Yesterday Elena Kagan proved what I’ve been saying all along: If you give them an education and a chance at the microphone, women are funnier than men.
Kagan getting the last laugh at the expense of South Carolina’s Republican Senator Lindsay Graham was a moment that will serve as a landmark for women’s humor for years to come.
When Graham, rather lackadaisically, intoned, “Christmas Day. Where were you on Christmas Day?,” I must admit that I held my breath. Kagan began what sounded like a long, round-about, and detailed response concerning the finer points of law. Sure, sure, she’s being examined precisely on those finer points of law, but I knew that the Senator would go back—like a hound-dog to a chew-toy— to his Christmas Day opening bit.
He did. Graham, keeping the wearied tone, interrupted Kagan and drawled, “I just asked where you were on Christmas.”
That’s when I fell in love with Kagan's laugh—it was a real laugh, not some tinkling-bell girly self-deprecating simulation of laugh, but a serious “You got me” guffaw.
But then she did what any smart broad would do: She refused to let his funny remark be at her expense. She was going to get the last laugh and therefore triumph.
And triumph she did when she declared, matter-of-factly, “Like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant."
It’s great when somebody can answer a question while addressing the invidious issues beneath it: Why is the Senator from South Carolina asking a nice Jewish woman where she is on a Christian holiday, huh?
Maybe she should have asked him where he was on Purim.
No, what she did was better. Kagan’s comeback is right up there with one of my other favorite smart-talking-women-in-Washington stories, concerning Liz Carpenter.
Carpenter, a self-proclaimed feminist who had been part of the Johnson administration, wrote a book titled Ruffles and Flourishes about her White House experiences.
After its publication, apparently, at a cocktail party, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. stopped Carpenter to make the following comment: "I liked your book, Liz. Who wrote it for you?"—which is the sort of gob-stopping “gag” line that would shut most people up. Instead, what Carpenter said, and what made her my hero, was: "I'm glad you like it, Arthur. Who read it to you?"
It’s good to hear an accomplished woman speak directly at the person who attempted to joke at her expense and to watch her get the last laugh.
Copyright Gina Barreca.