Jewish World Review Dec. 9, 2004 / 26 Kislev, 5765

Zev Chafets

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Slap at Thomas
stinks of racism | Harry Reid, the newly selected Democratic Senate minority leader, is said to be a good guy. And that's how he came across Sunday on "Meet the Press," soft-spoken, reasonable and decent. Until Clarence Thomas came up.

Moderator Tim Russert asked Reid whom he could accept as the next chief justice on the Supreme Court. Reid replied that the conservative Antonin Scalia might be all right - "I cannot dispute the fact . . . that this is one brilliant guy" - but not his ideological soul mate Clarence Thomas. According to Reid, Thomas - a justice for 13 years - is too dimwitted for promotion. "I think he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court," Reid said. "I think his opinions are poorly written - I just don't think he has done a good job."

Russert did not demand details. Perhaps he was taken aback by the dismissive crudeness of Reid's remark. Senators do not normally publicly demean the intellect of Supreme Court justices. Or perhaps Russert - like many of his colleagues in the elite media - simply regards it as self-evident that Thomas is a wrong-thinking Negro, incapable of writing decent English.

Reid's overt disrespect for Thomas is, at first glance, surprising. Reid is, after all, the conservative leader of a liberal Senate faction. He belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a denomination that banned blacks from the priesthood until 1978. And he represents Nevada, a state with a less than sparkling record on civil rights. In other words, Reid is vulnerable to the charge of racial insensitivity. And in this case, guilty.

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Reid never would have had the brass to attack Thomas as an incompetent dummy without the encouragement of his party's black establishment. Black Democrats dislike Thomas not because of his intellect or performance - which fall well within the norm for Supreme Court justices - but because he is 1) a Republican, 2) a conservative, 3) an opponent of affirmative action.

Manning Marable, an African-American historian at Columbia University, summarized the case against Thomas at the outset of his court career: "Even though he is black in terms of his racial identity, Thomas in terms of his political program, in terms of his repudiation of civil rights, is arguably . . . the whitest man in America."

Ken Foskett's excellent biography, "Judging Thomas," makes it abundantly clear that Thomas - son of an impoverished single mother, reared in the segregated South, foster father to a grandnephew whose biological father is in prison for selling crack cocaine - is anything but estranged from the harsh realities of race. He simply has a nonapproved analysis of how to deal with racism.

More popular figures than Thomas have been pilloried by the black establishment for committing Republican heresy: Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Sammy Davis and Colin Powell all come to mind. Now, emboldened, whites have deputized themselves in the fight against black thought crime.

Thomas once said of such race-based slander, "Though being underestimated has its advantages, the stench of racial inferiority still confounds my olfactory nerves." Or in simple English, for the benefit of Sen. Reid, it stinks.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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