From the July 12, 2010 issue of TIME Magazine
One distinctive Washington ritual is the Virtually Guaranteed Confirmation Hearing. The nominee needs only to avoid a major mistake. It's a bit like being out in a thunderstorm: a lot of wind and noise, an occasional flash but rarely dangerous if you're careful. Two such hearings occurred simultaneously this week. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan dodged raindrops in one room while the commander-designee for Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, avoided lightning rods in another. Their styles set them apart. Given the implosion of his predecessor, Petraeus was like the only firefighter at a burning house. The job was his; how soon could he start? Asked when the endless war would end, he straddled cautiously. Kagan, by contrast, faced Republicans who hoped to stir up a tempest. She let a smile be her umbrella. Asked to defend a passage in her master's thesis, she answered, "I didn't know a whole lot of law then." Another Senator asked her where she was when the underwear bomber struck on Christmas Day. "Like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant," Kagan parried. Everyone laughed as the thunder faded.