Jewish World Review Feb. 16, 2001/ 23 Shevat, 5761
Clarence Thomas addresses an imperfect world
PRESIDENT George H.W. Bush invited Clarence Thomas to his home in Kennebunkport in July 1991,
on the eve of his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, to ask only two questions:
One, could his family endure the confirmation process? Two, could he "call it as you see it'' --
could he rule on the law and not on his personal beliefs.
The prospective nominee answered yes to the first because he didn't know what was in store for
him and his family. He answered the second with a more informed yes.
"In a perfect world, the second question would be the only one members of the Court should ever
have to answer, either to a president or to the legislators who confirm their appointments,'' he told
the annual dinner of the American Enterprise Institute the other night in Washington.
Justice Thomas laced his remarks with quotations from Immanuel Kant, Benjamin Franklin,
Alexander Hamilton and Pope John Paul II, with lots to say about the confirmation process and the
hazards of independent thinking in the nation's capital. He gave the diners more than the filet of beef
and mashed potatoes to chew on as they consider the benefits and responsibilities of free speech in
What troubles Justice Thomas most of all -- and he ought to know -- is that on "the very difficult
issues such as race there (is) no real debate or honest discussion.'' He learned this when he first
came to Washington and was interviewed by The Washington Post two decades ago. He raised
what he thought were "legitimate objections on a number of sacred policies'' -- affirmative action,
Welfare, school busing -- which he thought had wrought harmful, if unintended, consequences on
those very people they were designed to help.
"In my innocence, I was shocked at the public reaction.'' he says. "I had never been called such
names in my entire life.'' That interview was his first trial by fire in Washington, the ultimate company
town whose industry and obsession is politics. The second scorching ordeal was the spectacle
we've all come to remember as the "Thomas-Hill hearings,'' when enemies of the justice not only
called him names, but even invaded his garbage can for evidence of his taste in videos. The critics
were looking for evidence of pornography, and found none.
He called those hearings, accurately, "a high-tech lynching.''
If vicious accusations were rope, Clarence Thomas would have been left hanging from a tree. On
the radioactive subject of race in America, he learned that honest expressions of differences of
opinion are not permitted in Washington. Orthodoxy was, and is, always enforced in public (in
private is another matter): "When whites questioned the conventional wisdom on these issues, it
was considered bad form; when blacks did so, it was treason.''
His argument finds a provocative counterpoint from Andrew Sullivan in the current New Republic,
who courageously questions the media resurrection of Jesse Jackson after his disclosure that he had
fathered an illegitimate child. If Clarence Thomas is tar baby, Jesse Jackson is Teflon black.
"If he were white, he would have about as much prominence in national life as Jimmy Swaggart,''
writes Mr. Sullivan of Jesse Jackson. "Yet he endures and thrives, raking in vast fortunes from
corporate America, betraying his family, casting racial aspersions on anyone with whom he
disagrees, and inveigling his offspring in the corrupt and corrupting operation he laughably calls the
Citizenship Education Fund.''
Then Andrew Sullivan really gets mad. "Jesse Jackson's greatest betrayal, of course, is to the cause
of civil rights,'' he says. "Unable to reconcile himself to the strides made in the political and civil
equality of black Americans, Jackson has perpetuated the lie of permanent black victimhood,
whatever the context. For Jackson, it is forever 1965.''
If the Rev. Jerry Falwell or Rep. J.C. Watts had paid the mother of an illegitimate child with
tax-exempt funds, the media and even his supporters would have forced him from public life. But
Jesse Jackson continues to be courted, sustained by a black population "that seems to have
mistaken forgiveness for sanction, redemption for regrouping.''
Andrew Sullivan and Clarence Thomas complement one another. Justice Thomas exhorts America
to honest and vigorous debate, urging Americans to speak up no matter the obstacles in an uncivil
society, to confront the truths of heart and mind and not be afraid to follow where they lead.
We can all recognize the tyranny of censorship. There is also the tyranny of self-censorship. It was
no coincidence that Clarence Thomas presided over the swearing in of John Ashcroft as attorney
general. An honest judge recognizes an attempted lynching when he sees one, whether the target is
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02/07/01: Profaning the sacred with the political
02/05/01: What's the Creator got to do with it?
02/01/01: Live like the snopses, leave like the snopses
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01/25/01: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows"
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01/18/01: Ashcroft can't dance (don't ask him)
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01/08/01: Laying the political race card
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12/21/00: First impressions of two First Ladies
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12/13/00: Hillary in the lion's den
12/08/00: Return of the 'second sex' on campus
12/04/00: Politics as entertainment today
11/30/00: Winner vs. whiner
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11/17/00: In defense of the Electoral College
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10/30/00: The Oval Office, through a glass brightly
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10/19/00: The celebrity candidate
10/16/00: 'Ladies night' at the second debate
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09/05/00: Joe Lieberman as a 'Menorah Man'
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08/17/00: Changing icons: From Loretta Young to Hillary Clinton
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07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
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06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
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05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
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03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
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02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
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02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
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01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
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09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
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©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate