America Affronted

October 14, 1991

Senate mishandling of Judge Clarence Thomas' nomination to the Supreme Court is an affront to the United States of America and to the standards of decency, civility and fairness for which it stands. Millions of citizens, regardless of their feelings on confirmation, are rightly upset that their nation has been humiliated in this way.

Gross language purveyed into every American home, even on a Saturday morning when children are used to watching TV. Admitted violation of Senate committee rules and privacy rights in the leak of confidential information. A Senate committee which had access to Professor Anita F. Hill's testimony against Judge Thomas yet was willing to pass it by until the Senate panicked out of political fear. Blatant partisanship from the White House to Capitol Hill on the most important judicial selection a president can make. Advocacy groups on both sides willing to resort to any means.

One can argue that public sensitivity has been raised to the dangers of sexual harassment and, conversely, to the injustice to anyone falsely charged. But at what price?

For black Americans, this whole spectacle must be especially painful. Here you have two African Americans who have risen out of poverty to high and respected positions in the law now challenging one another's veracity, on the explosive subject of sexual behavior, before a panel of 14 white males. It is bound to generate intense feelings that, regardless of the outcome, black Americans have once again have been exploited or demeaned.

The cause of American liberalism is at issue. Out of frustration at conservative control of the Supreme Court, some advocacy groups have adopted techniques contrary to liberal principles. Conservatives named to the high court can expected to be pilloried for their ideology, as in the case of Judge Robert Bork, or on the highly personal grounds, as in the case of Judge Thomas, or for anything else that comes to hand.

Well, let the liberals beware. After the excesses of McCarthyism, rightwing extremists had to give ground to Republican moderates who eventually provided the swing votes for passage of the great civil rights bills of the 1960s. Let President Bush beware as well. His provocative nominations are roiling the country at a time when good sense and moderation are needed to deal with recession at home and vastly changed circumstances abroad.

Judiciary Committee chairman Joseph Biden, in a spirited defense of the way he has dealt with the Thomas nomination, dared to compare it to the hurly-burly of American democracy. The process might not be perfect, he argued, but it is better than any alternative. Wrong. There can be no excuse for Senate conduct in defiance of the rights of individuals and the sensibilities of the nation.

America has been defiled by what has happened, its citizens outraged and disgusted. A government that loses the respect of the citizenry is a government in trouble.

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