Michael Gaynor
Read Elena Kagan's Princeton senior thesis yourself
By Michael Gaynor
May 20, 2010

If Chief Justice John Roberts had written a thesis on fascism and opined that fascism had "greatness" and described the Third Reich's "demise" as a "critical problem," who would have said that it was irrelevant?

Team Obama seems to be betting that the people are too lazy and/or ignorant to scrutinize Supreme Court nominee and Solicitor General Elena Kagan's Princeton senior thesis titled "To the Final Conflict: Socialism in New York City, 1900-1933."

The liberal media establishment is assuring us that there's nothing there of concern.

It reminds me of a scene in "The Wizard of Oz."

Wikipedia: "Upon their triumphant return to the Emerald City, Toto exposes the Wizard... as a fraud, opening a curtain and revealing a non-magical man operating a giant console of buttons and levers."

Looking behind the curtain was the way to learn the truth about the deception being perpetrated.


Slate (/www.slate.com/id/2254100) and Newsweek (www.newsweek.com/id/237815) apparently prefer that you their readers sheepishly accept their assurances.

The Slate article, by Christopher Beam, is titled "Youthful Indiscretions: Don't judge Elena Kagan by her college thesis."

Newsweek (referring to the Kagan senior thesis): "...there's simply not anything at all that's radical here."

Then what IS "radical"?

As I wrote in my last article, "Elena Kagan's Senior Thesis and Socialism" (www.webcommentary.com/php/ShowArticle.php?id=gaynorm&date=100519), General Kagan described "U.S. Socialism's demise" as a "critical problem" (p. 128) and she seems to have been trying to clarify what kind of socialist she was.

General Kagan (p. 127): "In our own times, a coherent socialist movement is nowhere to be found in the United States. Americans are more likely to speak of a golden past than of a golden future, of capitalism's glories than of socialism's greatness."

How would references to the demise of fascism as a critical problem and "fascism's greatness" have been treated if they had appeared in Justice Samuel A. Alito's Princeton senior thesis?

Newsweek takes quotes out of context to spin General Kagan as a moderate: "Let's see, then: suspicious of closed circles, moderate-minded, and willing to work with foes to find common ground. Sounds rather a lot like what we've heard about Kagan herself, right? The charmer who finds friends on both sides of the aisle, etc. What if, 29 years ago, when Kagan was researching the dismal outputs of fierce radicalism as a vehicle for left-liberal political change, she came down with the moderates as opposed to the radicals? It doesn't make for great cable-news outrage, but it's at least as compelling a hypothesis as one borne from reading only the acknowledgments and conclusion from her senior thesis."

I read it all, carefully. (The Newsweek writer, Seth Colter Walls, claimed to have speed-read "during lunch" because his editor "made" him, so relying on his would be doubly foolish.)

Slate apparently knows that there IS something there, so it offers excuses: (1) she was young and ignorant and (2) it was long ago.

Slate on writing a senior thesis: "You don't really know anything, though, so you end up overcompensating by making a stronger argument than the facts merit. If you aren't overstating your case, you aren't doing it right. You then have a semester to write a 50-page essay — a task that would be difficult even without the added burden of classes, extracurriculars, and the intense hepatic demands of senior spring."

General Kagan's thesis was 130 pages, not 50, and very well researched, reasoned and written. Slate (corrrectly) alludes to it later in the article as "intelligent, thorough, and accurate."

Slate's other fallback position is that "a college thesis tells us little, if anything, about the person seeking office 30 years later."

Really? If Chief Justice John Roberts had written a thesis on fascism and opined that fascism had "greatness" and described the Third Reich's "demise" as a "critical problem," who would have said that it was irrelevant?

Slate and The New York Times need to get their strategy straight. The Kagan senior thesis was written in 1981. Her master's thesis was written two years later. The Times insists that the 1983 thesis is a "Window on Roots of Kagan's Legal Creed" (www.nytimes.com/2010/05/19/us/politics/19kagan.html). Then how is the thesis written two years earlier irrelevant?

Of course, both are relevant.

The Times: "As a young graduate student, Elena Kagan wrote that it was 'not necessarily wrong or invalid' for judges to 'try to mold and steer the law' to achieve social ends, but warned that such rulings must be rooted in legal principles to be accepted by society and endure.'

Yes. General Kagan is a smart judicial activist to whom President Obama is looking to rubberstamp his "accomplishments" such as Obamacare as plausibly as possible.

Slate: "College thesis writing is a haphazard, often random process (as opposed to a doctoral dissertation, which takes more care). You have a few weeks to find a topic. You settle on one based on a combination of what hasn't been written, availability of sources, and, if you're lucky, a passing interest in the subject."

I've read two Princeton senior theses — those of First Lady Michelle Obama and Solicitor General Kagan. Neither was done in a "haphazard" way. Each was about a subject near and dear to the writer.

A review of the Kagan thesis proves that it was NOT written haphazardly. Kagan explains in it how meticulously it was written and reviewed by her professor...but neither Slate nor Newsweek mentioned that. But Slate did describe the Kagan senior thesis as "130-plus pages of meticulous and balanced academic work." Which is it — "meticulous and balanced academic work" or "haphazard" writing?

It's meticulous academic work (and ever so much better than Michelle's Princeton thesis), but there are nuggets that reveal General Kagan's views and a reader will realize that Kagan immersed herself in a subject of great personal interest to her as a West Side New Yorker from a "liberal" Jewish family: socialism.

Kagan's own "critical problem" was figuring out what path was best to achieve her socialist ends, not choosing between freedom and big government or capitalism and socialism.

© Michael Gaynor


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Michael Gaynor

Michael J. Gaynor has been practicing law in New York since 1973. A former partner at Fulton, Duncombe & Rowe and Gaynor & Bass, he is a solo practitioner admitted to practice in New York state and federal courts and an Association of the Bar of the City of New York member... (more)


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