Joe Biden recently apologized to Anita Hill for a bunch of senators being so rough on her at 1991 Senate hearings that he chaired on confirming Clarence Thomas as a Supreme Court justice. She thought Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate, didn’t go far enough. He may actually have gone too far. He really owed an apology to Thomas instead.
Saying as much 27 years later is political and cultural blasphemy, I realize, but I remember keeping up with the fracas at the time and having strong feelings about what seemed to me blatant, politically driven unfairness to Thomas. Recently, I have poured through a lot of interpretations of what happened, and just as I found a sea of sympathy and support for Hill, I also found facts from such thinkers as Thomas Sowell puncturing the usual narrative to the point of wondering how it stays afloat.
The background was that Thomas was a conservative black man, an honest, clear-thinking constitutionalist who just might have some problems with Roe v. Wade, it was thought. A member of one feminist group is quoted in an online article as having said, “We need to kill him politically.” At the last minute, Hill, a black law professor in Oklahoma appeared on the scene. She talked to the FBI, conveyed what she intended to say and said something different. The FBI said she lacked credibility.
Her actual message was that, when she and Thomas once worked together and others were not around, Thomas would sometimes ask her out while talking about juicy pornography, his sexual prowess and the wonder of his body parts. A dozen women who also worked with Thomas testified that the accusation was the opposite of who he was. No one who worked with Hill stepped forward on her behalf, it has been noted. She did have a friend who said Hill would talk personally to her about the harassment she was enduring, except the friend then lived far away.
Even after Thomas had supposedly humiliated her with his X-rated mouth, Hill followed him to another job. Suspicious sorts note she also kept calling him over the years. She said she didn’t. Unbiased phone records were consulted on the issue. She did.
Some say the senators asking her questions were “derisive,” although it’s also said they were “courteous” while tough enough to try to get to the truth. Not every Democrat voted “no” to making Thomas a justice but Biden did, naturally enough, and what verdict would a jury have given? Read and learn that a huge majority of Americans watched at least some of the proceedings on TV with 58 percent telling pollsters they believed Thomas while just 24 percent cheered Hill, a split decision that still tells you something.
Oh, poor Anita, some have said, even as she went on to win national awards, get a book published, become a law professor at Brandeis University and give speeches for fees ranging as high as $50,000. So very, very many defend her even though she didn’t defend women making allegations against President Bill Clinton. She said he was too good on women’s issues.
When the Smithsonian National Museum of History of African American History and Culture opened, she found a home immediately. Thomas had to wait a year.
In my view, Thomas has been a great justice, believing he should uphold the meaning of the Constitution instead of what some gods in human clothing think it should mean, and writing in plain, decipherable English instead of legalese signifying nothing. He is a noble, honorable human being who rose high from humble beginnings to foul play — “a high tech lynching for uppity blacks,” he called the hearings — before his opportunity to bless America.
With assistance from Biden, Anita Hill could have destroyed his contributions with nothing to back her up, and even if you do not like Thomas, do you think that is how our government should work?
It’s still happening.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.