For Clarence Thomas, an ordeal is renewed
In 1991, the world divided itself into two camps: those who believed Anita Hill and those who didn't. I fell somewhere in the middle: She may have told the truth, but so what?
On bended knee, give thanks if you are too young to remember. A brief summary: Hill testified that then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her by verbally sharing his enjoyment of porn films and his sexual proficiency.
Yes, yawn if you must. This was scandalous, of course, because . . . well, I'm still not certain. You see, to be scandalized, one must be deeply sensitive to the mention of anything sexual. Indeed, in this case, one needed to be scandalized for an indefinite period of time.
Hill's testimony came several years after she worked for Thomas at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where the alleged harassment took place. In other words, she didn't protest at the time of these conversations, which were boorish, assuming they happened as she described. Or were they merely lame attempts at humor?
The context has never been clear. In any case, other options available to Hill included telling Thomas to get over himself. Or, at the very least, assuming deep offense, complaining to a higher authority. She did neither, apparently.
In fact, nothing was mentioned until Thomas was nominated to the highest court. Would an African American nominee of the liberal persuasion have been subjected to the same kind of interrogation? Only as precedent to riot.
Clarence Thomas's "offense" had nothing to do with whether he did or did not say something off-color to a subordinate. Rather, his offense was being a conservative black man who had the audacity, among other things, to suggest that affirmative action ultimately might do harm to those it was intended to help.
Now we are revisiting the Thomas hearings, sadly owing to the poor judgment of his wife, Ginni. As all surely know, she recently called Anita Hill and left a voice mail suggesting that Hill apologize for what she did. This jaw-droppingly odd lapse has prompted an unwelcome and sordid review of the past and a deluge of theories to explain Ginni Thomas's action.
For one, the same day of the phone call, a story ran on the front page of the New York Times about Ginni Thomas's new nonprofit group, Liberty Central, which aims to organize the Tea Party movement. She was trying to monetize the moment.
Let's put a pause on nonsense and concede that the Thomas affair remains a painful memory and maybe, just maybe, the justice's wife needs resolution.
Meanwhile, a new player has emerged in the drama: Lillian McEwen, a former Thomas girlfriend from way back, has decided that now is the time to set the record straight. Coincidentally, McEwen is shopping her memoir.
On Monday night, McEwen sat down with Larry King on CNN (where I work) to share her own sexual past with Thomas and her belief that Hill told the truth. She told The Washington Post (where I am a columnist) that Thomas was "obsessed with porn."
McEwen said she didn't mind the porn, she was just bored by it. She also told King that Thomas, who quit drinking while they were together, became ambitious and obsessed with physical fitness.
Thomas's history of drinking is no secret to anyone who bothered to read his memoir, "My Grandfather's Son." He is brutally honest about his transformation from an angry boy abandoned by his alcoholic father, his upbringing by his grandfather and the nuns at his little Catholic school, and his battle with his own demons and lonely rages to become a thoughtful man deeply respected by fellow members of the court. As Supreme Court analyst Jan Greenburg wrote in "Supreme Conflict," Thomas is the quiet force on the bench who brings others to change their minds.
Only the heartless would not be moved by Thomas's description of lying at home in a fetal curl, suffering the public humiliation of his hearing, and recognizing that the only route to survival was humility.
"It had long since become clear to me that this battle was at bottom spiritual, not political," he wrote, "and so my attention shifted from politics to the inward reality of my spiritual life."
The proud Thomas said during those hearings that he was the victim of a high-tech lynching. Let's hope he has enough spiritual reserve to survive this second lynching -- and a big enough heart to forgive poor Ginni.