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Young Elena Kagan: Hoping For A "More Leftist Left"

4:20 PM, May 8, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Another hit from the Elena Kagan archive: an article she wrote for the Daily Princetonian a week after Ronald Reagan's victory in the 1980 election. The final graph of that piece contains her hope that the 1984 election will bring in a "more leftist left" than the Carter administration:

Looking back on last Tuesday, I can see that our gut response -- our emotion-packed conclusion that the world had gone mad, that liberalism was dead and that there was no longer any place for the ideals we held or the beliefs we espoused -- was a false one. In my more rational moments, I can now argue that the next few years will be marked by American disillusionment with conservative programs and solutions, and that a new, revitalized, perhaps more leftist left will once again come to the fore. I can say in these moments that one election year does not the death of liberalism make and that 1980 might even help the liberal camp by forcing it to come to grips with the need for organization and unity. But somehow, one week after the election, these comforting thoughts do not last long. Self-pity still sneaks up, and I wonder how all this could possibly have happened and where on earth I'll be able to get a job next year."

Bonus quote dripping with condescension toward pro-lifers: "Even after the returns came in, I found it hard to conceive of the victories of these anonymous but Moral Majority-backed opponents of Senators Church, McGovern, Bayh and Culver, these avengers of 'innocent life' and the B-1 Bomber, these beneficiaries of a general turn to the right and a profound disorganization on the left." The scare quotes on innocent life are in the original, though I'm not quite sure what they're meant to convey.

In response to the earlier quotes posted here from Kagan's thesis, Princeton professor Sean Willentz has come to the defense of his former student. He tells Salon's Alex Koppelman:

Princeton History Professor Sean Wilentz, who served as Kagan's thesis advisor (and who has previously written for Salon) told Salon that she is not a socialist, and that the question she was asking with the paper "was an absolutely standard" one about why the U.S. hasn't had the same kind of radical movements that have flourished in the rest of the world.

"Was she sympathetic to the socialists? Only insofar as the socialists were raising urgent issues about industry and labor even before unions were quite legal nationwide," Wilentz says. He added, "I'm proud of [the thesis]... I wasn't the only one who liked it. She went on to win the Sachs fellowship to Oxford, which is about as prestigious a fellowship as Princeton awards."

For the record, the Sachs fellowship is awarded in the fall -- she'd already won the award long before she turned in her thesis. But as to whether she was sympathetic to the socialists, the thesis offered the same plea for unity among radical socialists ("Yet if the history of Local New York shows anything, it is that American radicals cannot afford to become their own worst enemies. In unity lies their only hope.") that she offers in this op-ed on behalf of liberals. Nowhere do we see the young Kagan pleading for unity among Conservatives as they mindlessly organize on behalf of B-1 Bombers and "innocent life."

Thanks to the Princeton University Library, you can read the whole article here removed for fear of copyright violations.