Did Hill do the right thing?

Dan Rodricks

October 14, 1991|By Dan Rodricks

Does anyone here believe Anita Hill came forward with her story about Clarence Thomas because it was the right thing to do?

Or are we just a bunch of jaded jackals, as politically cynical and hard-bitten as those magnificent men who brought us Willie Horton? Maybe we're tired. Maybe we're sick of seeing fine public servants destroyed in fires they themselves kindled. We could still be suffering a kind of people's post-traumatic stress syndrome.

It's possible we still haven't recovered from Vietnam, Watergate, Koreagate and Abscam, as well as the series of failed presidencies that led to the two terms of Ronald Reagan -- and Iran-contra and the savings-and-loan mess and a gargantuan deficit that is smothering our future.

Maybe we're burned out. It's understandable. It explains low voter turnouts and the public's dark opinion of politicians.

Still, we want to believe. We want to believe in the system and the men who run it.

We want to believe that the president of the United States would never nominate anyone but the finest, brightest person of the highest integrity to the Supreme Court.

So what do I hear America saying after listening to Anita Hill's impeccable testimony and her description of a classic case of sexual harassment?

"Enough! Don't tell us anymore!! If we want scandal, we'll watch 'Hard Copy'!"

This country can't take it anymore. It wishes Anita Hill had never shown up. That's why Clarence Thomas scored big in the polls the other night. His angry and hyperbolic blast at the Senate Judiciary Committee -- likening this ugly and, for Thomas, devastating proceeding to a "lynching" -- was well-received in a nation that has been numbed by political scandal.

We don't want another fine man going down in flames. We don't want the president humiliated. We don't want dirty laundry out in public -- even if it belongs to a man who could spend the next 30 years making the law of the land.

No, Anita. Go away. We don't want any. Sexual harassment? Yeah, right. An important issue -- we'll take it up in committee.

The people who today do not believe Anita Hill -- the ones who, like Sen. Alan Simpson, remain in a quandary -- never wanted to believe her. They either wish she'd never posted or suspect she's a puppet of liberal politics, a torpedo launched by the left-wing mob. They can't bring themselves to believe that an American citizen might do something like this without first having signed a multimillion-dollar book-and-movie deal.

So -- if I could see that show of hands again -- does anyone here believe Anita Hill came forward with her story about Clarence Thomas because she felt it was the right thing to do?

It's a tough concept, I know.

By contrast, it's probably easier to believe, as Thomas' defenders want you to believe, that she's nuts. Or maybe you subscribe to the theory that she is schizophrenic. Or maybe she's delusional. Maybe she has a 10-year-old grudge against Thomas because he spurned her romantic entreaties and all of this is just Payback with a capital P. Do you like that theory?

Or, forget the pop psychology. Maybe it's just hard-ball politics.

Maybe Anita Hill, disciple of Robert Bork and Ronald Reagan, was recently converted, secretly joined the American Civil Liberties Union and worked up this elaborate story with the help of a liberal cabal. That would account for the "they" we heard so much about over the weekend -- as in "they will stop at nothing," or the mysterious "they" who set out to ruin Clarence Thomas, the "they" who found a reference to pubic hair in "The Exorcist," and the "they" who gave Anita Hill the name of a pornographic movie star to spice her testimony.

You see how this works?

The Thomasites on the Judiciary Committee cart this stuff before the nation because they know that, deep down, we are a weary people, tired of scandal, eager to trust in our institutions again and anxious to believe that the man our president nominated to the highest court in the land did not talk dirty to an attractive young woman in his charge.

"I think that this hearing should never occur in America," Clarence Thomas cried. Perhaps I give the judge more credit than he deserves, but he might have been betting that his outrage would appeal to an American public that has been spiritually debilitated by a long siege of political scandal and failure. It was probably a good bet.

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