Taking One for the Team?

Less than two weeks mid-term elections, a devout Tea Party activist decided to bring an old Republican scandal out front and center. The Clarence Thomas hearings never did settle the question of whether Thomas was falsely accused of crude and harassing behaviour to an employee. Anita Hill, in her subsequent life as a law professor, did nothing to suggest that she was unstable or a publicity-seeker. The episode came down to ‘he said, she said’ and was largely forgotten. Thomas, when he was discussed at all, was criticized or praised for his judicial conduct.

And then Ginni Thomas re-opened the whole painful mess, when she grabbed the phone at 7:30am on a Saturday and left a recording. Why not a carefully worded letter? Why not a tactful approach through an intermediary? This looked like the kind of impulsive thing you might do when you are under the influence of something.

I am leaning to the Serena Joy theory. Ms. Thomas was pumped up on the high of her political movement, she surrounded herself with true believers, and it seemed obvious that Prof. Hill must be living a life of shame, just waiting for the day when she could confess her sins and be forgiven. Ms. Thomas looked forward to forgiving her. I think she would have enjoyed doing it in a stadium, Ginni wearing a flowing white robe, Anita in sackcloth. I heard the Crystal Cathedral is up for rent.

But it’s said that Ginni Thomas is a very smart woman and an expert strategist. So maybe Ginni Thomas was taking one for the team…

Why now? What, after almost twenty years, prompted Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, to leave a message on Brandeis professor Anita Hill’s office voicemail asking her to apologize for accusing Justice Thomas of sexual harassment during his 1991 confirmation hearings?

The timing was interesting. Ginni Thomas placed her call to Hill the morning after the New York Times reported that Virginia Thomas’s new Liberty Central organization accepted “large, unidentified contributions” totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those untraceable dollars came in the flood of right-wing funding following the Citizens United campaign finance decision, in which Justice Thomas voted with the majority. The Times reported that a wide range of legal ethicists said Liberty Central’s financing raises “knotty questions” about a conflict of interest for Justice Thomas.

A famous line from Watergate was ‘follow the money’. We are being flooded with messages but the messengers stay behind the scenes. This has to end.

Free speech is the foundation of democracy. Anonymous paid speech is no substitute– it’s counterfeit. If Ginny Thomas intended to take the spotlight off her own activities it’s not going to work.

I favor the ‘dialing while disturbed’ explanation. We don’t always act rationally.

TAKE YOUR PICK: The Week has five theories of why Ginni Thomas made that call, including the two covered above.

ENRICHING FAMILY VALUES: I heard a lawyer on NPR discussing the potential conflict of interest if a judge makes a decision that allows his wife to recieve– say a quarter of a million dollars for her organization, which might gratefully give her a raise, and then she buys new furniture, or adds a deck to the house or some such contribution to the judge’s domestic comfort. It could look like he wasn’t 100% impartial. It’s funny how little it takes to compromise someone if they are not vigilant about ethics.
I’m putting up an old post about that, recalling how John McCain managed to marry a woman who was richer than God and live with her for decades while keeping their finances totally separate–
‘Life of Sacrifice–The Journals of Cindy McCain’

NO SYMPATHY: New American Media, which covers minority issues, is cutting Clarence Thomas no slack.

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