I dig this story, not only because it’s a dopey unforced error by Team Barry but because it makes me think the identity politics clusterfark at the confirmation hearing will be simply magnifique. The blogger in question is Ben Domenech, who wrote a rundown of The One’s various SCOTUS candidates and listed the alleged fact that Elena Kagan is openly gay as a plus insofar as it would please the lefty base. Minor problem: Kagan’s not openly gay. Cue the White House’s outrageously outrageous outrage:
Ben Domenech, a former Bush administration aide and Republican Senate staffer, wrote that President Obama would “please” much of his base by picking the “first openly gay justice.” An administration official, who asked not to be identified discussing personal matters, said Kagan is not a lesbian…
The network deleted the posting Thursday night after Domenech said he was merely repeating a rumor. The flare-up underscores how quickly the battle over a Supreme Court nominee — or even a potential nominee — can turn searingly personal. Most major news organizations have policies against “outing” gays or reporting on the sex lives of public officials unless they are related to their public duties.
A White House spokesman, Ben LaBolt, said he complained to CBS because the column “made false charges.” Domenech later added an update to the post: “I have to correct my text here to say that Kagan is apparently still closeted — odd, because her female partner is rather well known in Harvard circles.”
Domenech replied at HuffPo (emphases in original):
I erroneously believed that Ms. Kagan was openly gay not because of, as Stein describes it, a “whisper campaign” on the part of conservatives, but because it had been mentioned casually on multiple occasions by friends and colleagues — including students at Harvard, Hill staffers, and in the sphere of legal academia — who know Kagan personally. And as the reaction from Julian Sanchez and Matt Yglesias shows, I was not alone in that apparently inaccurate belief.
Look, it’s 2010 — no one should care if a nominee to any position is gay. The fact that conservative Senators John Cornyn and Jeff Sessions have recently expressed openness to confirming an openly gay nominee to the Court is a good thing. Senators should look at things that actually matter — evaluating a nominee’s decisions, approach to the law, their judgment and ability — to see whether there are actually good and relevant reasons to oppose the nomination. That’s all…
As I told Howard Kurtz, and I say again here, I offer my sincere apologies to Ms. Kagan if she is offended at all by my repetition of a Harvard rumor in a speculative blog post. It still seems odd to me that the White House would single out this statement for attack, adamantly slamming closed a door that nobody was trying to open, as opposed to issuing a mild correction. As Yglesias notes, “I’d like to think we’re past the point where saying someone’s a lesbian counts as a dastardly ‘accusation,'” and it certainly was not intended as such.
New York magazine calls it a “tactical error” by The One and argues that the “is she or isn’t she?” storyline will be a factor no matter what, so they might as well get used to it. What’s fascinating about all this is that neither side seems quite sure whether “the gay issue” will be a net plus or net minus for them if they pursue it. Domenech’s right that a gay justice would please much of the lefty base — but, as Moe Lane reminds us, not all. Given the November cyclone that’s on the horizon, the last thing Obama wants to do is give some Dems an extra reason to stay home. On the other hand, Domenech’s also right that Cornyn and Sessions have sounded open to the idea of a gay justice, which puts them in line with most Americans: According to a CBS poll taken last month, 55 percent say they’d be okay with it. The problem for the GOP, of course, is that they risk their own turnout issues with social cons if they refuse to make an issue of it at all. What I suspect they’ll do is compromise: They’ll agree with the Dems to answer the “is she or isn’t she?” question by saying it’s no one’s business, but they’ll attack indirectly by quizzing her on blocking military recruiters from Harvard Law School over “don’t ask, don’t tell.” My hunch is that they’d rather not touch this at all, especially since culture-war stuff is less of a priority among the tea-party-flavored GOP than it used to be, but with Tony Perkins already playing hardball on donations to the RNC, they really have no choice.