Jonathan Chait

Clarence Thomas And Alger Hiss

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When Anita Hill came forward during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings to accuse him of sexual harrassment, it created a stark partisan divide. Democrats and liberals believed her, and held up her experience as a common example of women demeaned in the workplace and then smeared as liars if they dared report their experience. Republicans and conservatives furiously disagreed, seeing Hill's claim as a sexual witch-hunt and a plot by liberals who couldn't stand to let a black conservative ascend to such a high position.

I remember very clearly having withheld judgment. It was her word against his, he having a strong motive to lie, and she having at least a plausible motive to do so. But in the years that have followed, it has become increasingly beyond dispute that Hill was telling the truth. Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson's book, Strange Justice, established this nearly beyond doubt.

The conservative view, though, has remained frozen in 1991, still indignant at the lies and smears directed against Thomas. It is not just Thomas's wife living in denial. The news that she phoned Hill requesting an apology triggered another round of right-wingers declaring their belief in Thomas and anger at Hill.

In many way, the episode is a reply of the Alger Hiss controversy, a high-profile hearing that turned into a defining partisan and ideological proxy fight for a generation. Like the Hiss case, the subject continues years later to resolutely insist upon his innocence, bolstered by a coterie of true-believers who have invested their reputation behind him. And also like Hiss, the evidence of Thomas's guilt continues to mount as time goes by. Today's Washington Post has another nail in the coffin:

In her Senate testimony, Hill, who worked with Thomas at two federal agencies, said that Thomas would make sexual comments to her at work, including references to scenes in hard-core pornographic films.

"If I used that kind of grotesque language with one person, it would seem to me that there would be traces of it throughout the employees who worked closely with me, or the other individuals who heard bits and pieces of it or various levels of it," Thomas responded to the committee. ...

At the time, she was on good terms with Thomas. The former assistant U.S. attorney and Senate Judiciary Committee counsel had dated him for years, even attending a March 1985 White House state dinner as his guest. She had worked on the Hill and was wary of entering the political cauldron of the hearings. She was never asked to testify, as then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), who headed the committee, limited witnesses to women who had a "professional relationship" with Thomas.

Now, she says that Thomas often said inappropriate things about women he met at work -- and that she could have added her voice to the others, but didn't.

The Post article has plenty more evidence. In the very long run, Clarence Thomas's defenders are just going to look worse and worse.

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