The 15-Year Assault on Clarence Thomas

This July marks the fifteenth anniversary of then-President George H. W. Bush’s nomination of Clarence Thomas to the US Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice Thurgood Marshall. Thomas’ nomination was a historic moment, not only for the Right, but for the Left, as the nomination commenced in earnest the era of hyperbole, exaggeration, and vituperative personal assault that has defined left-wing politics in the modern era.

From the start, leftists–their minds filled with memories of 1987, when they successfully sabotaged Robert Bork’s bid to replace Lewis Powell–waged a shock-and-awe campaign against Thomas, branding him a racial traitor and sullying his name with unsubstantiated charges of sexual harassment. The over-the-edge attacks were enough to make Thomas famously declare himself the victim of a "high-tech lynching."

The verbal violence against Thomas only worsened after he was confirmed 52-48 by the Senate in October 1991, with leftists not only attacking his jurisprudence, but also ridiculing his intelligence and suggesting that he privately detests the fact that he is not Caucasian. In 1994, left-wing pundit Julianne Malveaux sarcastically suggested that his wife feed him a high-cholesterol diet so that he would die prematurely. In 1996, a now-defunct publication geared to middle-class blacks, Emerge Magazine, depicted Thomas as a lawn jockey on its front cover.

While Bork was subjected to unfounded accusations of racism and sexism from the likes of Ted Kennedy, there is no question that the severity of the linguistic loathing of Thomas established a new standard for the left. Attacks on such conservative figures as Ken Starr, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay and President Bush can only be measured by how such insults compare, in terms of the intensity of the invective, to "progressive" criticisms of Thomas.

Thomas didn’t realize at the time how accurate the term "high-tech lynching" was. The left now has entire websites targeting the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly with the same hate-filled harangues that greeted Thomas back in 1991.

Despite the left’s fifteen-year assault on his character, Thomas has quietly gone about his business, honoring the Constitution with opinions that are, in their own way, every bit as influential as Marshall’s work decades earlier. It galls the left that Thomas is every bit the intellectual equal of Marshall, though his views of the Constitution differ from that of his predecessor. Like Bork, Thomas drew hostility because he discredited the left-wing notion that a conservative could not be an intellectual titan. He exposed as a fallacy the idea that only a liberal could be smart.

Conservatives have long faulted the opinions of Justices such as Marshall and William Brennan, but you can count on one hand the number of conservatives who actually thought that Marshall and Brennan, their left-wing views notwithstanding, were unintelligent. Yet it is an article of faith on the left that Thomas has a limited IQ. Isn’t it amazing that the same leftists who insisted that Charles Murray’s 1994 book The Bell Curve (which addressed issues of race and IQ) was nothing more than a bigoted tract also insist that Thomas is cognitively compromised?

Thomas’ nomination was a landmark moment in American political history, for it represented the beginning of the American left losing any and all restraint in its criticism of those who disagree with liberalism’s central tenets. While conservatives such as Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan were extensively ridiculed by the left, Thomas will be remembered for being the first true target of the left’s "politics of personal destruction."

UPDATE: Thomas’ 1998 speech to the National Bar Association.

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