“Fellow Conservatives, It’s Time To Call On Clarence Thomas To Resign.”
So screamed the headline of a Washington Post piece by someone named Jay Kaganoff, who is far from being a household name in conservative circles and, in actuality, may or may not exist. But regardless of Kaganoff’s bonafides, he raises a pressing question in the #MeToo age.
Now that liberals are finally demanding accountability from some of their own, and a few important voices are even suggesting that even Bill Clinton should answer for his actions, shouldn’t we revisit the incident that started it all?
The Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing was one of the first
The Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings exploded across the airwaves in 1991. This was the pre-Internet era, which meant that people following the story had no choice but to stay glued to their television to watch Anita Hill accuse the would-be Supreme Court justice of…
Of what, exactly? The general description for Thomas’s alleged behavior was “sexual harassment,” but the substance of that allegation seems markedly different from how that term is used in 2017.
Al Franken, for instance, was forced to resign his Senate seat for numerous incidents where he grabbed, groped, or forcibly kissed women without their consent. Failed candidate Roy Moore stands accused of a penchant for pedophilia. The media and entertainment personalities who have all lost their livelihoods were said to have engaged in varying degrees of exposure or assault.
Not so Clarence Thomas. He did not stand accused of groping, grabbing, kissing, or in any way sexually assaulting anyone. At no point did Anita Hill accuse him of any type of inappropriate physical contact with her. She claimed that he had shown interest in dating her, but if his interest had constituted harassment, it is unlikely that Hill would have voluntarily followed Thomas from his position at the Department of Education to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is precisely what she did.
So the sum total of Clarence Thomas’s alleged misconduct involved statements in the workplace about “acts that he had seen in pornographic films involving such matters as women having sex with animals and films showing group sex or rape scenes.” He apparently also spoke to Hill “graphically of his own sexual prowess.” And perhaps in the most memorable moment in the hearings, Hill recounted an incident that may well haunt drinkers of carbonated beverages for decades to come.
“Thomas was drinking a Coke in his office,” Hill testified. “He got up from the table at which we were working, went over to his desk to get the Coke, looked at the can and asked, ‘Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?'”.
Who, indeed? More importantly, who really cares? Such a statement is boorish and obnoxious, surely, but to equate it with any degree of sexual assault is stretching false equivalence to the breaking point.
Even Anita Hill wasn’t sure whether Thomas’ behavior actually qualified as harassment
At the time, even Hill herself admitted she was not sure whether her accusations qualified as evidence of genuine harassment – she only wanted the Judiciary Committee to be “aware of his behavior.” And they were, and they voted to confirm him anyway, as did the full Senate. Seven Democrats joined 45 Republicans in putting Thomas on the High Court.
Actually, that’s not fair to Thomas to say that they were “aware of his behavior.” The reality is that they were aware of Hill’s allegations, and many chose not believe them. At the time, that included the vast majority of the public, which, by a 2-1 margin, told pollsters they were more likely to believe Thomas’s denials than Hill’s accusations. In the intervening years, those numbers have flip-flopped, but that’s due more to the relentless revisionism pushed by the Left than any additional evidence or insight.
What differentiates the accusations against Clarence Thomas from many of those that have arisen out of #MeToo is that they were given a very public hearing and at least a semblance of due process. No significant new information has come to light about his behavior, and the intervening 26 years have brought no new outrages or scandals surrounding the justice, which suggests Thomas could well have been unfairly maligned.
Accusations should not be be treated as automatic disqualifications
In the worst case scenario, we have a justice who at one point in his career was not above making cracks about pubic hairs on cans of Coca-Cola. While it’s preferable that such jokes not be told in the workplace, we have not yet reached the point where a handful of crass jokes are grounds to end a career.
Or have we? As the accusations mount and the accused continue to fall without even a fraction of the due process that Thomas received, it becomes more and more difficult to know where the line is. It’s likely, however, that reopening that old can of Coke would blur the lines even further.
(Image via screenshot of Anita Hill giving testimony during Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearing in 1991.)