The Jewish revolution is over. The Jewish social miracle that transformed the American Establishment a generation ago– it’s over. The good fun energy is over. A copy of a copy of a copy excites no one. Saul Bellow has petered out into Nathan Englander, and Allard Lowenstein has petered out into Joe Lieberman. Jews used to be William Kunstler and Jerry Rubin and Mark Rudd and Barney Frank and Noam Chomsky. They turned the known world on its side. Now Jews are Goldman Sachs and Larry Summers. Howard Berman the antiwar insurgent became Chairman Howard Berman who crushes any criticism of Israel. Our Chicago streetsmart political geniuses, Saul Alinsky and Studs Terkel, turned into Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, in the offices closest to the president. No wonder they play their cards close to their chests.
Worse, we’re Arlen Specter who represented nothing but a worn out Establishment and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut who claimed a Vietnam record when he wouldn’t have been caught dead there and Elena Kagan who has conducted her whole career without a misstep for this moment and as a result is as interesting as American cheese. Kagan once clerked for Thurgood Marshall, back when Jews stood for something. Now she represents a generation of calculating achievers and hacks.
When I was a kid we were outsiders and had that fierce energy. My mother praised the Rosenbergs to me. Izzy Stone changed his name but he was a Communist too. Norman Podhoretz studied English literature like the talmud and brought his ethnic fury into the discourse; but his successor for intelligence is Adam Kirsch, who steps into the New Yorker and all the other magazines with an air of entitlement, and who can blame him, Jews run the important magazines, with all the passion of printing a train timetable. (Back when, Robert Gottlieb was weird and loved Doris Lessing and discovered Haruki Murakami and didn’t gaze into the mirror of his success.) Alan Dershowitz was filled with fury at Derek Bok, when Bok ran Harvard Law School, and called him an anti-semite; Dershowitz also was a poor boy from Brooklyn with the element of surprise. But that was a long time before Martha’s Vineyard; and now Elena Kagan is followed as Harvard Law Dean by another Jewish woman and I don’t know what these people stand for, oh Kagan stands for gay rights and her successor Martha Minow stands for rationalizing Israel’s blight on Palestinian civil rights.
Yes the demands of the Israel lobby have done a number on the famous Jewish intelligence and values. That’s what Peter Beinart is saying in the New York Review of Books, Beinart whose princely professorial salary is on the internet, and the Nation.
The journalists all make too much money, that’s part of our problem. Tom Friedman married a gazillionaire and has a house with the biggest carbon footprint in his congregation; Andrea Mitchell did the same and seemed to tremble in fear of the tea partiers last night on MSNBC; and Ira Glass in a fundraising pitch on NPR this morning warns that the blogosphere is a threat to good "oldfashioned" journalism. Protecting his status against the hordes.
Kagan is the ultimate sign that our brand is finished. She is the best of breed, as they say at Westminster. According to this Times profile, she comes out of the same hothouse I came out of, in her case the Upper West Side. Achievement, liberalism, and no partying. Arguing at the dinner table. Presumably no physical life. My favorite part is when her father, a liberal synagogue communitarian and Yale Law School grad, "was said to have been crushed when his daughter chose Harvard Law though she also had been accepted at Yale."
Blueblood Protestants don’t care about this kind of thing– but there are no Protestants on the Supreme Court.
Kagan’s world is the Jewish success world, she stepped into it like Kirsch did. She loved the hothouse. She emulated Felix Frankfurter, who didn’t stand for much either, and is pals with Sarah Walzer, daughter of Michael Walzer, the political theorist and Jewish parochialist. She went to Jeffrey Toobin’s wedding, she was picked by Larry Summers at Harvard around the time he was saying that divestment was anti-semitic. Eliot Spitzer, Ted Weiss and Elizabeth Holtzman were among her backers. She clerked for Abner Mikva, a Chicago macher who backed Obama.
Oh and Kagan did very little to promote racial or even gender diversity while dean of Harvard Law School (as Duke law prof Guy-Uriel Charles points out). It’s her brother Marc who was drawn to radical causes, and I bet he’s interesting, he has something to say, he has values.
But he’s a throwback. He’s the school teacher and Kagan is best of breed, another meritocratic cipher on the make, worth $1.6 million. We’re in the decadent last phase, the dying fall of a generation. Wake me when it’s over.