By this morning, scrutiny into Elena Kagan's private life — so suspiciously man-free at age 50 — has reached absurdist heights, with the White House trotting out friends to talk about which boys Kagan might have crushed on in college.
No less an authority on heterosexual relations than disgraced former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and fellow Princeton grad was given leave last night to vouch for Kagan's non-Sapphic tendencies to Politico's Ben Smith:
"I did not go out with her, but other guys did," he said in an email Tuesday night. "I don't think it is my place to say more."
Phew. At least some other guys deigned to go out with her. Plus, some of Kagan's best friends say she's not a lesbian:
"She dated men when we were in law school, we talked about men - who in our class was cute, who she would like to date, all of those things. She definitely dated when she was in D.C. after law school, when she was in Chicago – and she just didn't find the right person."
Smith replied, "Yeah, I think we're done."
Whether this puts an end to it for anyone else is an open question. The preferred mode of broaching it is coy suggestion, which The Wall Street Journal indulged in by putting a 17-year-old photo of Kagan playing softball on its cover and then denying there was any significance to it.
This was brilliantly captured by Stephen Colbert last night on The Colbert Report, which had him literally grasping at straws to try to build a conservative case against Kagan. The final exhibit: she plays softball, likes cigars and beer, and... might not like juicy sausages.
"A lot of assumptions could be made about this, even though they could be exciting, scandalous, polarizing, titillating, and a ratings bonanza," Colbert teased. "Now, I don't know about you, but I would love to hear what I'm not talking about." His game of insinuations and pseudo-high-minded dodging continued when guest Dahlia Lithwick joined him. He hoped she wasn't there to talk about it either.
One person who defiantly has been interested in talking about this — and in pushing Kagan out of the closet he baselessly assumes she occupies — is The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan. Reached by email by The Daily Beast, he defended himself:
"My job is to think out loud. It is not my job to report stories." As for information on Kagan's orientation, "one need have no 'evidence' beside the fact that she is single and seems to be lacking in any emotional or relationship history to ask a question not about her private life but about her public identity."
Okay. Occasionally, my job is to think aloud too, but in fact there is reported evidence that, whatever else he is pretending to do, Sullivan is acting like an asshole.
Or — was. Also late last night, about half an hour before Smith's story went up, Sullivan had a change of heart, sort of:
I do think a simple answer to a simple question about a core part of someone's identity should be possible. And I think a deliberate avoidance of this question is dangerous to public transparency and to the integrity of the process and potentially more invasive of someone's actual privacy in the long run than a simple, dignified statement that could get us past all of this now. And I think there is a real danger of treating emotional orientation as different from any other aspect of someone's personal life in a manner that is actually deeply complicit in prejudice and injustice. Doing so sustains stigmatization, which sustains discrimination, which perpetuates enormous and enduring human pain. Doing so is actually, in my view, simply wrong. Which is why I stand by my question and the raging debate that has ensued on this page....
I've asked one question I feel is legitimate and utterly without malice and I have received an answer. The answer is that I should not ask. I take it as a final one. I won't any more.
It was, in fact, answered. What do we know now? That Kagan is not a lesbian, even though no one seems to want to believe this even in the absence of evidence. That people are unable to accept a powerful, unmarried woman of a certain age without scrutinizing her personal life mercilessly. We kind of already knew this, but it's an ugly thing to have to relearn.
Elena Kagan's Friends: She's Not Gay [Politico]
Andrew Sullivan's Kagan Crusade [Daily Beast]
The Wall Street Journal Runs Front-Page Picture Of Elena Kagan Playing Softball, Of All Things [VF]
The Borking of Kagan [Daily Dish/Atlantic]