More on Kagan, the Upper West Side and senatorial euphemisms
07/01/2010 - 11:32
James Besser

 My story this week headlined “Is Kagan’s Jewishness Being Used Against Her?” has generated some interesting feedback.

I'm still trying to sort out exactly what I think about charges that some Republicans attacked Kagan using code words and phrases intended to draw attention to her Jewishness without actually coming out and saying that she's tainted because she's a Jew. What I'm pretty sure of: this smacks of crude identity politics and won't help senators make an informed choice about her qualifications to serve.

In my story, ADL leader Abe Foxman said this: “To the extent that the Upper West Side is used as a euphemism for 'Jewish,' these kinds of comments are inappropriate in the confirmation process.”

A Republican friend called to scoff at such charges and the general thrust of my story; the GOP senators were simply making innocent observations about her background, he said; at worst, they were simply using “Upper West Side” as a handy way of saying “liberal.”

The charge that “Upper West Side” was a euphemism for “Jew” is just typical ADL paranoia,” he said.

Sorry, buddy, I'm more inclined to side with Foxman here. Kagan's geographical background wasn't repeatedly brought up because it cast light on her legal qualifications to serve on the High Court, or because some senators found it a nice piece of human interest news. When Chief Justice John Roberts faced the Judiciary Committee in 2005, did his Senate interrogators throw in his face his Buffalo origins? I don't think so. (Come to think of it, what is Buffalo a euphemism for?).

Maybe it wasn't a euphemism for “Jew” - but it certainly was intended to cast her as an outsider, something less than a full-fledged American. Let's face it; there are plenty of folks who see all of New York City as a kind of alien outpost stuck like a sore on the skin of the “real” America.

It's a tough call – code words about Jews, or merely a slam at New York – but in the end, does it matter? Either way, Kagan was being indirectly but unsubtly hit for who she is, not for her  legal views and temperament.

Meanwhile, several readers asked why I didn't include Sen. Lindsey Graham's question about where Kagan was on Christmas last year. Wasn't that another ethnic poke?

Naw, I don't think so; more likely, it was an effort to open the issue of the administration's legal response to the Christmas wannabee airline bomber whose underwear failed to detonate properly. That's a good issue for the GOP, and not an inappropriate line of question.

Kagan's quick answer - “Like all Jews I was probably in a Chinese restaurant” - provided one of the few entertaining moments in the hearings and probably deflected the surprised lawmaker.

Here's the video, in case you haven't seen it already.

 

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