PRESIDENT Bush's nomination of Judge Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court has prompted vehement, sometimes reckless denunciations from the political left.
Patricia Ireland, executive vice president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), labeled Thomas an "extremist." Harvard law professor Derrick Bell accused Bush of "gross tokenism in the appointment of a black who is a conservative and shares the views of upper-class whites." Ellen Convisser, president of NOW's Massachusetts chapter, and Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder expressed serious concern that Thomas might be too Catholic. Feminist attorney Flo Kennedy said of Thomas, "We must kill him politically," and Arthur Kropp, president of People for the American Way, said he "could hardly imagine a more troubling choice" for the high court.
What may trouble Kropp and company most is the fact that Thomas was born black and poor in the heart of the segregated South. Yet without benefit of quotas, set-asides or special privileges, he rose above it. But why are the liberals hurling such attacks at Thomas, a man who humbly said when accepting Bush's nomination to the court, "As a child, I never dreamed I would see the Supreme Court, much less be nominated to it"?
The answer lies not in the fact that Thomas would drastically change the direction of the court. After three landslide elections of presidents who promised to put conservative justices on the Supreme Court, a majority committed to upholding the Constitution and letting the democratic process decide political issues already is in place. No, the real reason activist liberals oppose Thomas is because he affirms those values they have attacked for the last 30 years, standing firmly against the dehumanizing racial politics of quotas, affirmative action and other "group remedies" sponsored by the left.
Indeed, with Thomas on the high court, the political debate might fundamentally change in the United States. We might, after all, be able to rise above the divisive politics of race and gender and debate such fundamentals as individual liberty vs. government power and personal responsibility vs. group entitlements.
Though Thomas would join a conservative majority already on the court, he would add one entirely new dimension: He would challenge the "moral monopoly" the left has exercised over blacks, other minorities and women. The monopoly view is to classify people according to their alleged group "victimization" status, and then present each group as a monolith in its thinking, allowing for no differences or debate.
The left seems to think that no one, except a white male, is capable of succeeding on his or her own, so it demands that group members be awarded rights and handouts based only on their group membership, not on any individual initiative or merit. The civil rights and feminist establishment base their political agendas on such views.
The problem for the left is that Thomas threatens to expose such follies. Soon, an African-American of humble origins might be sitting on the highest court in the land, interpreting, upholding and honoring the Constitution -- proclaiming, if his previous writings are any indication, that the best way to overcome discrimination and bias is not to advance it through race-based government action, but to apply the law equally to all individuals. The left is afraid that Thomas has escaped from the liberal plantation and will now shed light on the lies used to keep minorities and women enslaved there.
For too long, debate in the United States has been dominated by self-appointed group spokesmen. Thomas' presence on the high court would open debate by focusing new attention on individuals who don't think like their group "leaders" say they should, and then emboldening them to become part of the political process.
The liberals should be apprehensive; with more issues returned to the American people to be decided through democratic means, and the political process opened up to debate from new and different voices, many liberals will find themselves without "groups" to speak for.
Betsy Hart is director of lectures and seminars at the Heritage D Foundation in Washington.