For a job that requires wearing a neck-to-toe robe — think of it as sort of the American Bar Association's version of a burqa — an awful lot has been made of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan's looks. • This seems odd. • After all, if she is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Kagan will find herself wiling away the days mulling over dry, stultifying legal issues involving a plethora of whereases and parties of the first part. There will be no shortage of ipsos and factos. • Kagan is not competing to become Miss Martindale-Hubbell (sash optional).
On average the high court considers about a 100 cases every year. And while some of the issues that come before the justices are high profile, a vast majority — while perhaps legally interesting to Learned Hand — involve catatonia-inducing stuff like franchise disputes (Mac's Shell Service vs. Shell Oil Products), pension plan flaps (Conkrite et.al. vs. Frommert), securities fraud dust-ups (Merck & Co. Inc. vs. Reynolds) and that spellbinder, the price-fixing imbroglio featured in Stolt-Nielsen S.A. vs. Animal Feeds International Group.
And yes, that is drool coming off your lower lip. Go get a napkin.
However, simply because Kagan will never be confused with Jessica Alba, her fitness to sit in judgment of a zoning conflict has been questioned by several drive-by bloviators on the talk radio dial such as Neil Boortz and Michael Savage (there's a couple of beefcake boys for you), who have lambasted the nominee's physical appearance.
Of course, having one's relative attractiveness ridiculed by two chaps who themselves look like a couple of Bowery Boys would seem to be damning with faint praise. This is a bit like Tony Soprano questioning Mother Teresa's ethics.
While Elena Kagan may not be the prettiest lass in the world, she is preparing to join an institution that is hardly comprised of the Chippendales meet Sex in the City.
There certainly is some perverse reverse sexism going on here. A simple question raises its ugly head.
Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Sarah Palin possessed the looks of Elena Kagan. Would she have ever been elected governor of Alaska? Would John McCain have ever remotely considered her as his vice presidential running mate?
And if by some remote chance McCain — in the midst of the mother of all senior moments — had not picked the turn-tail governor to join him on the ticket back in 2008, would Palin today be the pin-up girl for Fox News, not to mention the reigning Betty Boop of the Tea Party Inquisition?
The answer is no to all of the above.
There is precious little dispute that while Kagan may be Vogue-challenged, she is an extremely bright, intellectually accomplished woman of considerable heft in the legal acumen racket. She simply does not …uh, photograph well.
Meanwhile, Palin, an ambitious ladder-climber who spent less time in elective office than Faisal Shahzad did lingering around Times Square and who needs crib notes scribbled into her palm in case she is asked what color is an orange, has become a national political figure and potential presidential candidate to legions of fawning admirers on the basis of her appearance.
At the same time, Palin has been joined on the right-wing cuckoo perch by Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, also an elegant, stylish walking sitcom, who once famously said: "I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out under another Democratic president, Jimmy Carter. And I'm not blaming this on President Obama. I just think it's an interesting coincidence."
Interesting? Certifiably insane maybe, but at least Bachmann looked simply swell when she said it. If Bachmann found that tortured swine flu connection interesting, she must really be befuddled by things like — door knobs.
Palin and Bachmann, the Thelma & Louise of the Heritage Foundation, couldn't find the Supreme Court building with the help of Lewis & Clark, Predator drones and Google maps. Yet they are regarded as the leading philosophical torch-bearers of the Republican Party — but aren't they fetching in leather?
In the wake of the schoolyard taunting attacks on Kagan's appearance by the thugs with microphones, perhaps a prima facie case can be made for that while beauty is only skin deep, meanness goes all the way down to the bone.
Ruth can be reached at [email protected]