Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Elena Kagan and George Patton

Well, most claims of "uniqueness" tend to be overblown, but I'm going to step out on a limb and claim that I'm the first blogger to pair those two names together this week.

Here's why: My e-mail signature quote comes from General Patton himself, and it reads, "If everybody's thinking alike, then someone isn't thinking."

I love it, because it reminds me of one of the most important lessons I've learned over the last five years or so -- organizations function best not when "yes men" sit around agreeing with each other, or are afraid to challenge the boss, but when differing people who see the world from contrasting perspectives hash out opposing viewpoints and then come to compromises.

When I think about the different *types* of people I'd want on my team, I'm not really thinking about classic divisions like race, age, and gender (although those are important considerations, and the diversity element matters there, too). Before any of that, I'm thinking about mindsets.

I know I see the lots of gray. I see broad brushstrokes. I daydream a lot, and can sometimes miss critical details (i.e. it stopped raining 20 minutes ago, so why are my windshield wipers still on?) If there were an opposite of OCD, I'd have it, for better AND for worse.

That might make me an easy person to get along with, but that doesn't make me the right person to put together certain types of projects.

To balance that out, I need the guys who majored in mechanical engineering. I need someone who notices the temperature of the room, someone who notices when the slides keep changing fonts, and someone with a practical ability to put physical things together. In other words, I don't need another clone of myself, but I need someone whose strengths complement my weaknesses, and vice versa.

Multiply that times all the people in our leadership positions, and now we can assemble a team that can do great things.

That's why I laugh every time I hear opponents of the Kagan nomination cite her "lack of judicial experience" as if that's supposed to be something that makes me gasp out of sheer terror.

On the contrary, I see it as a huge advantage.

As Cliff just pointed in a Right-Side-of-Lowell post, Kagan's Eastern Establishment and Ivy League credentials don't really distinguish her from other members of the Court.

However, her professional background prior to the nomination does, and it does so in a good way. Just by the nature of her different professional background, she'll bring a mindset inherently different from that of other Justices.

Yes, there might be something of a steep learning curve when Kagan initially gets to the Bench, but with 8 other Justices, plus a flock of bright young clerks (who, for better or worse, will share Kagan's educational pedigree) that isn't going to hinder the Court's progress at the outset. And in the long run, it'll prove itself to be a huge advantage.

So much so, in fact, that President Obama and future Presidents might decide to reverse the trend away from nominations such as this (40 out of 110 SC nominees had no judicial experience, but we've trended away from that in the modern era).


Jon and Kate said...

I think you're right -- but I'm not sure that citing the 40/110 thing is the best argument, because the Court is incredibly flawed and seems traditionally to make at least one appalling nation-changing decision each generation (and I'm not even saying that politically -- we all agree Dred Scott was ridiculous but my Roe v. Wade may be your Bush v. Gore).

I think the nomination of Kagan also brilliantly underscores how absolutely interpretive Constitutional law is, and when you're deciding it at such a high level you're always an "activist" judge (i.e. any decision you make is policy-changing). It also underscores how unbelievably capricious the make-up of the Supreme Court is. And finally, and probably most importantly, what utter BS these hearings are. It's utterly preposterous to me that you can be given a lifetime term on the nation's highest court without ever stating your opinion on Bush v. Gore, which exposed the utter BS of constituitional defenses of political activism. You had supposed states' rights Conservatives overruling supposedly federal government Liberals. It essentially revealed both sides to be more concerned with partisanship than the law (if both sides of the Court ruled consistently, it would have been 5-4, in Gore's favor), and the fact that anyone could be put in the robe without explaining how both sides sold their principles out to get the party of their choice put in the White House is revolting.

On the plus side, your opposite of OCD joke was awesome.

The New Englander said...


Thanks for adding all of that. I'll confess I'm not anywhere near up to speed on the specifics of Bush v. Gore...I know I can't argue with your points about the process itself -- basically, it seems like a big charade with a pre-ordained outcome.

Your point about activism is a great one -- I've now lived through several SC nominations, and that point never gets brought up -- by its very nature, the Court is going to be "actively" influencing policy, so all that's going to differentiate whether someone agrees with that "action" is whether they agree with the decision itself! Well said.

And as to the "reverse OCD" line, it's really makes me great in some ways and not-so-great in others (but didn't some really wise Greek guy say to "Know Thyself?")