October 17, 2007

If you’ve ever been around when some sewage tank backed up and the cascade of merde flowed in rivers, it’s as good a time as any to be glad it was Hercules, not you, who got the task of cleaning up the Augean stables.  Trouble is, granting the malodorous sludge in which, ah, the “€œculture”€ has forced us all to swim these past forty years, it’d be nice should a god drop by to take it on, though this may be a labor only the real One can handle.  Alas, He seems disposed to let it keep doing, so to say, its purgative work, or at least ‘til He finds ten good men with enough moxie to begin the rinsing.

All of which makes it, if mixed, nonetheless a joy inestimable to be reminded of a time some two decades past when the spigots septic were unleashed whole throttle at a man surely greater than Hercules; for not only did Clarence Thomas take the full brunt of cultural mire and withstand it, he did so by sheer dint of an almost Leonidas-like manhood.  When Thomas rose to confront the assault, few had much memory of the virtue, so it was quite stunning when he did it, but as he makes the rounds on the chat shows to discuss his memoir My Grandfather’s Son it is no less startling now.  However imposing, not to say elusive, a quality manhood always is, perhaps it rings more vivid still when the paragons don’t just hate it, but have lost the residue even to grasp what it is they hate.

One need not belabor the form it took about a week before Thomas had dodged the regular obstacles, savage enough as to that, and was headed toward an easy confirmation to our Court Supreme by the U.S. Senate. Accordingly a contract hit was contrived, of extraordinary foulness, though since FBI investigators saw through it the contractors had to organize their mobs and leak it to their minions in a frantic last stab to block the confirmation—which almost worked.

To be sure, the charges flung, as charges, were simply false and everybody knew it, not least the people who flung them, and fling them still.  “We thought anything was justified,” as one of them put it, because his confirmation would mean “our access to abortion and sex was under attack.”  All that was manifest, though to wrap up as to evidence, it need simply to be recalled that Thomas had worked with literally hundreds of women in the course of his career, not one of whom had even a remote experience of his accuser’s charges: and that, without exception, every single woman who had known and worked with both testified, under oath, that of course the claims were snake oil, because Thomas had never allowed even the “slightest hint of impropriety and everyone knew it.”

But that it was all, to his enemies, the “extravagant fiction” Thomas named it was of course beside the point.  Unleashing sludge before a Senate Committee and twenty million television viewers about bestiality and pubic hair—explained not in the original deposition incidentally, albeit of course in front of the cameras, and taken all but neat from a scene in the novel The Exorcist—ought to have been sufficient to block the confirmation just because it was all so fetid, quite apart from whether it was true.  That it would teach the boy his salutary lesson was no doubt an additional pleasure, though far more important, as Thomas would most dramatically explain, was the age-old message to anyone else—white or black one may observe—tempted to challenge the denizens of Empire.

They made one error.  They had assaulted not an apparat, but a man, and it is worth another look at how the man responded.

Rejecting all the political handlers once the assault came, Thomas stood alone before the Judiciary Committee hitmen, and with a passion surely never before or since seen in that medium, testified that “something has happened to me in the dark days that have followed since the FBI informed me of these allegations. From the very beginning charges were leveled against me from the shadows – of drug abuse, anti-Semitism, wife-beating, drug use by family members, that I was a quota appointment, confirmation conversion, and much, much, more, and now this.”

It “is a case in which this sleaze, this dirt was searched for by staffers of members of this committee, was then leaked to the media, and this committee and this body validated it and displayed it at prime time over our entire nation. You spent the entire day destroying what it has taken me 43 years to build. The Supreme Court is not worth it.  No job is worth it.  I’m not here for that.  I’m here for my name, my family, my life, and my integrity,” for this “is a national disgrace, a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow, this is what will happen to you.  You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree.”

Well, the story has the magnitude Aristotle demands, though had it been fiction perhaps only Faulkner could have done it justice.  Confronted with it—and perhaps the polls that showed Americans rejected the slanders by more than two to one—the Senate capitulated despite a 57-43 Democrat Senate majority; and Thomas was confirmed in the closest Senate vote for a Justice in American history.  Still, if the immediate – prime objective of the hitmen failed, others were achieved, since his enemies have made a point of employing openly racist tropes about him—to snigger at the “€œn*gger”€ so to say—whenever they got the chance; but let us note especially because, as they feared – and as an ABC News study recently confessed—“his judicial opinions reveal a powerful voice extraordinary in scope and intensity.”
Ah, but the fallout from the assault was at least this successful, in that two years before it Justice Anthony Kennedy had voted against Roe v. Wade, but six months after it showed he’d learned his lesson, and dutifully became the decisive, indeed the very author, of the vote that upheld it: so in the end, if indirectly, the hit had achieved its chief social purpose.  Meanwhile the Maureen Dowds of the land will continue to lament being unable to find a man, even as they defer to their eunuchs by spitting at a real one, just as the Jeffrey Toobins will scratch their heads and wonder why Thomas won’t accept the slime because, hey, Jeff would, and after all he got the plum job didn’t he?

Even so, since there is a God, and thus it matters what we do quite apart from the swill, there is rather more to Clarence Thomas than the political context through which his soul was revealed.  In this hemisphere, Thomas’s genetic line formally emerged seven generations ago, shortly after the united states became independent, when a man and his wife first appeared in Georgia’s Liberty County records, as property.  After emancipation their son, in his mid-fifties, bought 40 acres of land that had once belonged to his slavemasters; and he in turn witnessed the birth of the grandfather to whom Thomas would dedicate his book, as the Justice would, in a manner, his life.

My Grandfather’s Son is accordingly not simply a riveting tale, though it surely is. (According to the New York Times, Justice Thomas’s memoir has been purchased by more Americans than any other hardcover in the country. ) In showing a man who refuses to be degraded by the dead souls who run the show these days, it reminds of a standard older and more enduring than any passing Empire, one towards which the rest of us, still, remain free to aspire.

Richard Cowden Guido is a professional Gabriele D’Annunzio impersonator who resides in New York City.


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