WASHINGTON. — I am terribly worried that Clarence Thomas will be confirme to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. It horrifies me that the country might have to endure 40 years of opinions of a black man who has shown no sense of compassion for the needs of the poor, who hasn't the guts to acknowledge that ''self-help'' isn't enough in a milieu of institutionalized racism, and who embraces heartless legalisms where the abortion and other rights of women are at issue.
But I think that Mr. Thomas will be confirmed because his nomination is a very deft political move by President Bush.
Choosing a black conservative to replace Justice Thurgood Marshall has divided black America. It has won Mr. Bush and Judge Thomas the support of Republican conservatives who in normal circumstances wouldn't give a black man the sweat off their brows. It has given Mr. Bush protection against cries that his administration is racist and anti-poor in its ranting cries of ''quota bill'' in opposing the civil-rights legislation pending in Congress.
How convenient for Mr. Bush to have the embrace of a black man who rails not only against ''quotas'' but also affirmative action and most every other governmental and private effort to ++ redress years of racial discrimination.
President Bush must take pleasure in noting that while Prof. Derrick Bell at Harvard says he is ''appalled'' and ''insulted'' by .. the nomination of Judge Thomas, other blacks are saying that no one ought to ''pick on'' this 43-year-old black judge because ''any black man on the Supreme Court is better than any white man,'' as one black talk show host here put it.
If blacks can't mount a united front against Judge Thomas, few white senators are going to vote against him. Especially when Bush has gotten Sen. John Danforth, the highly respected Missouri Republican for whom Mr. Thomas once worked, to lead the campaign for confirmation.
Many blacks are agonizing over the question whether Judge Thomas is a sellout, a more effective enemy of black people than even the worst white racist. I don't know the answer to that, but it is too risky, with too much at stake, for me to urge this nomination forward. It is more prudent to fear that a black conservative will do more damage to those striving to achieve racial and social justice than all the white conservatives on the court combined.
I noticed a Los Angeles Times survey showing that executives at nine of the ten largest industrial corporations in the United States have rejected the Bush ''quotas'' cries and said that the civil-rights bill pending in Congress poses no significant problems for their hiring and promotion practices. IBM, General Motors, Exxon, Ford, Mobil, Texaco, du Pont, Chevron and General Electric executives refused to embrace the Bush scare tactics. Many other corporations have made it clear that their affirmative-action programs have been good for the companies and great for America.
But how long can these executives take the heat that comes from doing something right regarding race and sex if a black Supreme Court justice is attacking affirmative action?
This Bush nomination may be slick and shrewd politically, but it ++ could not have been designed to help a society that already is dangerously polarized.
7+ Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.