By Ruth Marcus
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
To read Clarence Thomas's book is to be struck anew by the blast-furnace of his anger -- at Democrats; at liberal interest groups; at the media; at, of course, Anita Hill.
There are wounds that never heal, but, for most, time tends to at least salve the injury. Not for Thomas, even 16 years later. The 289 pages of "My Grandfather's Son" pulsate with Thomas's rage.
"Whoop-dee damn-doo," Thomas relates telling his wife when she interrupted his bath to report that he had been confirmed. "Mere confirmation, even to the Supreme Court, seemed pitifully small compensation for what had been done to me."
Thomas v. Hill is one of those questions destined to remain disputed -- Did Al Gore actually win the presidency? Was the intelligence manipulated to mislead us into Iraq? The conundrum of Thomas-Hill is the continuing forcefulness of their conflicting assertions about what happened when he was a Reagan administration official and she a young lawyer working for him.
If Thomas did what Hill claims, how to understand his undimmed anger, his absolute denials, his willingness to pick the scab anew? If he didn't, how to understand her motive for lying -- and her summoning such unlikely details as pubic hairs on Coke cans?
I covered the Thomas hearings for The Post, every excruciating hour, and I can imagine, as Kevin Merida and Michael A. Fletcher suggest in their book, "Supreme Discomfort," that the entire story has not been told. Perhaps there was some flirtation, maybe more, that it behooved neither party to acknowledge.
But I also believe the evidence then backed Hill's version of events. What has emerged since only further buttresses her assertions.
Thomas describes Hill as a "touchy and apt to overreact" employee whom he'd refused to promote; who asked to follow him from the Education Department to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after the alleged harassment; and who continued to seek his professional help after leaving the agency.
"I felt sure that I had never said or done anything to her that was even remotely inappropriate," he writes, and, if he had, "she would have complained loudly and instantly, not waited for a decade to make her displeasure known." For his part, Thomas describes himself as "one of the least likely candidates imaginable for such a charge."
Here is some of the evidence Thomas omits:
First, Hill did not wait 10 years to complain about his behavior. Susan Hoerchner, a Yale Law School classmate of Hill's, described how she complained of sexual harassment while working for Thomas, saying the EEOC chairman had "repeatedly asked her out . . . but wouldn't seem to take 'no' for an answer." Ellen Wells, a friend, said Hill had come to her, "deeply troubled and very depressed," with complaints about Thomas's inappropriate behavior. John Carr, a lawyer, said that Hill, in tears, confided that "her boss was making sexual advances toward her." American University law professor Joel Paul said Hill had told him in 1987 that she had left the EEOC because she had been sexually harassed by her supervisor.
Second, Hill was not the only former subordinate of Thomas's with complaints. Former EEOC employee Angela Wright described how Thomas pressured her to date him, showed up uninvited at her apartment and asked her breast size. "Clarence Thomas would say to me, 'You know you need to be dating me. . . . You're one of the finest women I have on my staff," Wright told Senate investigators.
Wright's account was corroborated by Rose Jourdain, a former speechwriter who, like Wright, was dismissed by Thomas. Jourdain said Wright had complained that she was "increasingly nervous about being in his presence alone" because of comments "concerning her figure, her body, her breasts, her legs."
Another former Thomas employee, Sukari Hardnett, said of his office, "If you were young, black, female and reasonably attractive, you knew full well you were being inspected and auditioned as a female."
Third, as Merida and Fletcher found, some of the behavior Hill complained about resonated with episodes from Thomas's past. Hill described an episode in which Thomas, drinking a soda, asked, "Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?" James Millet, a college classmate of Thomas's, recalled "an almost identical episode" at Holy Cross. "Pubic hair was one of the things he talked about," another classmate said. Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson, in "Strange Justice," found two others who recalled a pubic hair-Coke can comment at the EEOC.
Similarly, Thomas had a well-known taste for the kind of extreme pornography Hill said he brought up with her. "Listening to her, it was as if I was listening to the guy I knew speak," said law school classmate Henry Terry. Washington lawyer Fred Cooke saw Thomas, while EEOC chairman, checking out a triple-X video of "The Adventures of Bad Mama Jama."
Thomas dismisses these claims as the workings of a mob -- in pinstripes instead of white robes -- seeking to "keep the black man in his place." He may have convinced himself of this. The record suggests otherwise.