The Hilarious Media War Over Steele's Slavery-Based Attack on Kagan

RNC chair slams idea that the original Constitution was "defective" for allowing slavery

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It goes without saying that the Republican National Committee would like to disrupt President Obama's nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. But RNC chair Michael Steele has taken an unusual approach that is drawing fire from all sides. Here's what he said, how it backfired, how the RNC responded, and why it's all blowing up in their faces.

  • The Memo That Started It All  NBC News' Ali Weinberg sums up Michael Steele's "memo from the RNC alleging that Solicitor General Elena Kagan's use of a particular quote from Justice Thurgood Marshall, for whom she clerked, demonstrates her disdain for the constitution. In an article published shortly after Marshall's death, Kagan quoted from a 1987 speech in which he said the Constitution as originally conceived and drafted, essentially condoning slavery, was 'defective,' and that the Supreme Court's mission was 'to show a special solicitude for the despised and the disadvantaged.' The RNC's memo includes a headline reading 'Does Kagan still view Constitution 'As Originally Drafted And Conceived’ As ‘Defective’?'"
  • RNC Plays Damage Control  Trying to salvage a usable attack from the fiasco, Doug Heye of the RNC refocuses. "Yet while Marshall pointed to constitutional amendments as redressing the wrongs of slavery, Kagan moves beyond that. ... In the same law review article, Kagan endorses the view that the Court’s primary role is to 'show special solicitude' for people a judge has empathy for. ... her view of the Court’s primary mission is at odds with the majority of Americans."
  • The Half-Baked 'Strategy'  New York magazine's Dan Amira explains, "What this was obviously an attempt to do: Stir up some kind of controversy with an out-of-context soundbite which, if somebody heard it in passing on Fox News while clipping their toenails, might portray Kagan as insufficiently patriotic, or something."
  • Shows Kagan Will Glide to Nomination  The Washington Post's Greg Sargent sighs, "The decision to make this their opening shot suggests that the remaining arrows in the quiver may be pretty dull indeed."
  • 'Try Thinking Before You Speak'  National Review's Abigail Thernstrom chides, "Mr. Steele (and RNC staff), just as a little experiment, you might try thinking before you speak." She asks, "But of course the answer should be, yes. Might the Three-Fifths Clause have been a wee bit of a defect?"
  • Steele Might as Well Join KKK?  The Washington Post's Colbert King fumes, "What part of [Thurgood's] statement does Michael Steele reject? And if he is, indeed, a self-demeaning fool who believes that the originally drafted Constitution was not defective, why doesn't he seek membership in the Ku Klux Klan?"
  • Media Coup For Democrats  Politics Daily's Jill Lawrence writes, "The Democratic National Committee had an embarrassment of riches to shower on its mailing list, between the many experts and analysts praising Kagan and at least 11 media outlets criticizing the RNC for putting Marshall -- and slavery -- in play."
  • ...Who Launched Counter-Offensive  Huffington Post's Sam Stein reports, "By afternoon, the main topic of conversation for the DNC was not Kagan herself, but the Republican National Committee's [attack] ... Democrats let every reporter on their lists know that an array of publications, including the conservative National Review, found the RNC's attack bizarre and tough to justify."
  • Playing the Race Card?  Liberal blogger John Aravosis balks, "Is it racism or rank stupidity that motivates Republicans nowadays? ... That's really their argument, defending three-fifths a man and slavery? I get the desire to win over the Beauregard Sessions vote, but seriously, they're going to build a national majority on racism?"
  • ...Wouldn't Be Anything New  Daily Kos' Joan McCarter says this "certainly wouldn't be a new tactic from Republicans. Don't forget Ronald Reagan's first speech after the 1980 GOP convention was on the topic of states rights, and was delivered in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964. The GOP hasn't changed an iota in the intervening thirty years, except perhaps they're even less subtle in their racism in 2010."
  • ...And Another Interpretation  Wonkette's Ken Layne offers his own acerbic summary of what happened. "The Republican National Committee’s official Jar Jar Binks, non-stop comic sensation and actual black person Michael Steele, attacked this radical stance because come on, everybody knows the *real* Constitution didn’t let blacks vote for a reason: Black people are supposed to be slaves, and they count as 3/5ths of a human strictly for the purposes of allocating congressional districts. But now the RNC has 'clarified' its position on slavery."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.