Happy Hour Vid: Maddow, Lithwick Peer at Kagan's Liberal Creds

Grappling with an "inscrutable, blank-slate legal career"

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The reliably chipper Rachel Maddow takes a step back from the granular parsing of Elena Kagan's political beliefs to ask the big-picture question: Just how much of a friend to Democrats is she? Kagan would replace Justice John Paul Stevens, whose beliefs are known to lean leftward; Kagan is much more of an unknown quantity. As Maddow puts it:

During her whole inscrutable, blank-slate legal career, sort of, Elena Kagan has been associated with the Democratic Party ... The thing is, you know who else is associated with the Democratic Party? Ben Nelson! He's a Democrat. Joe Lieberman! He caucuses with the Democrats. There are many, many people associated with the Democratic Party who I would put significantly to the right of John Paul Stevens. And unless Stevens, as a solid liberal, is replaced with an equally solid liberal, the court will shift to the right.

Maddow goes on to address a couple of memos Kagan authored as an aide to President Clinton that "suggest a relatively conservative stance" on abortion--"nothing too damning," but nothing very reassuring to liberals either. But according to Slate senior editor Dahlia Lithwick, we shouldn't read too much into these memos; the only thing they really demonstrate is Kagan's deft legal touch.

I think that these memos were done in a policy capacity ... This is not a constitutional treatise. This is advising President Clinton how to thread the needle between one abortion bill and an amendment, and what he should do in order to get cover when the Senate passes a different bill ... Shes just a really good tactician. She's a great strategist.

Lithwick's final assessment? "This tells you more about her political skills, her much-touted ability to have some savvy about how to game a lot of different players, than it tells you about anything substantive that she believes on abortion. I mean, this is something that happens to have the word 'abortion' in it."

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