SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER By Anita Hill Doubleday. 374 pp. $24.95 EVEN AT the height of the 1991 confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas (which seem in retrospect to have inaugurated a whole epoch of media overkills), it was possible to doubt the grand significance of an abortive and inept bit of off-the-record ungallantry. Was the crass suggestiveness of a mediocre and unattractive Washington lawyer, whether or not true, the real stuff of history? Let the record show, then, that Anita Hill, the focus of these alleged attentions, does not now and never has doubted the extreme importance of herself and her own claims. Not once, in the course of this entirely humorless narrative, does she allow the reflection that everyone was slightly out of their skull that week. This volume centers on the celebrated Capitol Hill drama, with occasional retrospective glimpses into Hill's upbringing and background. That's why, for example, the reader has to hear so much about what happened on the campus of Oral Roberts "University," where Hill had gone (she says) to escape Thomas's loathsome attentions: "Senator Danforth's campaign included calling several of my former students ten to twelve times over the course of two days. Yet even with the breadth of his inquiry and persistence of his search, Senator Danforth was able to obtain only one affidavit, the contents of which were denied by the witnesses' listed in the document. This affidavit was dubbed the pube affidavit' because it contained descriptions of alleged sexual remarks, advances and bizarre activity -- including putting pubic hair in student papers I returned -- that the former student attributed to me. The alleged remarks, according to the document, were made in the presence of the students named in the affidavit. But when the Senate contacted those named students, they denied witnessing any such activity. Still, despite the fact that no one questioned how the young man had concluded that the short curly hair' he says he and others found in their work was pubic hair, Danforth moved forward with them." It's good to have that clarified. Language like this helps to keep proportion at bay, and slow down the reader before he or she can be overcome with unholy excitement. Did Danforth "move forward" with the student(s)? Or with the hair(s)? I have read the passage more than once, for money, and still wouldn't care to say on my oath that I knew what was happening. It reads, also, like a clumsy rewrite of Strange Justice, the narrative of the affair written by Jane Mayer and Jill Abrahams. Clogged language usually expresses confused thought. "Comparisons between me and the young Tawana Brawley, who exaggerated, perhaps even fabricated, claims of depraved abuse and violence, went unchallenged, despite their dissimilarities, because they fit within the stereotypes of black women's sexuality." I don't know who edits what at Doubleday, but this clumsy sentence will at least bear the interpretation that Hill thinks Brawley could have been telling the truth. In that event, why object to being mentioned in the same breath? There actually was a drama that terrible week, or at least a potential one. The Senate could have become seized of the question of sexual molestation in the modern two-gender workplace. Or it could have done its job and, say, asked Hill if she had ever discussed Roe v. Wade with a man who denied ever having expressed a view about it. In the result, it did neither of these things. It became instead a bear-pit, where the cynics of the Bush White House could do brinkmanship with the pseudo-liberals and say, in effect, we back our lynched black man against your abused woman. Wanna play? "Identity politics" was used at the highest level to degrade the whole American democracy. There are not enough lifetimes to excuse the pseudo-liberal sneaks who tried to arraign Thomas not for his ideas or his uncertain jurisprudence but for his vulnerability to gossip. And who, having done that, blenched and ran as Thomas took up the bludgeon of moral blackmail and wielded it back on them. Hill was the merest contingent instrument of this larger tussle, but she is so self-pitying and solipsistic as to continue to imagine that it was all about her: "On October 10, 1991, as I prepared for my testimony, I spoke to my lawyers about my fear of this very rejection. Whatever happens,' I told them, I do not want to destroy my ties with the community.' I warned that the claim might be used to divide the community. Nevertheless, when I needed it most, it was not there." IF I'M RIGHT to presume that "it" is the community again, then we must concede that, sadly, whichever "community" is meant, it probably was divided. Poor old community, divided again. The politics of division, indeed. Except that -- someone has to tell her -- politics is division by definition. It's possible that she suspects this, because she chooses not to answer, or even to mention, the fascinating question about Thomas and Roe v. Wade that she was asked by Sen. Hank Brown, and prevented from answering by Sen. Biden. In other words, anytime that any lightening or broadening of this essentially narrow and sordid story seems possible, there is always someone -- in this case the author -- to return it to its dreary and predictable track. Don't read this book, and don't weep. Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and the Nation. CAPTION: Anita Hill in 1992