Bitter attacks, tenacious defenses, and great promotion—not to speak of the best TV in a generation—have made David Brock’s book on The Real Anita Hill a best-seller. As Brock admits, he proves neither Clarence Thomas’s innocence nor Anita Hill’s perfidy. But by scouring the transcript of the Senate hearings, he does show that Hill’s reputation as victim-martyr of male sexual harassment is overblown. This may have shocked those who tried to canonize her, but conservatives have known it all along. What they have not known is what Brock shows about Thomas. Despite “efforts to portray Thomas as a right-wing ideologue,” Brock writes, “his views on race relations were not conventionally conservative.” To put it mildly.
Although Thomas called segregation as it existed in the Georgia of his youth “close to totalitarianisnr,” he himself led a privileged life. He received, from racial eons, free education at a Catholic parochial school near his home in Pinpoint, at a minor seminary near Savannah, and at a major seminary in Missouri. Although Catholic parishioners had spent a lot of money on him, Thomas dropped out of seminary when he overheard one seminarian whisper to another after Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot: “God, I hope the s.o.b. dies.” Thomas called this a manifestation of racism, and Brock agrees. Or maybe it was the unconsidered remark of a college-age kid sick of secular hagiography. In any event, Christianity hardly requires us to venerate a fellow traveler, habitual plagiarist, and world-class adulterer.
Thomas then attended Holy Cross College and Yale Law School on plush affirmative-action scholarships. “On graduating,” writes Brock, “Thomas interviewed with a number of high-priced law firms but found the process dispiriting. Even though his law school grades were among the highest in his class, he was grilled about his academic performance going back to grade school, on the presumption that he couldn’t have gotten through Yale on sheer brain-power.” Again, Brock describes this attitude as “veiled racial discrimination.” Thomas concurs. But why shouldn’t a prospective employer be skeptical of the qualifications of an affirmative-action baby? Grades in these cases seldom tell the whole story. As Brock notes, the schools “employed recruitment-type affirmative action, actively seeking out minority applicants who were fully qualified.” (This is, of course, civil rights doublespeak. Fully qualified applicants don’t need special privileges.) Offended by impudent private-law evaluators, Thomas took a job with liberal John Danforth, then attorney general of Missouri, and moved to Washington in 1979 to join his Senate staff.
It was at this point that Thomas began to feel estranged from the civil rights movement, says Brock. It seems his reasons were political (“he had views independent from theirs”) and cultural (“the black elite also tended to be lighter-skinned than Thomas, who often recalled how he had been called ‘America’s blackest child’ in his youth”). But just how did Thomas’s views differ from those of the black establishment? As Brock explains it, “Though Thomas opposed racial preferences to guarantee equal results, he also supported affirmative action designed to encourage equal opportunity.” Translation: both Thomas and the civil rights movement believed that blacks are entitled to special treatment.
No civil rights group admits to supporting “racial preferences to guarantee equal results.” That may be the unspoken goal, but even Jesse Jackson talks about affirmative action, not quotas, and equal opportunity, not equal results. The distinction between “opportunity” and “results” is, moreover, simply a matter of time. Yesterday’s opportunities are today’s results, which become today’s opportunities. For example, the equal opportunity to be president of the company requires equality going backwards in time. Equalizing opportunities and results, then, is effectively the same thing. That is why the left has never had to champion “equal results”; “equal opportunity” is quite enough to wreck any system of merit.
Thomas had no lack of privileged opportunity, and he was made assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education in 1981, where he opposed the Reagan administration’s attempt to integrate black colleges. “Integration for its own sake,” Brock writes of Thomas’s view, “should not take precedence over” educating “young blacks.” Yet at the same time, Thomas wanted to integrate white colleges on the grounds that their very existence violated the 14th Amendment’s “requirement that states treat persons equally regardless of race or color.” Thomas also attacked the administration for resisting the removal of Bob Jones University’s tax-exempt status because the school discouraged interracial dating. So, as Brock describes Thomas’s views on race and education: white schools should be integrated; black schools should be segregated; and interracial dating should be tolerated at predominantly white schools. Did everyone agree with him? No, said Thomas: “There are a lot of racists in the administration.”
Thomas was then promoted to the chairmanship of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, one of the most dangerous bureaucracies in D.C. With one phone call from an official victim, the EEOC can attack any business in the country, force unqualified people onto its payroll, fine and smear its executives, and drive it into the ground. Clearly, such an agency is incompatible with a free society, but Thomas was in his element. He “professionalized the agency,” says Brock, with “people who were skilled in a law enforcement model.” As libertarian Clint Bolick of the Institute for Justice told Brock, “His view was ‘nail the discriminator and make it hurt.’ Quotas don’t hurt. The EEOC changed from an advocacy group into an effective law enforcement agency.” (Libertarians are supposed to believe in freedom of association, but the D.C. variety are racial statists.)
At EEOC, some liberals charged, Thomas did not prosecute enough cases. Brock refutes that notion: “The number of discrimination charges considered for litigation authorization rose from 401 in 1982 to 764 m 1988. The number of cases where litigation authorization was granted rose from 241 to 554 in the same time period. More monetary relief for charging parties was won during Thomas’s tenure; in 1980 the figure was $78 million for the year, while in 1984 it was $145 million.” Clearly Thomas had a passion for race-police brutality. Even Thomas’s vaunted opposition to quotas. Brock writes, didn’t “prevent him from applying them as a remedy in cases where a company had a proven record of discrimination.” And the “previously critical” Washington Post “ran what amounted to an editorial retraction, taking back its earlier judgment that Thomas had dismantled the EEOC and gutted its effectiveness.”
Brock points out that Thomas “clashed repeatedly with the Reagan Justice Department, which wanted to roll back affirmative action plans already in place around the country.” Moreover, “he also fought the orders of the Administration that he rewrite the agency guidelines that required employers to take race and sex into account in making hiring decisions.” At the EEOC, Thomas discriminated against white males, practicing what Brock calls “a kind of voluntary affirmative action in his own staffing, going out of his way to give qualified women and minorities a chance.” Meanwhile, Thomas publicly complained that the Reagan administration wasn’t promoting “a positive civil rights agenda” that took “into account the views of its own black appointees,” according to Brock. Thomas even denounced the administration that had raised him to high office in a speech at the Heritage Foundation. “It often seemed that to be accepted within conservative ranks and to be treated with some degree of acceptance, a black was required to become a caricature of sorts.” He was then caricatured onto the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia.
During his confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court, Thomas shocked many conservatives with his strategy. When Hill accused him of sexually harassing her, he could have simply denied it. He could have called her a liar. He could have called her a politically motivated liar. Instead, he cried racism. The attack on him was a “high-tech lynching” of an “uppity black man,” he claimed. He said that his opponents—who work unceasingly to put blacks in the economic and cultural catbird seat—hated him because he was black. Yet Thomas was replacing another “uppity black man” on the Supreme Court. Owing to “civil rights,” in fact, uppity black men are among the most sought-after groups in the country. He was nominated to a series of high positions precisely because he was an “uppity black man.” And how did conservatives respond to this racial victim story? Some loved seeing liberals get a taste of their own poison. Others were shocked when Thomas gave conservative credibility to a liberal racket. But as we have seen, this was no anomaly: it was Thomas’s lifelong record. Because he is black, Thomas knew he could expect deference from guilt-ridden whites. And conservative whites can be the most guilt-ridden of all, because they have been called racists all their lives.
Thomas’s strategy worked, of course. And now, in his brief time on the Supreme Court, he has shown us what sort of Justice he is. He leans back in his chair when others lean forward. He barely opens his mouth in a forum where the questions and interjections of the other Justices are incessant. He reads no newspaper or magazine, only the newsletter of what the Wall Street Journal calls his “beloved Dallas Cowboys.” Nevertheless, his opinions by and large have not been embarrassing because others have had a hand in choosing his clerks. That could change, of course.
Since the line between a conservative racial victimologist and a liberal one is thin, we should not be surprised if Thomas proves to be Thurgood Marshall’s successor in unexpected ways. As for the “real” Anita Hill, in regard to whom Brock has done an impressive amount of homework, the most plausible story remains that both she and Thomas were lying. Still, it is his account of Clarence Thomas’s life that will be David Brock’s most enduring contribution to a sordid chapter in the recent political history of the American Republic.
[The Real Anita Hill: The Untold Story, by David Brock (New York: The Free Press) 438 pp., $24.95]