Cap Flap

I’m not sure I entirely agree with Mark on this. First of all, it’s not clear that CAP was particularly “paleo” at the time it was created. It appears just to have been “conservative,” with different shades represented. I’d imagine, like other conservative organizations at the time (like National Review), it had a range of folks in it, from genuinely creepy paleo-conservative types, to neo-cons perfectly happy to have women and minorities. At the time, conservatives almost anywhere simply did not have the resources or organizational capacity to create organizations (especially on campus) that finely represented shades of different opinion. That is, CAP was an umbrella organization for conservatives with different, not necessarily overlapping, problems with various things Princeton was doing: from the retrograde, such as resisting admission of women, to the wholly justified, like opposing the university’s closing down of ROTC, which Alito claims was his reason for joining, and which makes sense. In the case of any umbrella organization, it’s genuinely silly to hold any particular member (esp. one with a very minimal role) responsible for the opinions of other members.

I do think Mark is right about the basic motivation here, however. Alito was applying for a job in the Reagan administration justice department, a department known for ideological vigor. He would have known that agreeing with the department’s dominant position was tantamount to a job requirement. Hence Alito identified the Federalist Society (also an umbrella group that includes members with a wide range of positions, some of which are obnoxious, some–like our pal Eugene Volokh–wholly respectable) and CAP as a signalling device. Given what we’ve heard in the hearing, it is probably true that Alito never had much of a role in the group, if any beyond sending them a check once. Fundamentally, all Alito’s CAP membership demonstrates is that he was (and no doubt still is) a conservative of some sort who was connected to Princeton. And there is absolutely NOTHING else that someone who was not reaching for straws could deduce from this. There are many good reasons to vote against Alito. This is NOT one of them.

Author: Steven M. Teles

Steven Teles is a Visiting Fellow at the Yale Center for the Study of American Politics. He is the author of Whose Welfare? AFDC and Elite Politics (University Press of Kansas), and co-editor of Ethnicity, Social Mobility and Public Policy (Cambridge). He is currently completing a book on the evolution of the conservative legal movement, co-editing a book on conservatism and American Political Development, and beginning a project on integrating political analysis into policy analysis. He has also written journal articles and book chapters on international free market think tanks, normative issues in policy analysis, pensions and affirmative action policy in Britain, US-China policy and federalism. He has taught at Brandeis, Boston University, Holy Cross, and Hamilton colleges, and been a research fellow at Harvard, Princeton and the University of London.