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Jewish World Review Feb. 16, 2001/ 23 Shevat, 5761

Suzanne Fields

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Clarence Thomas addresses an imperfect world -- PRESIDENT George H.W. Bush invited Clarence Thomas to his home in Kennebunkport in July 1991, on the eve of his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, to ask only two questions:

One, could his family endure the confirmation process? Two, could he "call it as you see it'' -- could he rule on the law and not on his personal beliefs.

The prospective nominee answered yes to the first because he didn't know what was in store for him and his family. He answered the second with a more informed yes.

"In a perfect world, the second question would be the only one members of the Court should ever have to answer, either to a president or to the legislators who confirm their appointments,'' he told the annual dinner of the American Enterprise Institute the other night in Washington.

Justice Thomas laced his remarks with quotations from Immanuel Kant, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and Pope John Paul II, with lots to say about the confirmation process and the hazards of independent thinking in the nation's capital. He gave the diners more than the filet of beef and mashed potatoes to chew on as they consider the benefits and responsibilities of free speech in a democracy.

What troubles Justice Thomas most of all -- and he ought to know -- is that on "the very difficult issues such as race there (is) no real debate or honest discussion.'' He learned this when he first came to Washington and was interviewed by The Washington Post two decades ago. He raised what he thought were "legitimate objections on a number of sacred policies'' -- affirmative action, Welfare, school busing -- which he thought had wrought harmful, if unintended, consequences on those very people they were designed to help.

"In my innocence, I was shocked at the public reaction.'' he says. "I had never been called such names in my entire life.'' That interview was his first trial by fire in Washington, the ultimate company town whose industry and obsession is politics. The second scorching ordeal was the spectacle we've all come to remember as the "Thomas-Hill hearings,'' when enemies of the justice not only called him names, but even invaded his garbage can for evidence of his taste in videos. The critics were looking for evidence of pornography, and found none.

He called those hearings, accurately, "a high-tech lynching.''

If vicious accusations were rope, Clarence Thomas would have been left hanging from a tree. On the radioactive subject of race in America, he learned that honest expressions of differences of opinion are not permitted in Washington. Orthodoxy was, and is, always enforced in public (in private is another matter): "When whites questioned the conventional wisdom on these issues, it was considered bad form; when blacks did so, it was treason.''

His argument finds a provocative counterpoint from Andrew Sullivan in the current New Republic, who courageously questions the media resurrection of Jesse Jackson after his disclosure that he had fathered an illegitimate child. If Clarence Thomas is tar baby, Jesse Jackson is Teflon black.

"If he were white, he would have about as much prominence in national life as Jimmy Swaggart,'' writes Mr. Sullivan of Jesse Jackson. "Yet he endures and thrives, raking in vast fortunes from corporate America, betraying his family, casting racial aspersions on anyone with whom he disagrees, and inveigling his offspring in the corrupt and corrupting operation he laughably calls the Citizenship Education Fund.''

Then Andrew Sullivan really gets mad. "Jesse Jackson's greatest betrayal, of course, is to the cause of civil rights,'' he says. "Unable to reconcile himself to the strides made in the political and civil equality of black Americans, Jackson has perpetuated the lie of permanent black victimhood, whatever the context. For Jackson, it is forever 1965.''

If the Rev. Jerry Falwell or Rep. J.C. Watts had paid the mother of an illegitimate child with tax-exempt funds, the media and even his supporters would have forced him from public life. But Jesse Jackson continues to be courted, sustained by a black population "that seems to have mistaken forgiveness for sanction, redemption for regrouping.''

Andrew Sullivan and Clarence Thomas complement one another. Justice Thomas exhorts America to honest and vigorous debate, urging Americans to speak up no matter the obstacles in an uncivil society, to confront the truths of heart and mind and not be afraid to follow where they lead.

We can all recognize the tyranny of censorship. There is also the tyranny of self-censorship. It was no coincidence that Clarence Thomas presided over the swearing in of John Ashcroft as attorney general. An honest judge recognizes an attempted lynching when he sees one, whether the target is black or white.


02/12/01: Ariel Sharon, not by Steven Spielberg
02/07/01: Profaning the sacred with the political
02/05/01: What's the Creator got to do with it?
02/01/01: Live like the snopses, leave like the snopses
01/29/01: It's education, stupid
01/25/01: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows"
01/22/01: Poetry and religion in the Bush administration
01/18/01: Ashcroft can't dance (don't ask him)
01/15/01: Clothes make the First Lady
01/11/01: Pity Jerusalem in the 'peace' process
01/08/01: Laying the political race card
01/04/01: 'What women want' in the new millennium
01/02/01: This year, looking ahead is sure sweeter than looking back
12/21/00: Black power with a Republican face
12/21/00: First impressions of two First Ladies
12/18/00: Challenge for the 'better angels of our nature'
12/14/00: What we've lost sight of
12/13/00: Hillary in the lion's den
12/08/00: Return of the 'second sex' on campus
12/04/00: Politics as entertainment today
11/30/00: Winner vs. whiner
11/27/00: Measuring against history
11/23/00: Memories of Thanksgiving past
11/17/00: In defense of the Electoral College
11/16/00: More than one way to win an election
11/13/00: Sexual politics squared
11/09/00: A Middle East legacy
11/06/00: Filling in the dots at campaign's end
11/02/00: His own man in full
10/30/00: The Oval Office, through a glass brightly
10/23/00: There'll always be an England. Maybe.
10/19/00: The celebrity candidate
10/16/00: 'Ladies night' at the second debate
10/12/00: Gore vs. Bush: Volvo vs. Maserati
10/10/00: We weep for Rami for he is dead
10/05/00: Looking at Lieberman from inside the 'ghetto'
10/02/00: Campaigns, candidates, and kissy-face
09/28/00: Laughing and crying over Joe Lieberman
09/21/00: Targeting teenagers for money
09/21/00: Sexual politics in New York
09/18/00: Surviving the stereotypes and debates
09/14/00: Gloria Steinem runs cheerfully into captivity
09/12/00: Sex in the eye of the partisan
09/07/00: 'Sex and death' on the college campus
09/05/00: Joe Lieberman as a 'Menorah Man'
08/31/00: Rising suns of the conventions
08/17/00: Changing icons: From Loretta Young to Hillary Clinton
08/14/00: The Creator returns to the public square
08/10/00: Bursting with pride, but caution too
08/07/00: Brains, beauty and beastly politics
08/03/00: A candidate with a superego
07/31/00: The sizzling Lynne Cheney
07/27/00: The party of the aging Playboys
07/24/00 Hillary drives the Jewish wagon into a ditch
07/20/00 Conservatives gone fishin'
07/17/00: Snoop Doggy Dogg was a founding father, wasn't he?
07/13/00: When a teenager doesn't need a prime minister
07/10/00: Abortion as cruel and unusual punishment
07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
07/03/00: Independence Day with Norman Rockwell
06/29/00: Here comes 'something old'
06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
05/18/00: Journalists and the 'new time' religion
05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate