People like to know what they got. It makes us comfortable. The SNL Pat Skit was so good for so long because it played on people's discomfort about not knowing who someone really is.
There is a lot of press being generated about Elena Kagan's personal life. It is essentially being reported that she doesn't have one.
If Elena Kagan is asexual, fine.
If Elena Kagan is a lesbian, fine.
If Elena Kagan is heterosexual, fine.
But this can be a big distraction and shortchange the discussion as to what she will be on the court. Already today the radio crackles with this narrative. Will a political ballet of seeing her come out of the closet (if she is in fact in there) in the national media really mean anything? Even if she were to come out, or there are sex tapes of her from 20 years ago, it will all seem manufactured and unnatural.
It is actually more important that she have a stable emotional support system. Too often sexuality and this support system are directly linked. But they are independent.
We don't look at married couples the same way. No one is saying all married couples are stable. But, we give them the benefit of the doubt to say they are in a stable relationship. Look at the Alito nomination. Look at Bill and Hillary Clinton (even through the worst of what they dealt with they are still together).
If someone is a single parent we look at the kid to see how normal they are, yes it is normal to do so. We look at who helped at home with the kid. A strong family was part of the Sotomayor narrative. It was also part of the Obama narrative.
Family situations are things we can all directly relate to.
Elena Kagan is coming from a different angle. She appears to be someone who is going it alone.
That is a red flag. Most Americans commit themselves to a relationship with another person. Sometimes it works - sometimes it doesn't. It is part of being human. When she has a bad day who does she talk to? It is normal.
For what it is worth, I would look this the same way if Elena's name were Ed.
As the media gets caught up in a personal aspect of this woman's life has the administration has started a sexual war? Will all the air in the room be used on that issue? Can sympathy generated from possibly outing a candidate of questionable sexual orientation be used as fuel for a political machine? Is this being used as a smokescreen to seat someone who will make the court even more conservative?
On one level it is really no one's business what a private person does at home, but at a bigger level this vetting process opens up any candidate to a wide range of questions. Not to be voyeurs, but the process is now set up to understand the angle at which a candidate approaches issues. What lenses does this person see life through? Is sexuality itself a determining factor, no, but is being closeted?
Is not having personal relationships or a solid emotional network fair game? For someone who is a judge - I think it is.
When I was involved in the party endorsement process, I would look at the whole person as electable. That means looking at their family life. Do they know how to raise a family? What are the kids like? What is the spouse like? If unmarried, are they in a stable relationship? If they are young enough and without a family, what did they look like in school? People want to elect people who are like them. Some people may think that was unfair of me to take those things into account, but it no one wants to see politically uninvolved members of a family hurt in the rough and tumble of politics.
The endorsement process is a job interview. Political parties, at their core are executive search committees charged with finding good candidates for open positions. Political parties vouch for the characters of these folks on election day through the endorsement process.
As this is a national job interview, we like to feel comfortable with the candidate. Whether you like Sotomayor or Alito, both have strong family backgrounds and raised families. That was part of the narrative. Barney Frank, a gay man in a stable long term relationship, would have been a very legit choice for this seat also. Everyone has already seen who Mr. Frank is. There are no surprises about his partner, who has already handled media issues.
If Ms. Kagan has a partner (male or female) are they up for what may happen here?
With Elena Kagan, we see a talented technician; we see a great resume; we see someone who had a checklist to success making all the checkmarks. We have already seen the dangers of the overly technical in the Citizens United decision. I am more concerned of the human qualities - we cannot see that aspect if it closeted (not from a sexual preference aspect).
When you sit in judgment of the entire country, we, the people, should have a good idea of who is judging us.
It wasn't that Pat on SNL wasn't a nice Girl/Guy. It wasn't that he/she wouldn't be competent at the task at hand. We are just uncomfortable at not knowing. In Pat's case it was a skit that was funny. In this case it creates a doubt that is nagging.