Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Token Club

Clarence Thomas has recently written a book called My Grandfather’s Son. The title is unsurprising if one remembers the tendency of self-righteous male political figures to invoke their fathers. The book is a dull read: Thomas devotes a great deal of space to sputtering denunciations of liberalism, and an unseemly obsession with his own perceived status as victim of liberal elites. It would seem that, incapable of writing a decent opinion for the Supreme Court, he will have to settle for writing self-pitying and vindictive personal opinions in his ill-considered memoir. Foremost among Justice Thomas’s themes are his tired complaints concerning his confirmation hearings sixteen years ago. He reveals nothing that would effectively counter the testimony against him, but continues to throw dust in our eyes.

But let us leave aside the Anita Hill controversy—as important as it was, the allegations of sexual harassment obscured other substantive issues regarding Thomas. The American Bar Association gave Judge Thomas a very tentative rating of “qualified” in 1991, with two voting members on the panel voting for “unqualified.” To put this into perspective, you must realize that the third possible rating is “well qualified,” and that this highest rating is fairly easy to achieve. Samuel Alito, a legal mediocrity if there ever was one, got a “well qualified” rating from the ABA. More importantly, it was very unusual, and perhaps even unprecedented, for a Supreme Court nominee to be confirmed without a unanimous evaluation of at least “qualified.”

Thomas never really practiced law, except for three years in the Missouri Attorney General’s office, where he worked on state tax issues. He was an in-house lawyer for Monsanto, which is not a job where you’d be expected to have much training in Constitutional law. He then rose through the ranks of the Reagan Administration, where he ended up heading the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (One should note that the Reaganites were pioneers in the practice of promoting right-wing blacks to positions previously identified with progressive liberal causes. Perhaps you recall the crook Samuel Pierce, the secretary of HUD under Reagan.) Finally, Thomas served as a D.C. circuit judge for exactly one year before getting the call from Bush Sr.

The occasion was the retirement of the ailing Thurgood Marshall (who died two years later), the first black member of the Supreme Court and one of the giants of the civil rights era; the man who argued Brown vs. Board of Education; a tireless defender of civil liberties, racial equality, and the rights of the accused. Shallow political thinking being what it is, it was generally assumed that he would replaced by another African American, without much attention being paid to what made this particular African American a great judge.

Now consider the thinking behind the nomination of Clarence Thomas by Poppy Bush and his gang. Here we have the retirement of a great black man, a defender of the oppressed and a champion of freedom and equality. The reasoning, if you can call it that, going on in the brains of these toad-like political hacks could be summarized as something like the following.

“So they want another black guy on the Court? Okay, let’s find a black guy who’s as right wing as they come. Let’s make sure he’s a mediocre lawyer with very little experience, even though there are many other black judges who are far more distinguished. And let’s nominate this nobody, this nonentity who represents a fraction of a percentage of the black community, to the highest court of the land.”

Think about the utter contempt that this nomination demonstrated—for the Court, for Marshall’s legacy, for the black community, for all of us. Consider how this strategy was calculated to turn the tables against civil rights, and against all the gains of that movement through decades of struggle. And remember that all this was to be accomplished by nominating a black man, and then contemplate the nauseating depths of political calculation to which George H.W. Bush and his advisers were willing to go. These were the guys that deliberately evoked racial hatred and fear in the 1988 campaign. They continued to push the Nixonian “Southern strategy” that used code words and secret winks to win the votes of white bigots, and keep the country divided for their own political advantage. Their successors have continued on the same road.

And Judge Thomas has been everything that they hoped he would be. He has consistently embraced the unchecked power of the police to do whatever they want against the citizenry of this country. In the backward march of the Court against racial equality, he has been in the forefront, to the point now where it seems as if we might as well reaffirm Plessy vs. Ferguson. He is the black Jim Crow. He is against abortion rights. He is for torture. He doesn’t even believe in the rule of legal precedent—one of the very foundations of our judicial system. His career on the Court has been one of astonishing mediocrity and ineptitude. And of course, he helped appoint Bush Jr. in 2000.

In his spare time, he performed the ceremony for Rush Limbaugh’s third marriage. What a guy.

As for Poppy Bush’s strategy of racial contempt, the Shrub took it to a whole new level. The appointment of black rightists, culled from an African American population that is overwhelmingly progressive in its political and social leanings, is a Bush hallmark, with Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice as the most conspicuous examples. (And when you need someone really batshit crazy to bring out during a crisis, there’s always Alan Keyes.)

You see, the evidence of New Orleans notwithstanding, Bush and the Republicans really do care about black people. They care so much that they’ve appointed blacks to the most important administration jobs—our chief liars, thieves and killers.

1 comment:

S.W. Anderson said...

Well said.

The key to choosing Thomas was that he had risen in the ranks of St. Ronald's administration. That's all they had to see on his resumé, and Bingo!

Face it, ideological right-wing hacks disdain lawyers and courts along with the rest of government. So what if Thomas was no Thurgood Marshall? Thomas had a law degree so he was good enough for government work.

I wouldn't be surprised to someday learn George W. had a hand in selecting Thomas. It fits his M.O. perfectly.