Elena Kagan, "Organization Kid"

Posted: May 12, 2010 10:20 PM
Back in 2001, writing for The Atlantic, David Brooks defined a new archetype -- "The Organization Kid" -- overscheduled, overachieving, career-minded, risk-averse souls brimming with prudence rather than poetry.

In a recent column, David Brooks essentially accused Elena Kagan of being an "organization kid."  One passage warranted particular notice:

If [Organization Kids] had any flaw, it was that they often had a professional and strategic attitude toward life. They were not intellectual risk-takers. They regarded professors as bosses to be pleased rather than authorities to be challenged.

There may be plenty of reasons legitimately to fault Elena Kagan, but I'm not sure it's fair to fault her -- or more generally, anyone interested in confirmed or elected office -- for being an Organization Kid. 

Brooks' criticism above implicitly compares Organization Kids with baby boomers, who "challenged" a variety of "authorities," and finds the Organization Kids wanting.  Has it ever occurred to anyone that by refusing to conform to the "challenge authority" (or the "avoid real life") model put in place by the boomers, these Organization Kids have themselves engaged in a kind of rebellion, albeit a much less morally self-congratulatory one?

Finally, it's also worth pointing out that the radical baby boomers are the ones who instituted the sort of Hobbesian "war of all against all" model of political "discourse" (aided, in no small part, by Saul Alinsky's theories). 
Whatever their virtues or faults, people like Elena Kagan -- and her analogues on the right -- are simply trying to survive in the world these people created.

So those of us eager to scrutinize Kagan's record might wish she had more of a paper trail, but it's pretty unfair to fault her, or pretend we don't understand why, when she doesn't.