Thomas Memoir: Don't Steal This Book

I have no plans to read Justice Clarence Thomas's book. The first reason is that life is too short to waste precious hours discovering why he is what he is. I have read enough of his opinions over the years, and am otherwise familiar with his life story, to get the gist of it.

Justice Thomas (in his public life, anyway) is an angry man who acts (and votes) as though he is carrying a heavy chip on his shoulder for slights real and perceived. He has accomplished much but is extraordinarily insecure. He is an historical oddity -- I wish someone would ask him bluntly why he so consistently rules against the very types of people he and his family once were -- but he is certainly not a hero. He will be remembered as a controversial justice but nowhere near a great one.

The second reason I'm avoiding the book like a subpoena is because there have already been more than enough reviews and commentaries about it. I can take a glance at the crib notes and still pass the test. Some pundits have read the memoir and see Thomas as a legend. Many more see him as a whiny hypocrite. Such is the life and work of a man of contradiction.

Here are a couple of good excerpts from some of the reviews and commentaries I've seen over the past few weeks.

From Newseeek's Weston Kosova: "Over the years, Thomas has brushed off questions about the central contradiction of his life: how can a man who has benefited so greatly from racial preferences oppose them so staunchly for others? Thomas doesn't address the question directly in his new autobiography, 'My Grandfather's Son.' But he does, perhaps unwittingly, answer it. In chapter after chapter, a recurring theme seems to be that it's only affirmative action if you go looking for a job, not if it comes looking for you. Thomas writes that he rarely sought the plum positions that were offered him; he didn't even want them. Again and again in the book, he expresses his irritation that the men who ran the country simply would not let him be."

Before urging Thomas to run for president in 2012, Bill Kristol had this to say in the Weekly Standard: "Thomas cites Scripture at key points in My Grandfather's Son. He writes that during the crucible of his Supreme Court confirmation fight, 'It was in the consoling words of the prophet Isaiah that I found my own watchword: "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles: they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." And he closes the book with his prayer as he joins the Court: 'Lord, grant me the wisdom to know what is right and the courage to do it. Amen.'"

From Derrick Jackson in the Boston Globe: "The bitterness in Clarence Thomas makes you wonder if he ever can realize that he won. It is 16 years since he was confirmed to the Supreme Court despite charges of sexual harassment by Anita Hill. For a decade and a half, in one of the most unassailable seats in the world, he has exercised power that affects millions of Americans. That appears not to be enough for him. In his new memoir, Thomas fights the Hill accusations like a punch-drunk boxer."

From Frank Rich in the New York Times: What's the difference between a low-tech lynching and a high-tech lynching? A high-tech lynching brings a tenured job on the Supreme Court and a $1.5 million book deal. A low-tech lynching, not so much. Pity Clarence Thomas. Done in by what he calls 'left-wing zealots draped in flowing sanctimony' -- as he describes anyone who challenged his elevation to the court -- he still claims to have suffered as much as African-Americans once victimized by 'bigots in white robes.' Since kicking off his book tour on "60 Minutes" last Sunday, he has been whining all the way to the bank, often abetted by a press claque as fawning as his No. 1 fan, Rush Limbaugh."

From Dahlia Lithwick in Slate: "Clarence Thomas' new autobiography, My Grandfather's Son, paints a stark picture of an America in which nothing but race matters. In his telling, virtually everyone who has ever wronged him has done so because of his race. Not surprisingly, in the eyes of many of Thomas' defenders, anyone who objects to this book must also do so because of his race. But the prism of Black vs. White in America is the wrong one through which to view this book. The real black/white problem Justice Thomas reveals is his own binary worldview. Everything is good or bad; everyone is either angel or devil. You might say the justice has produced the world's longest Santa Claus list: everything in America classified as either naughty or nice."

By Andrew Cohen |  October 10, 2007; 8:15 AM ET
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Rehnquist was murdered with the collaboration of Duck Hunter Dick and the White House.

Posted by: Singing Senator | October 10, 2007 09:58 AM

Singing Sen.:

I guess all that thyroid cancer treatment was just a ruse?

I'll give you the benefit of the doubt that you were speaking metaphorically. But would you care to elaborate on the metaphor?

If you weren't speaking metaphorically, then that is one of the most inane (and patently false) statements I have ever read. I'm no fan of the White House, but accusing Dick Cheney of murdering Rehnquist makes the tin-foil hat crowd look reasonable.

Posted by: Nellie | October 10, 2007 11:54 AM

Whether or not one agrees with Mr. Thomas, I welcome and applaud someone whom one can tell is saying what they think, rather than those who chafe at his "incorrect", unrespectable (characterizations as "bitter" as if that were automatically bad) tone. Ha, I'd probably trust his word regardless of side more than many of the turn with the wind commentators.

Posted by: Mel | October 10, 2007 12:22 PM

Mr Cohen, you wrote:

"I wish someone would ask him bluntly why he so consistently rules against the very types of people he and his family once were"

I'm no fan of Justice Thomas either, but isn't this just the sort of thing we DON'T want to see in our judiciary - judges whose interpretations of the law are filtered through their race, gender, ancestry, prior economic condition, etc?

Clarence Thomas claims to be color-blind and conservative. I disagree with most of his opinions because of the second adjective, but applaud any judge who truly fits the first.

Posted by: Judgito | October 10, 2007 01:25 PM

Hey, Mel,

The joy in applauding someone who says what's on his mind rapidly diminishes when the listener, or reader, realizes the bitter hatred, as well as the self-hate of that poor lonely tortured hypocrite.

Posted by: WhiteDevil'sAdvocate | October 10, 2007 01:40 PM

Mel,

Your opening sentence should read, "... I welcome and applaud someone who [not "whom"] one can tell is saying what they think, rather than ...". "Who" is the subject of "is saying", not the object of "can tell". For that matter, since the gender of Justice Thomas is not in question, you should use "he" instead of relying on the politically correct but ungrammatical "they".

Posted by: hesthe | October 10, 2007 01:44 PM

One thing which has always stayed with me from the confirmation hearings was a comment by Sen. Howell Heflin, a former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, to nominee Thomas.

Thomas had said that he had not watched any of the people testifying against him in the hearings. Heflin noted that that did not sepak well to Thomas' "judicial temperament."

Apparently Thomas' temperament could still be considered less than ideal.

Posted by: DC | October 10, 2007 05:21 PM

hesthe: or he/she instead of they, nominative case, quite right on both, hope am not usually so grammatically sloppy. What's your point with nitpicking on grammar?

white..: Oh, didn't mean that some of the points against him may not stand, but perception of self-hatred or no, it's still good to hear someone prominent say what they think, even it's unpopular or goes against the grain. I'll take that every time.

Posted by: Mel | October 10, 2007 05:53 PM

"Justice Thomas (in his public life, anyway) is an angry man who acts (and votes) as though he is carrying a heavy chip on his shoulder"

READ - Andrew Cohen is another liberal commentator who doesn't like how the Justice votes therefor assumes he's "angry" and "bitter."

"I wish someone would ask him bluntly why he so consistently rules against the very types of people he and his family once were "

READ - Why can't he just be a black guy and always vote for black interests? He benefited from affirmative action. He must uphold it as good law!

Posted by: Ace | October 10, 2007 06:51 PM

Judgito wrote:

"I'm no fan of Justice Thomas either, but isn't this just the sort of thing we DON'T want to see in our judiciary - judges whose interpretations of the law are filtered through their race, gender, ancestry, prior economic condition, etc?"

All judges' interpretations of the law are filtered through their race, gender, prior economic condition, etc. But we only notice it if it isn't a white, male, educated mid- to upper-class filter.

Posted by: Betsy | October 10, 2007 10:47 PM

Don't agree with the latter statement.

Posted by: | October 11, 2007 12:52 AM

I have heard many trial judges say that:
1] they leave their ideology at home, but at some level,
2] they never forget who they are.

And in 40 years of practice, I have come to understand the truth of that vague generality.

I will give two simple examples.

I have seen the first notion played out in judges who have ruled again and again based on the evidence before them and not on their political desires.

But I have seen the second notion played out by AA member judges who consistently lose objectivity with an alcoholic witness or party.

I had never understood the effect of personal experience on appellate judges with quite the same clarity. Then I heard Justice Breyer talk to the Austin Federal Bar.

He told of an appeal from a state court judgment that denied a pauper/mother counsel in a parental termination case [no right ot counsel in a civil matter]. J. Scalia asked appellant whether he knew of any case that had ever req'd court appointed counsel in a civil case and Breyer thought to himself "that's it - we all agree - 9-0". But then both J. O'Connor and J. Ginsburg jumped on appellee.
How could he possibly maintain that motherhood was not a fundamental right in our society?
----------------------
I understood a little better after that.

Posted by: Mark in Austin | October 11, 2007 09:15 AM

Just for clarification not that it matters, but I overlooked where hesth.. said gender isn't in question, but "someone whom one.." was meant as a general principle, not only Judge Thomas.

Posted by: Mel | October 11, 2007 01:38 PM

I COULDN'T agree more with you, Cohen.

The idea that a sitting Supreme Court Justice could get, and take, TO LINE HIS OWN POCKETS A 1.5 MILLION DOLLAR ADVANCE ON THIS PETTY, VINDICTIVE LITTLE MEMOIR-just so he can jerk off his rants about Anita Hill, and that awfully useless little Yale Law Degree-is disgusting in the extreme, and an abomination.

That man should be removed from the bench-he is not fit, morally or intellectually, to be a judge, much less on the Supreme Court.

Posted by: | October 11, 2007 02:01 PM

I like a lot the fact that he has had an undiminished, festering issue all these years, and now proclaims it undiluted. Admirable, inspiring in fact.

Posted by: Cantu | October 11, 2007 08:13 PM

I don't like a lot the fact that Thomas is an exploiter of women, and a low grade serial sexual harasser (Long Dong Silver)-I find it despicable, revolting, in fact.

Posted by: | October 12, 2007 04:20 AM

Maybe. couldn't resist some (partial) absurdity (you shouldn't have had the comma after revolting)

Posted by: | October 12, 2007 11:24 AM

I don't like a lot the fact that Thomas is an exploiter of women, and a low grade serial sexual harasser (Long Dong Silver) and now proclaims it undiluted-I find it despicable, revolting, in fact.

Posted by: | October 12, 2007 12:01 PM

not sure what you're trying to say. I meant if the response was roughly analogous to mine as it otherwise seemed to be, the comma after "revolting" broke the analogy (as does now removing it after Silver), unless that's what you want to do for some reason.

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Justice Thomas represents everything that is wrong with the American political system. He is a Rorschach test personified. Liberals and other fair-minded individuals at his confirmation hearings saw a lying, manipulative opportunist. Hard-right conservatives saw a reliable colleague who, despite obvious personal shortcomings, would deliver the vote for the cause (the cause being any legislation or court ruling that will reverse all FDR and LBJ socialist trends).

It absolutely amazes me that we can spend billions a month digging ourselves into a deeper mess in Iraq, but we would be flirting with socialism if we funded health care for our children.

I often hear it said that Justice Rehnquist was a great jurist. But he personally stopped the recount in Florida and handed the election to an individual who has irreparably harmed our country. And wasn't Rehnquist under the influence of some psychotropic drug for much of his career? Societies during Neolithic times were probably unduly coerced by the strongest, hairiest and most intimidating. Not much has changed.

Posted by: Dave | October 14, 2007 09:29 AM

Thomas personifies the extreme ideology of only a small amount of Americans. I think what I enjoy the most about him is the fact that he makes the case that ignorance, arrogance, and mediocrity come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. I think the man is bitter because he knows he will never have the historic legacy of someone like Thurgood Marshall. Never.

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