SAN DIEGO — The confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas may be the ultimate Rorschach test. Americans look back at what transpired in that Senate hearing room in October 1991 and see what they want to see.
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For those who believed Anita Hill's claims that Thomas — while serving as her boss at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — made advances and created a hostile work environment, the hearings were about sexual harassment.
In a recent interview tied to the release of his new book, "My Grandfather's Son," Thomas said that the treatment he received was really about abortion and the lengths to which the pro-choice lobby will go to keep a pro-life justice off the court.
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I prefer a third explanation. These events were really about freedom — the freedom of affirmative-action babies to engage in independent thinking and draw their own conclusions about whether racial entitlements actually benefit the folks they're supposed to, or are not worth preserving. That's not easy to do when you have to put up with silly accusations that you're pulling up the ladder behind you if you criticize affirmative action.
What ladder? Does anyone really think that under the status quo — where powerful, and mostly white teachers unions are derailing higher standards for Latino and African-American students —; minorities are enjoying an educational windfall that they must preserve at all costs? Oh great. Now I'm going to be in trouble too. As a Mexican-American Harvard graduate, I have benefited from the very educational system I'm criticizing. And I've been accused of "selling out" my own people because I oppose racial preferences and bilingual education. I also support the education reform law, No Child Left Behind, which empowers Latino students and yet which a host of Democratic presidential candidates promised, during a recent Spanish-language debate, to overhaul or scrap.
But wait, shouldn't I have the right to process all available information and reach my own conclusions just like anyone else? Dream on. White liberals won't allow it. And many of them aren't beneath insinuating that — without the opportunities that they alone provided me, out of the goodness of their hearts — I'd be out hawking oranges at an intersection.
You should read the mail I got from liberals who were furious at me — oops, I mean, "disappointed" in me — for defending former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. I'll summarize: "You got your job because you're Mexican. Gonzales got his job because he was Mexican.
So naturally, one Mexican defends another. Have a nice day."
And this from people who insist they're trying to help me, and people like me, live full and productive lives.
So I can appreciate firsthand some of what Clarence Thomas — and Alberto Gonzales, Miguel Estrada, Janice Rogers Brown, Michael Steele — and other conservatives of color have had to endure to hold on to their beliefs. Thomas figured out what his ordeal was about in real time. And he shared those insights at the hearings in words that must have come across to liberals like fingernails on a chalkboard.
In addressing the Senate Judiciary Committee, after Anita Hill had made her accusations, Thomas blasted the proceedings as a "national disgrace." Most memorably, he called them a "high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves" and a "message that, unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you, you will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree."
Thomas was angry then. And, according to his critics, he's still angry now. The pages of the book, wrote the left-of-center Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, "pulsate with Thomas' rage." Marcus also seems surprised that time hasn't healed these wounds, "not for Thomas, even 16 years later."
To recap, here are the rules of grievance as dictated by white liberals: If you're an African-American and your politics lean to the left, you can be righteously angry over slavery, segregation and discrimination and preserve that anger for more than 200 years. But, if you're an African-American and your politics lean to the right — and you're wronged in any way — then you have no right to be angry.
And if you do succumb to anger, you must get over it in, oh, say, 16 years.
Personally, I'm glad Clarence Thomas is angry. He should be angry.
And the rest of us should be ashamed.
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THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE