Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Day 132- The myth of mainstream

Dear Mr. President,

In today's Washington Post, Kathleen Parker contends that, due to her education and New York City origins, "Elena Kagan is miles away from mainstream America." While her argument, which is based on some pretty impressively weak logic, is artfully refuted by Ed Kilgore at fivethirtyeight, I'd like to discuss why it is acceptable for Ms. Parker to so casually assert the claim that some of us are somehow more American than others. Imagine, for a moment, if she based this claim not on geography, but on race, gender, age, or religion; would the Washington Post still put its name above that? I am so tired of the conservative contention that there is a "real" America and a "liberal" America, and that living in or coming from a certain type of place makes a person more or less representative of quintessential America.

I grew up in a small town, with farms and small businesses and enough Christian republicans with barely a GED in their ancestry to satisfy even Ms. Parker's definition of a "real" American town. I don't think the people I grew up with can be described as any one thing, (other than, maybe, as Arlingtonians,) and certainly not as qualified (or unqualified) for the Supreme Court. Now, however, I live in a city full of vegetarian atheist lesbians who have PHDs and disdain Wal-mart; again, nothing except our geographic location is true for all of us, and, no matter what Ms. Parker (or Ms. Palin) may think, living in a city didn't change the seal on my passport, or my devotion to this country.

This stirs such an emotional response from me because I had a stepmother who constantly told me that my "book smarts" were inferior to the "street smarts" she and her family possessed. That I, as a young teenager, could be more intelligent than her, but I would never have more common sense. I have not finished college, largely because I have had to work a full-time job for the entirety of it, but, were I to go back to my stepmother's house, I would still be classified, in her mind, as numbering among the out-of-touch, academic, elite. Like Kagan, I am somehow less authentically American. I am so angry that my intelligence, which may not be anything better than slightly above average but is still my greatest strength, makes me lesser, in the eyes of this woman and those who think like her. I got a 5 on the AP calculus and English tests; I got a 1490 SATs and I was a National Merit Scholar. I've also flipped burgers, cut pizzas, waited tables, ran cash registers, and, god knows, made lattes. I've lived in rural and urban areas, in suburban cookie-cutter houses, and in tiny, turn-of-the-century apartment buildings. None of this says much about the type of person that I am, or my qualification as an "ordinary" American. I'm an American, so is Elena Kagan, and if my experience is an American experience, so is hers.

The nine men and women who wield the ultimate power of the Judicial branch with lifetime appointments should not be "ordinary." These should be the brightest, most engaged and creative and, yes, educated, individuals we can find. An understanding of how the law affects ordinary Americans (a classification that I think you intended to indicate Americans without direct power in any of the three branches of government, and not their hometown,) does not mean that one has to be average. I can't say much about what I do or do not want a Supreme Court Justice to be; they can come from any state, any religion, any race, any social class. The one thing I know for sure is that I don't want average minds on the Supreme Court. This is not to say that one must be an Ivy league scholar, either, only that I think the strengths and advantages that make a person extraordinary ought to be valued, not disdained.

It is long past time to end the social acceptability of such disdain for education and intelligence, the belief that one's patriotism or empathy is tied, somehow, to what part of the country they come from. Elena Kagan must be evaluated on her merit's as a potential Justice, not on her place of birth.

Respectfully yours,


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