All posts by Koli Mitra

Should They Let The Descipicable Racist Play Ball?

Earlier this month, the University of Texas dismissed Buck Burnette from the football team for posting a racial slur, referring to Barack Obama, on his Facebook page.

Perhaps there is a good reason to support this decision. The university’s need for some discretion in choosing what kind of judgment or character to condone or chide in their students? Team unity, morale, etc.? I don’t know. I’m not an educator or an administrator. I have no adolescents in my charge. So, perhaps I don’t fully understand those issues.

What I do understand is how many things are wrong with the dismissal of this (admittedly scorn-worthy) student.

* The person toward whom the slur was applied is Barack Obama. President-Elect Barack Obama. If being American means anything, it means having the ability to say horrible things about our leaders.

* Buck has absolutely no position of authority and can’t be construed as intimidating anyone.

* While society has a right to spurn Buck for being a despicable racist, and that means a team he plays for has a right to kick him out, this particular team is part of the University of Texas, a state university, which according to well-established legal tradition, is an arm of the state, which is prohibited by the First Amendment from punishing speech, PARTICULARLY speech criticizing politicians. I know calling someone by a racist slur is not what most of us consider worthwhile political “criticism” but that kind of content-based judgment by state actors is PRECISELY what the First Amendment proscribes.

* Buck made his comment on Facebook, and no matter how publicly viewable that comment was, it was still private speech, that no one was obliged to read if they didn’t want to.

My History or Yours?

My fiction project about a black girl growing up in antebellum Kansas and Philadelphia tends to generate a lot of curiosity. People want to know why I am not writing about Indian Americans. Or about historical indians. What could possibly resonate with me about a black girl in the 1850s? How could I possibly understand such a character well enough to write about her?

I’m always struck by that response. Can anyone living today claim to have some special insight, not as a scholarly expertise, but as a function of personal cultural engagement, about a black girl in the 1850s? Can I, born in Washington DC and much better versed in American history than Indian history, claim some authority on something like 19th Century Indian experience? Does being black, without more, make one better suited than me (with my enormous interest in the subject), to empathic invention about it?

As I like to say, history isn’t inherited piecemeal by genetic lineage. History, any part of history, belongs to those who choose to study it, be inspired by it, revel in it, or in some way engage it.

But I’m talking about ideas, knowledge, empathy — intangibles. What about objects?

Sharon Waxman’s Loot is a fascinating inquiry into competing claims of ownership of great objects of antiquity.

The answer is anything but easy. I think a common contemporary preference is for return to “origin” just as throughout earlier modern history the preference was for respecting the custody of the more “enlightened” (Waxman’s book has an extensive treatment of Lord Elgin’s acquisition of the vast collection of Greek marbles in the British Museum, which was largely driven by a desire to “improve” the English artistic taste and an obsession with possessing beauty).

There is definitely some truth to the argument that a lot of art, if left in their original locations, might have been destroyed, either by poverty-induced (or corruption-induced) neglect or pollution, or by intentional violence — remember the Taliban effort to eradicate Buddhist art in Afghanistan just a few years ago? There is also a difference between amateur looting, which tends to damage, and scholarly looting, which tends to preserve. And what about the “legacy” that grows from having taken care of an object for decades or perhaps centuries? I find this kind of legacy more compelling than the incidental heritage of geography.

On the other hand, as Waxman points out, the looting of beautiful objects has not typically been motivated by any desire to “rescue” the works from any foreseeable harm, but from a desire to possess them. That many objects have been preserved from future disaster is often a matter of historical accident.

So what do we do now?


Democracy: Too Much of a Good Thing?

The cure for democracy, more democracy? I don’t know, really. Although, I am a democracy freak by instinct, I must admit that my better judgment has always tempered that enthusiasm. Tuesday’s events demonstrated how capricious the majoritarian will can be. On the one hand a it’s wonderful that the majority of Americans entrusted its most powerful office to Barack Obama, a self-identified member of a historically oppressed minority. On the other hand, a majority of Californians voting on Proposition 8 (prohibition of same-sex marriage) decided to adopt an expressly discriminatory policy against a discrete and insular minority that is powerless to overcome that policy with numbers of its own. Two other states passed similar measures.

Gay folks in those states won’t be able to marry anymore, but I’m guessing they can’t opt out of paying taxes that keep the marriage bureau — or whatever the relevant state machinery — operational.

This is the danger of majority-rule. To avoid becoming tyrannical, democracy must be checked by a strong principle of individual liberties. This is why the federal constitution (like a number of state constitutions) has a bill of rights.

Of course, most constitutions get their legitimacy from the ratification of a supermajority, and it’s tempting to propose that California adopt a policy requiring a supermajority to amend its constitution.

But consider this: if you are in a sufficiently tiny minority whose interest-overlap with the majority’s interests is sufficiently tiny, then, a supermajority just means you can be tyrannized by the “sovereignty” exercised by even more people, and have that tyranny be considered even more “legitimate” and have an even harder time overcoming that tyranny.

Speaking of too much of a good thing: it’s not just the “small-d” democrat in me that’s a little spooked. By electoral orientation, I am also a “big-D” Democrat. But I’m a little worried about single party control in washington. Unlike some Democrats, I sighed a sigh of relief that we didn’t get a filibuster-proof senate. The filibuster, like judicial review and the bill of rights, is part of the system of checks against ordinary majoritarian misrule. I understand that this protective device has been abused by each party in recent years. But the gridlock that such abuse creates is a far lesser evil than having one party in charge with insurmountable power.

Let There Be No Reason

I want to take a moment to congratulate The Mac. What a wonderfully gracious, unifying, and patriotic concession. I loved that he recognized, explicitly, the wounds of the past and the salve of progress  that has been a hallmark of the extraordinary history of this most extraordinary country.  He also recognized the importance of the civic engagement that Obama’s remarkable campaign has inspired.

“Let there be no reason now,” he said,  “for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on earth.”


I have often thought Michelle Obama’s “first time in my adult life” comment was understandable, if unfortunate. Throughout our country’s turbulent racial history, African Americans have had to look for sources of pride in their country, and often that has had to be aspirational, sometimes with ambivalent results. I have always been surprised at the willingness of many to condemn this internal struggle of African Americans, demanding that their patriotism be as reflexive as it is for the rest of us, being descendants of those who came freely to America (I realize that as an individual, Obama’s ancestors also came freely, but I’m talking about the psychological impact of his racial identity on all African Americans).

Tonight, I agree with the sentiment expressed by John McCain. I urge all Americans to be proud of their beautiful country. I say to them: don’t be too cautious about your celebration of what this means. While it was African Americans (or perhaps minorities generally) that McCain had in mind, I urge white Americans to shed their guilt and ignore any temptation there may be tonight to fight the catharsis they are feeling. I know catharsis can sometimes be a hindrance to practical progress. Those of us who live by constant self analysis sometimes make the mistake of employing Brechtian alienation strategy to deal with our emotional impulses in important moments.

But this particular catharsis is long overdue. Enjoy it.

Just as formal emancipation did not automtically bring de facto freedom to all the slaves, the election of a biracial man to our highest office doesn’t eradicate racial hatred, but it most certainly shatters the presumption of racial suspicion. I think this election has earned us the right and the freedom to deal with race openly, honestly, and respectfully. I hope we finally are unshackled from the culture where every discussion about race is fraught with unspoken judgments and fears. Judgments of racism and fear of knee-jerk accusations of racial animus.

Given our history of racial tensions, given the attempt of some to raise questions about Obama’s trustworthiness based (openly or obliquely) on his race, given that African Americans comprise a small minority of the American electorate, this election certainly shows, in the most concrete way, that America is a country where Martin Luther King’s dream — that one day we will judge each other by the content of our character rather than the color of our skin — can be realized.

Tonight has seen nothing short of the restoration of the American spirit. That’s a little sappy, I know. But on many, many fronts, the election of Obama is the turning of a new page; a better page. We have elected by a landslide, this unflinchingly dignified person who has insisted on unity and respect.

People have compared Obama’s moment in history with Kennedy and Reagan. I think that’s fair. But I think this is different — and better– in important ways. Kennedy inspired a lot of people, but he was elected by a very narrow margin, and had Herbert Hoover not pressed Nixon to concede, 1960 would have dragged on the way 2000 had. The fact that Obama was elected by such overwhelming numbers, gives me confidence that a lot of this excitement can and will translate into genuine cooperation and progress.

While Reagan inspired a lot of people and won by a landslide, his response to the people’s endorsement did not have the humility that Obama has shown. Reagan highlighted the triumph of his party’s point of view, whereas Obama praised Republicans, not just as people and patriots, but he specifically praised their values and promised to work with them on figuring out the directions in which we take our country in the months to come.

I know people who distrust Obama’s “unity” campaign. Some of my conservative friends point out that Obama is pretty clearly an ideological progressive and they wonder on what basis we should accept his post-partisan promises.

That’s where style comes in. In sharp contrast to a recent president who swaggered as he expressed his intention to spend his newly gained political capital because “that’s my style,” this new president-elect assured those who didn’t vote for him that he will be their president as well. He promised to listen. Most hearteningly for me, he promised to listen “especially when we disagree.”

I personally think he means it. He always has been a coalition builder. Even as a young man, serving as president of the Harvard Law Review, he confounded his fellow liberals’ expectations by including more conservatives than progressives on the editorial staff. Republicans, even free-marketers who deeply disagree with him on policy issues, have put their faith in him in significant numbers. I know people who think this kind of cross-ideological support is simply irrational. I think what they don’t understand is that people support this guy because they can work with him. Because the way he has conducted his life so far clearly shows his willingness to listen to and learn from and work with those who disagree with him. They trust his good faith in this respect. After eight years of stubborn arrogance, Americans of all points of view are ready for a little good faith and humility in their public-servant-in-chief.

As I got into a cab on my way home from the election-party, midtown Manhattan was bursting with joy, and the Egyptian-born driver who has just become a citizen and voted for the first time, smiled at the flag draped around my neck and said “it’s a beautiful night to be an American.”

Have You Voted?

It was a beautiful, overcast morning outside of Robert F. Kennedy elementary school in Jersey City. The lines were long. The faces were friendly. I exchanged a nod with a cute, readheaded guy, whose glasses fogged up from the steam rising out of his Starbucks cup as he leaned his face down toward his torso and took off his McCain/Palin ’08 button and placed it inside his pocket before entering the school compound.

I left my flag pin on.

“Turnout looks good” he said. “Yes, it’s great!” I replied.

I don’t claim to be able to read his thoughts, but in the finest American tradition, I give people the benefit of the doubt and trust their genuineness until they prove me wrong — no matter how many before them have proven me wrong.

He’s a patriot, I concluded. His candidate might fare poorly by a high turnout in our precinct, but he celebrates the civic triumph of that turnout nonetheless.

If Music Be The Food Of Love, Why Do I Need This Loaf-Thing In My Basket?

Maybe human civilization is more resilient than I suspected. A very simple bit of evidence of that came my way this morning. NPR Weekend Edition this morning featured a segment about young people becoming farmers. It’s a trend apparently. The reason this struck me is that I’ve wondered for some time whether the abstractions that make up my life (words, legal theories, financial products, information etc.) have become too prominent in the way we think about “value” in contemporary life.I’m not complaining about abstraction itself. I love meta stuff. I live in a world of ideas and have what I like to call a “language fetish.” But what troubles me is that over the several thousand years we’ve been civilized, we have increasingly favored the abstractions over the tangibles.

It’s not that language or the Morse code has been valued more than jewelry and gadgets. Those things are just as much “abstractions” for the purposes of this point. The source of their value is abstract. What I mean by “tangible” is not merely tangible. I mean something tangible whose value derives from something essential to survival. Food, water, air, land. . . . I know that music is “essential” to a life with any meaning, but right now I’m really just talking about physical survival.

Also, by “favored” I don’t mean we have chosen to consume literature rather than food (quite the contrary) — I am talking about “favoring” abstractions in the way our system of trading values is prioritized.

I think we’ve divorced the idea of value from the essentials to an amazing (you might even say alarming) degree. The value of money is an abstraction. It’s an indicator for every other kind of value. But we’ve so reified that indicator that we now call money “wealth” and treat it as the source rather than just the indicator of value. Then, there are stocks, derivative securities, indexes valued by the movements of derivative securities in the market. . . . indicators for indicators for indicators for something that has “value” as defined by our priorities, many of them nonessential to survival.

Why do I care? Well, because when we treat all value as equally fungible, then it matters very much whether the value really is “equal” in the final analysis.

I have a great bookmark that says “when I have a little money, I buy books. If I have anything left over, I buy food and clothes.” I really do love it. It expresses a sentiment that resonates with me at some level. If I had to shave a few years off my life in order to read, I certainly would. But honestly, if I really had to choose, in the immediate sense, between food and books, I probably would pick food. And without doing any research to back it up, I would hazard a guess, that even among avid readers, an overwhelming majority of people would pick food.

What’s more, the essential stuff of life (food, water, air, land) is finite. It really is, in an as yet unchangeable way, finite. We hear a lot about “creating wealth” by “growing the economy” to safeguard against poverty and want. But the way we’ve been “growing” that wealth (which we now almost unthinkingly equate with money, the stand-in for wealth), has nothing to do with safeguarding the essential wealth of our animal lives; it has to do with new and varied ways of “growing” the indicators (money, securities, etc.).

I won’t comment on the current financial market here. That’s a different discussion, and my friends can tell you I have been sounding the alarm bell for years. But I didn’t have a blog back then and frankly, I never had the leisure to write a full treatise, which is what the topic deserves (I was too busy surviving, working my way through school, trying to make a living by building my abstraction-driven professional life).

Back to the point: the essential stuff of our physical lives (let’s call it “survival wealth”) is limited. We are consuming and wasting resources at rates greater than ever. (Also, when we think about increasing “production” we forget that some of what we’re doing isn’t so much “production” as “extraction” but this entry is already too long, so I won’t pursue that line of thought). Yet, we kid ourselves that we are getting “wealthier” by generating things of abstract value, and treating them as interchangeable with survival wealth.

The person who invented the ipod, a person who manufactures it, the people who market it, package it, or sell it, the musicians who produce the music we put in it . . . all of them have done something of value. That value is recognized by those of us who want to consume it. Because money is the general unit of value and it is fungible, all those folks (inventor, packager, musician) who get paid with money actually do increase their own [access to] survival wealth because they can buy food, water, land, etc. But they have not created, or in any way increased the amount of survival wealth that exists. By helping bankers and issuers design financial products that are legally sound, I have done absolutely nothing to increase survival wealth and yet by doing so, I have eaten well and been considered a “productive” member of society. Interesting, right?

Now, I’m not suggesting that only organic farmers and environmental scientists deserve to eat. And I think ipods and books and airplanes and space exploration and The Daily Show (and for those who are into such things, baseball games, designer handbags, or Speed Racer) have all enhanced our lives so wonderfully that it makes sense that we trade some units of value (that we could well use for food) for such things and people who make such things possible can earn their food in these ways. The ipod is important enough to me and my work is important enough to my client whose work is important enough to his investors whose work is important to somebody who is an opera singer or a sommelier whose work is important enough to an environmental scientist or organic farmer to make all of this work. It’s the market, a cornerstone of human civilization. It’s a beautiful thing.

But I think there is a danger in forgetting the difference between survival wealth and, let’s call it “enhancement wealth” especially when the market, our system of trading values, becomes increasingly centered on the enhancement wealth (“media” is one of the most consistently profitable industries) and perhaps even more seriously, on the indicators of wealth — ever more remote from the actual wealth, of either the “survival” or the “enhancement” variety.

To state (what should be) the obvious: no matter how much money we create even through the most legitimate, honest to goodness trading in whatever we deem “valuable” and no matter how much we “grow” that money through trading in financial products, that money will mean nothing if all the pollinating bees disappear, if seedbanks go bust because of terrorism or because we have run out of places on earth that are naturally cold enough for storage, if soil depletion from over-planting and overgrazing just makes sufficient food impossible to grow, if the air becomes unfit to breath, or if we run out of clean water to drink.

So, donate money to the Met. Pay for Knicks tickets. Pay for tickets to the one-time only showing of your next-door neighbor’s indie film at the local porn theater. Hire me as your lawyer (or buy my novel when it comes out). Become a performance artist specializing in Just Standing There and charging people handsomely for it.

But please remember, that meanwhile, all of us get to eat, and not contribute very much (even indirectly) to the food supply.  Nor, unfortunately, do we want to. This is part of what’s been bugging me most. All through the 20th Century, young people seemed to have yearned to move away from the family farm and rural communities and “make it” in the cities, where “things were happening” and where all the money was. In the 1990’s every other adolescent I knew wanted to be a journalist or filmmaker or lawyer (yes, lawyer, believe it or not!) and those are great professions. . . but who’s gonna grow the food??!!! And why can’t the professions that make food “happen” have some more cachet?

Well, I breathed a sigh of relief this morning when I heard that farming is a trendy new career choice among the youth, many of them are from cosmopolitan cities and educated families.

How cool is that?

Going Back To Liberal Roots, Recognizing The Limits of Relativism

Cultural Diversity?

I went to see Bernard-Henri Levy at the Union Square Barnes & Noble the other day after hearing about his new book Left in Dark Times; the talk was compelling enough to sell me the book, and Levy was pretty entertaining, too. He regaled us with stories about Sarkozy’s attempt to enlist his support; and said his criticism of the left was a “family” matter, and that he had nothing to say about the Republican candidate “Mrs. Pah-leen” (nothing is funnier than a French accent) and her running mate John McCain.

Left in Dark Times promises to be a sort of call to the left to take back liberalism. Levy addresses at least four specific problems that have been bugging me in recent years about the state of left-leaning liberal politics. I don’t yet know exactly how he tackles those issues (I just started reading the book), but it’s nice to see them taken on by someone from the left.

One: Knee-jerk anti-Americanism — please people, if you think this is an antidote for knee-jerk- “pro-Americanism” a la Bush-Cheney et. al, it’s not. Political thought isn’t a viral infection (although it is sometimes an inherited genetic disorder, but that’s another topic). For those who are confused, I put “Americanism” in quotes because there is something decidedly un-American in the idea of blind allegiance to leaders and government policies. Real Americanism has to do with American ideals, not unthinking nationalistic fervor.

Two: sympathy for (or at least refusal to criticize) unsavory autocratic regimes simply because they call themselves revolutionaries for some brand of “egalitarianism.” How can anyone be that blind? More importantly, what’s the real agenda here? If you are a liberal (rather than simply a leftist-central-planning-junkie) then, shouldn’t your preoccupation be the actual conditions of people’s lives (you know, open societies, freedom to make choices about your lives, privacy from surveillance, access/right to make a living, etc.)?

It’s delightfully ironic to see a French dude criticize people for sympathizing with leftist authoritarianism, since that particular ideological tick tends to be more common among Europeans, especially the French (although the usual intellectual dishonesty of right wing critics typically permit them to treat American liberalism as though it were no different).

Three: the misguided view that caring about the Palestinians requires condemning Israel as evil.

Four: treating certain classes of human rights as cultural rather than universal. I couldn’t agree more, although, I suspect, given his approval of the French government’s veil-ban, Levy probably goes further than I (or most Americans) can get comfortable with — because it allows government precisely the kind of authority over personal choice that we are trying to prevent governments (and religious leaders) from having.

(Side note: some will be uncomfortable with a veil ban because it shows inadequate respect for religious “tradition” in a way that might interfere with their own agenda of tradition, like “family values” or “traditional marriage” — I have NO such qualms; yes, many traditions are harmless and some have great value, but that value is not intrinsic to or derived from their status as “traditions” or “respect” for tradition for its own sake; I remind you that slavery and feudalism have been the “tradition” in most societies for vast stretches of human civilization. My only issue is the freedom of choice for a woman who wants to wear a veil.)

Speaking of cultural relativism, I remember a discussion in law school about the question of political asylum for victims of gender-based oppression from “traditional” societies. I was disheartened (but not entirely surprised) at the enormous ease with which “liberals” adopted a “non-interventionist” posture, loathe to “impose our world view” on “other cultures.” Apparently, it was somehow more acceptable for the priests and warlords of these countries to impose their world view on these women. Keep in mind, we were talking about asylum seekers rather than “intervention” initiated by the United States. By the way, conservatives, who like to feign great concern for women’s rights when trying to justify invading a country to secure fuel sources, are (and were in this case) predictably more concerned with “cultural sensitivity” to the sheiks and mullahs when it came to granting asylum to the same women. So, I’d be suspicious of any critique on this topic from that side of the political spectrum.

Back to liberals: their frequent acceptance of the absurd (and logically self-canceling) idea of “respect” and “tolerance” for systemic intolerance in “other cultures” assumes those cultures are monolithic (and buys into the conceit that dissent and diversity of opinion can only exist in western societies). Does that really sound “respectful”? It treats human rights and individual dignity differentially according to the ethnicity of the person whose rights/dignity have been proscribed. Does that sound respectful? While purporting to refrain from “judgment” this sort of thing is very much a judgment that the priests’ and emirs’ characterization of their “culture” is authentic and worthy of respect, while women asserting their human rights are somehow “influenced” in an illegitimate way, by the “western” notion that each of them should have control of her own life. That’s the most utterly disrespectful and illiberal attitude imaginable.

I have hopes for a robust analysis of all this in Levy’s book. I may even write a review for the Thought Oven, but no promises; my regular readers (do I even have any?) know that I’m not regular or dependable with the entries. But really, is that such a bad thing? Think of all the blogs that you could keep up with if they didn’t insist on posting something EVERY DAY 🙂 Yeah, I’m not above using emoticons in a blog entry.

Incidentally, the most entertaining portion of Levy’s talk was when this communist guy with a loud voice (I mean REALLY loud, like a large subwoofer) expressed his disapproval by yelling out all kinds of obscure “facts” about the former soviet union and Cuba, the relevance of which was never entirely clear to me, and chanting “down with anti-communism” and calling Levy “a French Rush Limbaugh!”

Levy seemed to enjoy it and wanted to engage him in a friendly conversation, but that was really going nowhere. Levy turned to the young man filming the event and asked if he had planted the “communist” in the audience to manufacture juicier footage. Ultimately, the communist had to be taken away — which led him to charge “you talk about liberty, but have them drag me away by force, what a fucking joke. . . . down with anti-communism!”

Poetic Epithets: To Honor Or To Slight?

Pundits keep pontificating about Obama’s failure to mention Martin Luther King by name in his speech. Instead, he said “a young preacher from Georgia” and apparently this has all kinds of subtle and vaguely unsavory implications.

OF COURSE  it does.  Nothing is more delectable than the unsavory.  Oooo!! This is so juicy! Is Barack Obama uncomfortable talking about MLK? Is he afraid that maybe it will make him look too “black”?

Um… on the anniversary of King’s historic “I have a dream” speech, was there anybody, anywhere, who was confused as to who “the preacher from Georgia” was?  If Obama wanted to minimize the impact, wouldn’t it be better to dispense with the obligatory King reference somewhere relatively early in the speech instead of treating it as the climax?

When people say “The Bard” as though there was only one in history, do they do it to distance themselves from William Shakespeare lest they look too English?

World View In Six Words

Chuck Schumer thinks we can learn something from Republicans (besides posing for a photo op at a shooting range).  He says Republicans can sum up what they stand for in 6 words: traditional values, strong defense, smaller government. He challenges Democrats to think about distilling their own essence in the same away.

Keeping in mind that this is an aspirational description (certainly Republicans can’t claim they have actually shrunk — or even really tried to shrink — government), here is MY attempt at taking up the challenge to define the Democratic values:

Equal Opportunities; Civil Liberties; Global Community


Hamming It Up Old Style

This morning I got a nice pumpernickel bagel with Virginia ham. It was yummy. It made me homesick for Virginia.

It also reminded me of a concession speech at the end of a long-ago senate race by (now-former-governor) Democrat Mark Warner. He made a good showing for a relative unknown, but lost to veteran Virginia Republican, incumbent John Warner. The younger Warner seemed content and even excited and said – apparently sincerely – that it was an honor to concede to the old man and asked the “Salty old Virginia Ham [to] keep bringing home the bacon.”

In 2008, this would be extraordinary. In 1996, it seemed natural. Cute, cordial, but nothing all that special. It was in the early years of the vitriolic Gingrich Revolution. The divisions hadn’t fully set in yet. Bitterness still seemed to be an upstart tactic rather than the established norm.

These days, we rarely – make that NEVER – see this kind of genuine cross-party congeniality, much less encouragement. I haven’t been back living Virginia for many years but my guess is that even Mark Warner doesn’t talk/think that way any more. But it’s obviously possible. There was a time – long before Warner v. Warner – when it was commonplace.

I don’t mean to posit a mythical past filled with civic harmony. I just think the partisanship was less pervasive, less default. Ordinary people like my parents were able to be quite liberal themselves while respecting people like Henry Kissinger and William F. Buckley for their intellect and accomplishments, even while disagreeing with them. Republican presidents appointed moderate and liberal justices, based on jurisprudential abilities rather than mere ideology.

I’ve changed too. As a young girl (and even more staunchly feminist than I am now), I was thrilled about Sandra Day O’Connor’s appointment in a way that I’m not sure I would be today about a Republican first female president or chief justice or secretary of defense. . . .  Of course there are other reasons for that.  As an adult my policy concerns are a bit more complex than the preoccupation with “a first woman anything.” But I know there is more to it than that. Hillary Clinton’s candidacy excited me at least in part because she is a woman. But I wonder if a Condi Rice candidacy would have quite the same resonance even at this basic, feminist level.

For all the talk of “post partisan” politics this election cycle, the sincerest among us probably imagine a kumbaya moment when, in the spirit of brotherhood/sisterhood, we absolve the other side of its sins; NOT a good faith allowance that they might have good ideas — or even good intentions. Maybe good faith, like innocence, can’t be recovered once lost?

At the end of innocence, sometimes there is wisdom. Let’s hope. . . .