I’m back to watching the Elena Kagan Supreme Court confirmation hearings, this time sipping my morning coffee from a law firm branded mug. It is, thankfully, a much less trying time for me than when Sonia Sotomayor was in her confirmation process last summer, a disastrous accident with a family member foremost in my mind as the hospital televisions were tuned in and I was tuned out. Today, all is quiet, I am home, and I can pay close attention to the proceedings. You should, too, if you can. We are fortunate to be able to have a front-row seat to one of the most important events that ever takes place in our government, unique in that the judicial nominee may remain on the job for 40+ years. We learn much about her questioners in the process, the face of partisanship, the players in a game with the highest of stakes.

It is a fencing match, sabres replaced by verbal foils that are sometimes elegant, sometimes clumsy, crafted to support or disarm, the tempo set by the questioner, matched or re-paced by Kagan. Think about what kind of steely temperament and quickness of mind it takes for anyone to sit in the D.C. hotseat there. Most of us when questioned in this forum, even if we had the finest experience in and deepest understanding of the law, would end up going HUMINAHUMINAHUMINA while exuding copious buckets of flopsweat. It takes a wholly different personality and skill set to play politics at this level. Understand this: all of the people you will see, from Kagan to Hatch to Kerry to Graham, LOVE IT. They live for this kind of ultimate challenge, from the best of the best, as most were taught to strive for in law school. To construct and deliver a win is all. It’s an incredibly powerful high. Seen under this lens, you can understand why the players sometimes lose their ability to keep in mind that those of us outside the game are both awed and horrified by the single-mindedness of it at times.

Advance. Parry. Advance-lunge. Reprise. Advance. Parry. Retreat. Break for lunch and photo ops. Face off again.

Those who come in disrespecting Ms. Kagan often interrupt her, chuckle derisively, crowbar in smug and often stunningly-bigoted comments, stridency heard in tensed throats, Southern-accented speech. Those who come in supporting her throw her glittery softballs, praise her accomplishments, ask nothing they don’t already know the answer for, smug in their way as well. I have yet to see a Senator arrive with an undecided mind, therefore they are only really listening to Kagan’s answers in how they relate to their own personal wins. Anything else is dismissed. It is their game, their match. You and I cannot play.

Kagan has a noticeably plain-spoken way about her; a compliment, as it makes her more accessible to the Americans she may serve. It calms the Harvard-Jewish-woman-lawyer tags that some will tar as “elite,” a new slur leveled against intelligent and educated progressives these days. She tires closer to the end of the day, and perhaps rambles slightly once or twice, buying time to think, but at least her speech isn’t littered with pomposity and legalese. She seems genuinely interested in and passionate about the law. If confirmed and on the bench, one is quite sure Kagan won’t sit silent and allow others to do her questioning and thinking for her, like another Justice I can think of.

Pay attention to the questions asked, how they are framed, and who is doing the asking. The Tournament of Poses.