Time for Thomas to set aside script, speak from heart


October 09, 1991|By ROGER SIMON

George Bush tells dirty jokes to women.

I know this because a woman, who has heard such jokes from his lips, told me so. She even told me what some of the jokes were.

When I printed them in a book last year, it did not cause a great stir. The journalists who cover Bush have heard these jokes for years.

There is one significant difference between the dirty jokes Bush tells to women, however, and the ones he tells to men.

"He would make sure the jokes were not sexist," the woman said. "It struck me that in the dirty jokes Bush told around women, it was always the man who was the butt of the joke. He seemed careful about that."

Which means that George Bush is a careful and smart man. A lot more careful and smart, it appears, than his Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas.

One cannot equate what Bush does to what Thomas is said to have done. But a dirty joke, under certain circumstances, can be considered sexual harassment. Any physical or verbal act that creates a hostile atmosphere can be considered sexual harassment. Putting pinup pictures in the workplace can be considered sexual harassment.

Clarence Thomas knows all about these rules. Yet, a former employee of his, Anita Hill, says he repeatedly asked her for dates, explicitly described his sexual interests and described scenes from dirty movies including rape and sex with animals.

In a sworn statement issued yesterday, Thomas denied any wrongdoing. And, as Thomas' supporters point out, Hill never filed any charges against Thomas, switched jobs to stay with him, accepted professional help from him, and waited 10 years to talk about the allegations.

And had Anita Hill come across the TV screen as vengeful or self-promoting, her charges would have gone nowhere.

Instead, Anita Hill came across the tube as a sincere and honest woman, obviously torn by having to go public with these charges.

Before I saw the videotape of her press conference, I was saying what a lot of people were saying: Why did she wait so long to talk? Why didn't she quit or complain? Why didn't she come forward when Thomas had to be confirmed as a federal judge?

A colleague told me to hold my horses. "You haven't seen the press conference yet," he said. "Just wait."

And so I watched the press conference. And my colleague was right. I think it is impossible to watch Anita Hill and believe she is lying.

Is it fair to judge the truth of what Hill says by her performance on TV? Yes, in part. At trials, judges tell juries they may consider the witnesses' demeanor, the way they speak and look, in considering whether they are telling the truth or lying.

But could Thomas remember the events of 10 years ago completely differently and deny them with the same sincerity as Hill?

Yes, that is possible.

And if these allegations had received a full airing and a full response, we might know more about what each participant did and did not do.

But the Senate Judiciary Committee did not provide that full hearing, even though committee members knew of Hill's charges before they voted on Thomas.

Some say the reason is sexism (all the committee members are male), and I think that contributed. But I think there was another reason, too.

These accusations, coming from the lips of the alleged victim, are shocking enough. But had a senator first brought them up without having Hill around to back him up, I think you would have seen a mushroom cloud form over Capitol Hill.

Not only would Thomas' supporters have cried foul, but some of the blacks who now oppose Thomas might have rallied to him. The Judiciary Committee is not only all male, it also is all white. And these accusations, coming from anyone but Hill herself, might have seemed a viciously low blow.

Don't forget that after the indictment and conviction of former Washington Mayor Marion Barry, a number of black leaders said there was a conspiracy by the white power structure of this country to destroy black officials.

And no white senator wanted to be the first one to say: "By the way, Judge Thomas, did you ever bring up sex with animals to your female employees?"

Don't raise the issue and you might get accused of sexism. Be the first to raise the issue and you might get accused of racism. It wasn't tough for the senators to choose the former over the latter.

At its most basic, this whole affair is one person's word against another's.

But we have not heard Thomas' word. We have only his affidavit and senators saying that they have talked to him on the telephone and that he denies wrongdoing.

And that is not good enough.

I want Clarence Thomas to get up on television and give his version of events and answer questions just like Anita Hill did.

That is what his public hearing before tthe Judiciary Committee was supposed to be about. But it didn't turn out that way.

Instead, the participants played their parts politely. Now, Anita Hill has halted the charade. And it is time for Clarence Thomas to stand up and speak from his heart rather than from the script.

He owes that to the nation.

And one last thing. A suggestion for George Bush:

Just to be on the safe side, I'd switch to knock-knock jokes.

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