick.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue May 11, 06:51:00 AM:

At least John Kerry had the foresight to video record his bravery in Nam . What a warrior, and film to prove it!!  

By Anonymous Robert Arvanitis, at Tue May 11, 07:10:00 AM:

We are not judging the quality, diction or grammar of undergratduate papers.

By 21 you can vote, drink, sign contracts, and marry. My grandfather had already emigrated around the world and started a family by that age.

At 21 you ARE responsible for the ethical principles and moral premises you hold. Those ARA a powerful predictor of your future beliefs, values and priorities.  

By Anonymous E Hines, at Tue May 11, 10:16:00 AM:

My concern with Ms Kagan stems not from her "anti-military" stance (today's WSJ has a couple of interesting articles on this aspect), but from her lack of practical experience. She's done the academic thing, apparently with distinction, but she's not practiced overmuch, and more importantly in my mind, she's never been a judge (nor stood in front of one very much beyond her limited tenure as Solicitor General), nor has she written much on matters of the law or the Constitution, so it's hard to see what she thinks today on such things.

As for you, Escort81, I would hate to be judged today by the quality of a document nearly three decades old,....

You're absolutely right on this one. To be able to discern a trend, we need two data points to draw that line: show us your writings from when you were in the 6th grade, that we may better assess the trajectory of the evolution of your thought.

Eric Hines  

By Blogger John, at Tue May 11, 10:48:00 AM:

I went to a mid-ranked private liberal arts college. For my senior thesis, I analyzed the power structures in four convents founded by German and Polish immigrants to the US. Essentially, it was nothing that anyone would find interesting, but as a work of detailed research for a 22 year old, it wasn't bad.

So I find it interesting that Michelle Obama's and Kagan's theses were grand analytical works of political theory and personal experience -- stuff with actual ideological implications. Maybe that's because they went to a far more challenging school than I did.

Still, I, too, would hate to be judged by the idiotic things that I said when I was 22. I remember asserting, in one conversation, that Fidel Castro was one of the greatest leaders in Latin American history. This was due to the influence of certain professors as well as a general ideological perspective at the school.

Within a year or two of graduating from college, I had managed to dispose of all of this nonsense.

I think that it's fair to ask Kagan to explain what she meant when she wrote that at 22 and if she still believes it. And if she doesn't, why she changed her mind. We're all young and irresponsible when we're young and irresponsible. It's okay to admit that and it should cause no shame to fall upon a 50 year old today.  

By Anonymous WLindsayWheeler, at Tue May 11, 12:10:00 PM:

This is half-OT.

I wonder how and why two weeks ago, Tigerhawk, you prophesied the coming of Elana Kagan. You're right in your predicition. How is that?

Western Culture and Civilization is built on Patriarchy and Maleness of the Western Mind that produced said culture. Here, a bunch of brainless white men are going to vote for a woman to a lead Justice of the land. This is total idiocy. Nature did not fit a woman either for being a lawyer, or a judge! She is a raving feminist. Feminism is about deconstructing Western Culture and replacing it with Matriarchy! What bozos we have running this country. This is just more Marxism. I find it quite strange that a Jewish leftist radical is put in charge of a Law school. This is the death of Western Culture.

But this is alright for Obama. The most effeminate wimp that there ever was.

What man puts a woman in charge? Do you guys, I hate to call any body in America a man, that sits by and lets a woman be in charge. You are not men.

This is why America is not only a Matriarchy but a Marxist country to boot. Jewish society is a matriarchy. America, being Marxist, is about putting women in control. America is a Jewish society. It's all Jewish. You are all Jews.

This is disgusting beyond all. Ginsberg, now Kagan. I'd like to know how you "follow the rule of law" when you break the Natural Law.

America is a country of morons, bozos and the land of effete humans with penises.

Law deals with Logic not with feminine sentimentality.  

By Blogger Bomber Girl, at Tue May 11, 12:25:00 PM:

WLW, by your penultimate comment, I can only assume you are a guy with no penis.

My sympathies. (Sorry for the expression of sentimentality; women are like that).  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue May 11, 01:23:00 PM:

1. Agree with Escort81 that senior thesis material is not particularly informative.
2. Agree with all commentators that Kagan's decision to ban JAG from recruiting at Harvard Law is sufficient grounds to disqualify her from serving on the Supreme Court. She should be Borked based on this decision and her anti-military comments when policy had to be reversed.
3. Republicans have nothing to lose by filibustering this nominee provided they base the filibuster on JAG grounds.
4. Very few law professors actually practice law for more than a few years, if at all. The career path is law school, judicial clerkship(s), possibly a stint at DOJ, then to a second or third tier law school where you start climbing the ladder up the academic ivory tower. As a class, law professors are far too tender to actually practice law.
5. The lack of experience practicing law should not bar someone from appointment to the Supreme Court. Nor should a lack of experience at being a judge. Nor should a lack of academic achievement. However, Kagan has none of these qualifications--not one. She's had no significant law practice. She has never been a judge. She is not a highly respected scholar and has few publications. In large part she has been an administrator and a political hack. She is every bit as unqualified as was Harriet Myers.  

By Anonymous The Truth is Out There, at Tue May 11, 01:47:00 PM:

To WLW, while you're at it why don't you dump on Catholics and New Yorkers?

Catholics are already six of nine. But I can tell you from experience they're a diverse lot. Because of this they're a key swing voting demographic. When our democracy works -- the guy in the Middle decides. Right now on SCOTUS -- it's often Kennedy.

Sonia's from The Bronx, Ginsburg's from Brooklyn, Scalia from Queens, Kagan from Manhattan. What no Staten Island representation?


I'll second the comment from above. Kagan is "qualified" but her biggest qualification is that she's a "friend of O." That -- and her current role as O's appellate lawyer -- ought to raise an eyebrow and invite some pointed questioning. At a minimum, Kagan should pledge to recuse herself from things like Obamacare.

We've seen this movie before:

"In 1965, Lyndon Johnson, then President, persuaded Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg to resign his seat to become Ambassador to the United Nations so that he could appoint Fortas, his longtime friend, to the Court. Johnson thought that some of his Great Society reforms could be ruled unconstitutional by the Court, and he felt that Fortas would let him know if that was to happen."

Fortas -- despite lots of support from LBJ -- got into more and more trouble and ultimately resigned in 1969.
Lots of potential parallels between O and LBJ and FDR -- not all good ones. What comes from not having an effective opposition party.

The JAG issue helps Obama with his base just as much as it helps some Republicans with theirs.  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Tue May 11, 02:48:00 PM:

I remember asserting, in one conversation, that Fidel Castro was one of the greatest leaders in Latin American history.

That all depends on how one defines "great".

Durability? Certainly.
Ability to shape a society long term? Yep.

As long as "great" doesn't have anything to do with liberty or economic prosperity that transfers down to the common man (both of which which have generally been in short supply all through recorded history) Castro can certainly be considered "great" compared with most south of the border politicians over the past 200 years.  

By Anonymous WLindsayWheeler, at Tue May 11, 02:56:00 PM:

For those applauding this appointment, Hate Crime laws will be used to stifle free speech. Free speech, like the Free Speech movement in Berkely, is fine for Marxists and other revolutionaries. That is just fine for them. But once the Revolution succeeds, They shut down "Free Speech". What I wrote in my first post, Ellen Kagan will define as Hate speech, and I will be jailed.

This is a prediction you can bank on! We are already throwing kids out of school for wearing an American flag on Cinco de Mayo! Britain arrested a minister for declaring homosexuality a sin.

As Elena Kagan deadly threat to Free Speech, "Jews and free speech are antithetical. Under a Supreme Court dominated by Jews (and a few token non-whites), which is almost certainly Obama’s goal, pornography and obscenity will be constitutionally protected, but ideas or words that Jews, non-whites and homosexuals don’t like will be declared “hate speech” outside the protection of the 1st Amendment."

Most of this is already true! It is just a short skip and jump to Federal Hate Crime Speech.

As a Former Marine who fought the communists in the Cold War, Obama and Kagan are die-hard Communists! They have won their revolution thru tolerance and diversity and as they consolidate power and control, they will shut down everything and where is your tolerance and diversity! And they will imprison us. Nature abhors a vacuum. Strong European men are the evil of this world. It is funny when Truth becomes Hate Speech.  

By Blogger Barnabus, at Tue May 11, 03:14:00 PM:

On the one hand, I agree that pulling out a sentence from a senior thesis could certainly be misleading. However, by the age of 21 most people have already developed a world view. Sure, opinions can change, but core beliefs/values usually don't and if they do then that is relevant too. So, on the other hand...why wouldn't we want to examine such writings of supreme court nominees?  

By Anonymous Just Because I'm Paranoid, at Tue May 11, 03:17:00 PM:

Sidebar re Fidel:

11 US Presidents later, and Fidel is still puffing on Cohibas.

Given my handle I do entertain a few out-there ideas. One is that every incoming President gets an envelope from the outgoing. Inside is JFK's personal 8mm collection -- which he built on top of Papa Joe's ... the real alien autopsy photos from Roswell Area 51 ... and details of Castro's complicity with the Soviets in JFK's assassination. It'd explain our half-century continued animosity to Castro:

Ex-Marine and lone gunman Oswald defected to the Soviets before he came back to the USA. He travelled to Cuba just before he shot JFK. The Soviets have been implicated in other political assassinations, including the attempt on Pope John Paul II.

If you think this crazy, LBJ has publicly said the same.  

By Anonymous The Truth is Out There, at Tue May 11, 03:44:00 PM:

Response to WLW:

... and I thought I was way out there. I'm struggling to come up with the most constructive response. There's several possible tacks. Here's a practical one:

Any political solution to our national predicament needs to be based on principled coalition building. If you start out by excluding women ... and Jews ... you're already less than a majority. I'm guessing you'd exclude Hispanics too. You might let me into your club -- or not -- I'm not sure how you count an immigrant urban redneck.

For me, the obvious political solution is a principled program to go back to Constitutional basics. There's a majority voting block out there to be coalesced around this if some elements of "traditional Republicans" don't once again f*ck it up. I don't want to reap, what WLW's sows -- which is part of why Obama's in office.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Tue May 11, 11:31:00 PM:

WLW is clearly something on the Right, but I can't find enough coherence in his stuff to respond in any constructive way. The Grand Tragedian stance of having ideas important enough that Elena Kagan is going to make sure he's arrested strikes me as a bit narcissistic.

As to what one wrote in college, I was a near-complete twerp. But I can at least tell you why I disagree with those ideas now. I'm with John - I don't care about nutty views, I want to hear how she views them now.  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Wed May 12, 01:57:00 AM:

"Jewish society is a matriarchy."

Thanks for proving once again, wheezer, what a bunch of moronic losers antisemites are (see "Chambers, Chrissy"). Orthodox Judaism is in fact quite patriarchal. One of the best things about being Jewish is that antisemites like wheezer are *always* nitwits, misfucks and born losers.  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Wed May 12, 01:59:00 AM:

"I'm struggling to come up with the most constructive response."

Don't waste your time. You'd have better luck coming up with a "constructive response" to a baboon in a zoo.  

By Blogger Mr. Bingley, at Wed May 12, 07:22:00 AM:

Well, I'm no fan of hers or of Obama's, but I certainly know that I wrote a lot of idiotic stuff in college; I'm a very different person now.

Still idiotic, of course, but now at least I know enough not to write it down.  

By Anonymous Davod, at Wed May 12, 08:21:00 AM:

Kagan may not have the normal path to the SCOTUS but as a former and now administration staffer and tenured professor she should still have a paper trail. Where is it?

Her short term in the current administration should give anyone pause.

I now know where Obama got the turning over of 100 years of precedent during the state of the union speech. Kagan's argument before the SCOTUS was based on the wrong type of law (I cannot remember whether she argued the civil or Federal, but it was the wrong one).

WRT to the Senate hearings. I would hope that conservative Senators would not take the approach that if someone refutes any objectional comments made in the past they give them a pass.  

By Blogger Kurt, at Wed May 12, 11:42:00 AM:

AVI makes an excellent point about being able to explain how and why his views differ now. If anyone scrutinized my writings from college (senior thesis) or graduate school (dissertation), they'd find I had many different views about all kinds of things than I do now. In those days, I thought of myself as pretty much "center-left." If they asked what changed, I'd probably have to go into a Neo-neocon-style change narrative.

I'm sure that Kagan's views have changed somewhat, though I'd be curious to learn how and why. On the other hand, I suspect Obama's views haven't changed that much or else he wouldn't have worked so hard to suppress information about his younger days.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Wed May 12, 09:13:00 PM:

"At 21 you ARE responsible for the ethical principles and moral premises you hold. Those ARA a powerful predictor of your future beliefs, values and priorities."

By 21, chances are VERY good that you're not even in law school.  

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