Thomas's Comeback

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THE SPINE OCTOBER 3, 2007

Thomas's Comeback

Clarence Thomas is back in the prints, and so is Anita Hill.

Before you rush to Hill's corner, let me call your attention to the sympathetic review of a Ken Foskett's book, Judging Thomas: The Life and Times of Clarence Thomas, that appeared in the October 25, 2004 issue of TNR. The review was written by David J. Garrow, that great chronicler of the civil rights movement and the author of Bearing the Cross, a biography of Martin Luther King Jr. It surprised readers then, and it will surprise readers now. I am not a fan of Thomas, although I understand that Supreme Court Justices do not pursue fandom. But I know that, as the review proves, Thomas has a much more complicated and interesting mind than white liberals allow. The only Justice of whom I am a fan is Steve Breyer.

Thomas has just published his own memoir, My Grandfather's Son. I have not read it. He apparently rehashes the charges of sexual harassment lodged against him by Anita Hill, and both rebukes them and tries to rebut them. Angrily, Hill says, and so do others. I remember watching the confirmation hearing with Mike Kinsley, Fouad Ajamai and Tom Tisch in the Saudi Arabian desert one night. (That's another story.) These were ugly days and ugly news reports. I recall my intuitions and feelings: that there was something there that may have happened. But that Anita Hill was not exactly telling the truth. That she was exaggerating. Damn me for that. But that was how I felt, and that she had draped herself in unflattering prudery, unflattering and almost pre-modern. In any case, why did she wait until he was nominated to the Court for making charges against him?

Of course, Hill has now responded to Thomas' book and to his "60 Minutes" television appearance. Her response was in yesterday morning's New York Times. Like Thomas, she also can't let this episode go. After all, without this episode, no one would know who she was and what she did. On the other hand, I do understand that Thomas started this round. How could she have resisted?

A large Cambridge dinner party a few years ago comes to mind. I won't say at whose house. I wanted to make sure that I wasn't seated next to Al Sharpton, an interloper. (Sharpton had arrived with someone else but uninvited. The hostess was furious.) I was seated next to Anita Hill, an attractive woman and an interesting woman. We spoke about how the loss of the King James version in our culture had degraded the writing and speaking of the English language. Then, as if our conversation lacked something, she raised the name of Clarence Thomas. Sad, no?

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