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As an undergraduate at Princeton, Elena Kagan wrote a senior thesis titled “To the Final Conflict: Socialism in New York City, 1900-1933.” In the “Acknowledgments” section of her work, she specifically thanked her brother Marc, “whose involvement in radical causes led me to explore the history of American radicalism in the hope of clarifying my own political ideas.” In the body of the thesis,


In our own times, a coherent socialist movement is nowhere to be found in the United States. Americans are more likely to speak of a golden past than of a golden future, of capitalism’s glories than of socialism’s greatness. Conformity overrides dissent; the desire to conserve has overwhelmed the urge to alter. Such a state of affairs cries out for explanation. Why, in a society by no means perfect, has a radical party never attained the status of a major political force? Why, in particular, did the socialist movement never become an alternative to the nation’s established parties?…

“Through its own internal feuding, then, the SP [Socialist Party] exhausted itself forever and further reduced labor radicalism in New York to the position of marginality and insignificance from which it has never recovered. The story is a sad but also a chastening one for those who, more than half a century after socialism’s decline, still wish to change America. Radicals have often succumbed to the devastating bane of sectarianism; it is easier, after all, to fight one’s fellows than it is to battle an entrenched and powerful foe. Yet if the history of Local New York shows anything, it is that American radicals cannot afford to become their own worst enemies. In unity lies their only hope.”

A week after Ronald Reagan’s presidential victory in November 1980, Kagan contributed a piece to the Daily Princetonian, wherein she gave voice to her angst over the apparent demise of the Left. Wrote Kagan:

“Looking back on last Tuesday [election day], I can see that our gut response — our emotion-packed conclusion that the world had gone mad, that liberalism was dead and that there was no longer any place for the ideals we held or the beliefs we espoused — was a false one. In my more rational moments, I can now argue that the next few years will be marked by American disillusionment with conservative programs and solutions, and that a new, revitalized, perhaps more leftist left will once again come to the fore. I can say in these moments that one election year does not the death of liberalism make and that 1980 might even help the liberal camp by forcing it to come to grips with the need for organization and unity. But somehow, one week after the election, these comforting thoughts do not last long. Self-pity still sneaks up, and I wonder how all this could possibly have happened and where on earth I’ll be able to get a job next year.”

The word the left-leaning media is using most often to describe Kagan in its reporting is “pragmatic.” None will even hint at the nominee’s radical past, and very few will use the word “liberal.” The liberal New York Times employed that term which liberals prefer when describing themselves — “progressive.”

Interesting.

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