Fel­low con­ser­va­tives, it’s time to call on Clarence Thomas to re­sign

Chicago Tribune - - PERSPECTIVE - By Jay Kaganoff Jay Kaganoff is a free­lance writer based in Brook­lyn. He has writ­ten for Na­tional Re­view On­line and Com­men­tary Mag­a­zine, among oth­ers.

Amid the sick­en­ing tales emerg­ing about en­ter­tain­ment fig­ures Har­vey We­in­stein, Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey and so many more, there is a glim­mer of hope: The #MeToo move­ment has em­bold­ened sur­vivors of as­sault and harassment to come for­ward. Many men are be­ing held ac­count­able for their be­hav­ior, and there are signs that new norms are devel­op­ing, as more and more peo­ple rec­og­nize how se­ri­ous the prob­lem of sex­ual harassment is.

In this new en­vi­ron­ment, sev­eral on the left have be­gun re­con­sid­er­ing their sup­port for Bill Clin­ton. Clin­ton should have re­signed, colum­nist Matt Ygle­sias wrote at Vox; Sen. Kirsten Gil­li­brand, D-N.Y., also said that Clin­ton should have re­signed. Alyssa Rosen­berg went even fur­ther in The Washington Post, ar­gu­ing that Democrats even now should shun Clin­ton.

While some might say that it’s 20 years too late, it’s an im­por­tant and healthy reck­on­ing to have, and I ad­mire them for it. As one lib­eral friend of mine said, this isn’t about apol­o­giz­ing to Repub­li­cans: This is about Democrats be­ing honest to them­selves and be­ing bet­ter.

Those of us on the right could use a reck­on­ing too. Ob­vi­ously, Don­ald Trump has no business be­ing pres­i­dent; I op­posed his can­di­dacy and I op­pose his pres­i­dency, so I don’t need to re­it­er­ate that fur­ther. The same is true for Roy Moore. But I’ve been think­ing about Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill, and I think it’s time con­ser­va­tives se­ri­ously re­con­sider our con­tin­ued sup­port for Thomas in light of his past.

As a con­ser­va­tive, Thomas was one of my role mod­els. I am a fan of his judicial phi­los­o­phy. Read­ing his story of ris­ing from noth­ing, from a Geechee­di­alect-speak­ing black kid in Ge­or­gia, to Yale and the Supreme Court, was in­spir­ing to me.

Dur­ing his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings for the Supreme Court, Thomas was ac­cused of sex­ual harassment by a former em­ployee of his. Hill claimed that Thomas made un­wel­come ad­vances to her and spoke about sex in graphic terms that made her un­com­fort­able. Thomas de­nied ev­ery­thing, of course, and was sup­ported by prom­i­nent politi­cians. It was his word against hers, and he won out.

Sen. Or­rin Hatch, R-Utah, said “her story just doesn’t add up.” Sen. Alan Simp­son, R-Wyo., no­to­ri­ously spoke of “get­ting stuff over the tran­som about Pro­fes­sor Hill. I’ve got let­ters hang­ing out of my pock­ets. I’ve got faxes. I’ve got state­ments from Tulsa say­ing: ‘Watch out for this woman.’ ” David Brock (who was then right-wing) called Hill “a lit­tle bit nutty and a lit­tle bit slutty.”

Thomas called it a high-tech lynch­ing for up­pity blacks. Hav­ing seen how other mi­nor­ity con­ser­va­tives were treated by the left, I found it con­vinc­ing that the op­po­si­tion was mo­ti­vated by race and ide­o­log­i­cal non­con­for­mance. But re­cent events have made me re­con­sider my knee-jerk de­fense.

Re­cently, I looked up the case again. Here is a good re­view, from Steve Kor­nacki in Sa­lon: “As Thomas’ con­fir­ma­tion was near­ing a fi­nal vote in Oc­to­ber ’91, an af­fi­davit from Hill was leaked to Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio’s Nina Toten­berg (the source was never iden­ti­fied); in the doc­u­ment, which Hill, then a Uni­ver­sity of Ok­la­homa law pro­fes­sor, had pre­pared for the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee sev­eral weeks ear­lier, she al­leged that Thomas had re­peat­edly asked her out on dates and made lewd and graphic sex­ual com­ments to her when she had worked for him in the early 1980s.” Af­ter Hill gave her tes­ti­mony, she was vi­ciously smeared, and Thomas was con­firmed any­how.

It’s al­ways a ques­tion of bal­ance be­tween be­liev­ing the vic­tims and avoid­ing mob men­tal­ity. But there are a few fac­tors that tilt toward Hill’s ver­sion of the story.

It wasn’t ex­actly his word against hers; she had wit­nesses whom the chair­man of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, Sen. Joe Bi­den of Delaware, did not call up. And Bi­den is a Demo­crat, so there goes the “they only at­tacked him be­cause he’s con­ser­va­tive” nar­ra­tive. Thomas was con­firmed by a Se­nate un­der Demo­cratic con­trol.

In an in­ter­view on CNN, con­ser­va­tive jour­nal­ist Bethany Man­del talks about how com­ing for­ward af­fects women: “This will be the only thing these women are ever known for. That’s not some­thing some­one wants to sign up for.” Hill is a law school pro­fes­sor with a re­spected ca­reer in her own right, but she has to carry this around with her — with­out even the sat­is­fac­tion of hav­ing her ha­rasser pun­ished.

There was also one big part of the puz­zle that never clicked. In Jef­frey Toobin’s book about the Supreme Court, he writes that re­porters for The Washington Post ob­tained “in­for­ma­tion con­firm­ing that Thomas’ in­volve­ment with pornog­ra­phy far ex­ceeded what the pub­lic had been led to be­lieve” just af­ter he was con­firmed. (That juicy de­tail didn’t make it to print then be­cause once he was con­firmed, the story was con­sid­ered fin­ished.) The is­sue at hand is not Thomas’ en­ter­tain­ment predilec­tions. But if he was dis­hon­est about the videos, it’s con­ceiv­able that he lied about the rest too.

Hill, mean­while, had no rea­son to lie and had sup­port­ing ev­i­dence. Is it enough to stand up in the court of law? Maybe not. But the ques­tion was whether Thomas was fit to sit on the Supreme Court, not whether he should be pros­e­cuted.

The sever­ity of the claims against Thomas pales in com­par­i­son to the claims against Clin­ton, some­thing other con­ser­va­tives have pointed out. In re­sponse to some­one com­par­ing how Hil­lary treated Bill’s ac­cusers with how Repub­li­cans treated Hill, Jonah Gold­berg of the Na­tional Re­view tweeted, “You do re­al­ize the al­le­ga­tions against Clin­ton and Thomas aren’t com­pa­ra­ble, right?”

Yet there’s an in­con­sis­tency to the logic. Are we de­fend­ing Thomas be­cause he is in­no­cent, or be­cause his ac­tions weren’t that bad? Un­til very re­cently, I prob­a­bly would have re­sponded sim­i­larly to Gold­berg: Maybe Thomas did say some things he shouldn’t have, but he wasn’t ac­cused of any­thing “se­ri­ous.”

All along, in other words, I didn’t doubt Hill. I knew the truth was on her side. But I was sub­con­sciously be­lit­tling her ex­pe­ri­ence, and that was wrong. In 2017, post-We­in­stein, we can’t let sex­ual harassment slide just be­cause it doesn’t rise to the sever­ity of rape, or be­cause we be­lieve that boys will be boys.

I be­lieve Anita Hill. I be­lieve that Clarence Thomas abused his author­ity to sex­u­ally ha­rass a woman who worked for him. And lied about it. And smeared his ac­cuser. And got away with it. As painful as it is to re­pu­di­ate a man I re­spected, I be­lieve Thomas should never have been con­firmed and should re­sign.


When Clarence Thomas was ac­cused of sex­ual harassment dur­ing his Supreme Court con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings, he called it a high-tech lynch­ing for up­pity blacks.


Anita Hill tes­ti­fies be­fore the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee on Oct. 14, 1991.

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