News Wrap-Up: Primaries, Elena Kagan, Immigration

Host Guy Raz speaks with True/Slant columnist and Atlantic writer Conor Friedersdorf about the "anti-incumbent" mood for primary elections, Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court, and the decision by the City of Los Angeles to ban city travel and future contracts with Arizona businesses because of that state's new immigration law.

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GUY RAZ, host:

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Dr. RAND PAUL (Republican, U.S. Senatorial Candidate, Kentucky): Many Republicans did vote for the bank bailout. Those Republicans are the establishment. Those are the Republicans opposed to me. But the secret weapon we have is 90 percent of primary voters in Kentucky would have voted no on the bank bailout. So these people, these people (unintelligible) the establishment, they're running against a wave of Republican primary sentiment.

RAZ: That's Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul speaking on FOX News earlier this week. If he wins the party's nomination next week, it could add momentum to the idea that incumbents and establishment candidates are in big trouble.

Joining me here at NPR West in Southern California this weekend is Conor Friedersdorf. He writes about urban affairs and politics for a variety of blogs and websites.

Conor, thanks for being here.

Mr. CONOR FRIEDERSDORF (Columnist, True/Slant; Writer, The Atlantic): Thanks for having me.

RAZ: Let's start with Rand Paul. He's heavily supported by the Tea Party movement and he's sort of running this anti-incumbent, anti-establishment, anti-Washington campaign. He has a big lead against his Republican opponent. The pundits tell us that voters are in an anti-incumbent mood. They want change. Is there a sense that this has the ability to last a long time? Or is this a 2010 phenomenon?

Mr. FRIEDERSDORF: I think that it is a 2010 phenomenon. If it's going to last longer than that, there's going to have to be more substance to it. It's going to have to be like the contract with America, where you had specific policy issues. Because at the moment, although people are out in the streets and going to Tea Party rallies, it isn't entirely clear what exactly they want to happen.

RAZ: Conor, Supreme Court nominations have sort of become a game, you know, with the nominee offers up almost no substantive information about how he or she would rule from the bench during the hearings. It seems the same with Elena Kagan. Does her background tell us anything about how she'd go about it?

Mr. FRIEDERSDORF: The main thing that we know about her background is that she worked as a policy adviser in the Clinton White House. And her role in the Obama White House has gone before the Supreme Court and argued for the president's policies.

This tells us that she is at least going to be sympathetic to future presidents who are trying to do the same sort of policy innovations. And I don't know that we should necessarily be happy about that. The Supreme Court exists partly as a check in the balance on the other branches of government and maybe deference to a political branch isn't something that the people should want, even though it's understandable why a president would want it in a Supreme Court justice.

RAZ: A lot of ink has been spilled over the fact that she's an Ivy League graduate and the court is now stacked with Ivy League graduates. Why is that a problem? I mean, if you look at France, for example, virtually most of the political elite graduates from the Paris Institute of Political Sciences. This is common around the world. Why should it be a problem that she went to one of the best universities in the country?

Mr. FRIEDERSDORF: There's certainly nothing wrong per se with going to an Ivy League school, but our country is a lot bigger than France. You can get just about anywhere within France from Paris in a few hours.

Whereas in the United States, you know, we have very distinct regions with distinct issues and cultures and problems. And maybe a court that was more spread with people from different regions would have different insights into the country that they're helping to run.

RAZ: Finally, Conor, this week here in Southern California, where we're speaking from, of course, the city of Los Angeles voted to ban city travel to Arizona and banned future contracts with businesses there all because of the state's new immigration law. What do you make of that?

Mr. FRIEDERSDORF: I'm very much against the Arizona immigration law. I think that it is bad policy, but I'm also against the city of Los Angeles boycotting Arizona. When people in Los Angeles go to the polls to elect someone to the city council, they're looking at local issues, they're looking at, you know, what does this person think about local taxes? How is this person going to get more affordable housing in the city?

So, I don't want to be having a city council campaign where the people running are talking about national policy and how we're going to boycott different things and different ways to try effect change at a level that isn't local.

RAZ: That's Conor Friedersdorf. He writes about politics and urban affairs based here in Southern California. You can find his blog, the Urban Scene at theatlantic.com.

Conor, thanks.

Mr. FRIEDERSDORF: Thank you.

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