I recently revealed my authoritarian solution to the problem of Supreme Court nominees who won’t tell us anything important about themselves. Along those lines, a Slate mag writer adds this about near-blank-slate Elana Kagan:
What I see in the national obsession over Kagan’s unmarried status is precisely the same thing I saw in the national obsession over David Souter’s: We want Supreme Court nominees who are diverse and interesting, but as soon as we get one, we treat their unique qualities like hideous communicable diseases. Sonia Sotomayor was the first Latina. So we called her a racist. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a feminist legal pioneer. So we called her a radical. And we thought David Souter (mother, farmhouse, perennially unplugged TV) was just so much tragic marital roadkill.
It’s always this way. We chafe and gripe about the tired old ways of Washington, the brain-dead adherence to conventional wisdom, the good ol’ boys n’ girls scratching each others’ backs as they climb to seniority. Then, when a potential leader comes along who really is different, we recoil, freak out and immediately spank them for coloring outside the lines. We long for someone willing to step outside the tired old mainstream–and then when they do, we shriek: “You’re out of the mainstream!”
It was that way with Ross Perot, first hailed as a homespun savior and then trashed as a hickish, heartless Hitler. It was that way with Sarah Palin. And now we see the tired drama repeat itself with the kerfuffle (love that word!) over Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul’s second thoughts about the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act.
Disclaimers: While I thought Perot’s “laser-like” focus on deficits was valuable, I don’t think he would have made a successful president (in fact, I’ve always thought that had he been elected, he would have resigned within a year). I wouldn’t vote for Palin because I dislike only two things about her: her ideas and her lack of intellect. And I really haven’t studied Rand Paul’s positions enough to pass judgment one way or the other.
But the point is this: If you really want to send somebody different to Washington, as millions claim they do, that new face is going to be, well, different. They’re not going to hew to the well-trodden road. They’re going to go off on tangents. They’re going to take second looks at established ideas and sacred cows. They’re going to offend the arbiters of what is right. And some of them will turn out to be kooks.
By the way, I agree with half of what Paul is saying, I think, about robust government actions like the Civil Rights Act. It was in fact a huge intrusion of government power into what had been viewed as the realm of private choice and decision-making. But it was a justifiable intrusion aimed at giving millions of black American citizens equal access to what white Americans enjoyed. Such intrusions ought to be infrequent, but some problems are simply too big to tackle with anything short of federal power.