So suggests Walter Russell Mead after reading Jeffery Toobin’s profile of Clarence Thomas in the New Yorker. He writes of Thomas:
his lonely and obscure struggle has led him to the point from which he may be able to overthrow the entire edifice of the modern progressive state
Few things have made me smile as broadly as I am now after reading this:
There are few articles of faith as firmly fixed in the liberal canon as the belief that Clarence Thomas is, to put it as bluntly as many liberals do, a dunce and a worm. Twenty years of married life have not erased the conventional liberal view of his character etched by Anita Hill’s testimony at his confirmation hearings. Not only does the liberal mind perceive him as a disgusting lump of ungoverned sexual impulse; he is seen as an intellectual cipher. Thomas’ silence during oral argument before the Supreme Court is taken as obvious evidence that he has nothing to say and is perhaps a bit intimidated by the verbal fireworks exchanged by the high profile lawyers and his more, ahem, ‘qualified’ colleagues.
At most liberals have long seen Thomas as the Sancho Panza to Justice Antonin Scalia’s Don Quixote, Tonto to his Lone Ranger. No, says Toobin: the intellectual influence runs the other way. Thomas is the consistently clear and purposeful theorist that history will remember as an intellectual pioneer; Scalia the less clear-minded colleague who is gradually following in Thomas’ tracks.
If Toobin’s revionist take is correct, (and I defer to his knowledge of the direction of modern constitutional thought) it means that liberal America has spent a generation mocking a Black man as an ignorant fool, even as constitutional scholars stand in growing amazement at the intellectual audacity, philosophical coherence and historical reflection embedded in his judicial work.
I have long been a fan of Clarence Thomas. pjHusband and I read his autobiography in awe. Rarely in life will you find someone whose character has been so supremely shaped by the real adversity he faced growing up. Rarely in life will you see someone so completely caricatured and vilified, ironically with the very stereotypes the left claims to fight.
Read the rest of Walter Russel Mead’s piece, the New Blue Nightmare: Clarence Thomas and the Amendment of Doom. It might eke a smile out of you, too.