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My Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir By: David Forsmark
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, November 23, 2007

My Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir
By Clarence Thomas
Harper, $26.95, 289 pp.

The mainstream media are after Clarence Thomas again — not that they've really let up these past 16 years. Any time Justice Thomas reappears in the public eye, the Left and its willing accomplices start tying a knot in their high-tech rope.

The occasion this time is the publication of Thomas’ transcendent memoir, My Grandfather’s Son. True to form, the media -- which are still befuddled, not to mention angered, by the concept that a black conservative exists -- are following a manufactured storyline that plays off a racial stereotype.

In the past, the Left has tried painting Thomas as the animalistic black man who can’t control his sexual urges, the intellectually inferior black man who’s in over his head with the brains on the Supreme Court, the subservient Uncle Tom who votes to reward his white masters. Now they want to remake his image into a cliché of Black Rage.

In nearly every story about Thomas’ book, from The New York Times to The Today Show, the word "anger" is featured as part of an echo chamber-- much in the same darkly comic way Dick Cheney’s "gravitas" was endlessly repeated in order to focus on George W. Bush’s supposed lack of same in 2000.

The Times even gave Anita Hill op-ed space to reply to Thomas’s "latest fusillade" though she is a very minor character in the book, and the people who used her take far more hits from Thomas’s account. (Interestingly, only 60 Minutes, which can usually be relied upon to provide a liberal hit job, did not run with the jackals on this story.)

Once again, the truth about Clarence Thomas is the exact opposite of the media narrative. If anything, My Grandfather’s Son is an explicit rejection of anger -- both personal and political -- as something that is damaging to the soul.

A Freudian psychologist might be tempted to find a tacit admission in the media coverage of Thomas’ book that rage would be justified on his part. They know perfectly well that their attempt to slowly strangle the spirit of the good and decent man who narrowly escaped the political lynching they had planned, is manifestly unfair. In any ordinary person, overwhelming bitterness would be the likely result.

After all, taking potshots at Thomas is a required touchstone to be a member in good standing of the Vast Leftwing Conspiracy. There are your insufferable prigs like Jeffery Toobin. He claims to know what’s going on inside Thomas’s head, but when pressed by Laura Ingraham, he had to admit that even though he has a current bestseller about the Supreme Court, he’s never interviewed Thomas.

Then there are political hacks like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. -- who can’t even accurately read the transcript of a Rush Limbaugh show--but claims that Thomas’ opinions are "poorly written." When pressed, he can’t name one of Thomas' opinions.

The cumulative effect of this coordinate smear job is to make the term "Clarence Thomas" a slur, rather than a name. So you get pop culture pap like TV’s Friends getting into the act with an apology about a "sexist" comment beginning, "I didn’t mean to be Clarence Thomas," as though it’s as an accepted a truth as using "Benedict Arnold" to mean traitor.

Even Bill Cosby, who is promoting the kind of values that Thomas’ grandfather imbued him, with can’t afford to have an association with the man so tarred by the liberal elites. Coz bristles when Larry King points out the similarity in their messages, calling Thomas "brother-lite" and saying, "He doesn’t want to help anybody."

But even after all the smears and hit jobs, when given his platform to set the record straight, the person Thomas is hardest on in My Grandfather’s Son is … Clarence Thomas.

Dropped with their hard-working grandparents in Savannah, Ga., by an overwhelmed mother and abandoned by a father they saw only a few times, Thomas and his brother, Miles, were greeted by their grandfather, Myers "Daddy" Anderson, with the words, "The damn vacation is over."

But other than a fairly carefree schedule, Clarence had not been living a life of ease as a 6-year-old in Pinpoint, Ga. Among the new luxuries of Daddy’s house was indoor plumbing. Tough love and a Catholic education became the dominant features of this new life. It was at Catholic school, Thomas writes, that he first heard it said in public that blacks and whites were equal.

Daddy believed in hard work and didn't have much use for child labor laws. "Once, years later, I got up the nerve to tell him that slavery was over," Thomas remembers. "Not in my house," was Daddy’s reply.

An excellent student, Thomas was never satisfied with his own performance or confident he had done enough. This was, perhaps, a weakness of Daddy’s child-rearing methods, as he never allowed himself to express pride in any of young Clarence’s achievements. He did, however, immediately kick Clarence to the curb when he briefly dropped out of college.

Thomas the memoirist expresses regret he did so little later in life to make up for the tension and resentment between him and Daddy, and he takes most of the blame. Most readers will cut him more slack than he does for himself.

Later, Thomas expresses shock at what an indulgent grandparent Daddy was to Clarence’s son, Jamal. "As far as Daddy was concerned, Jamal could do no wrong." He demanded an explanation.

"Tell me something, Daddy, you never make Jamal do anything he doesn't want to do. You let him do whatever he wants. You do whatever he asks you to do. But you never treated Miles and me that way. Why not?"

His grandfather replied, "Jamal is not my responsibility."

"It really was as simple as that," Thomas continues. "Daddy had to raise us, but he only had to enjoy Jamal, so he kissed and hugged him." Thomas realizes, "how hard it had been for him to hide his affection from us. … How often had he longed to hold us, hug us, grant our every wish, but held himself back for fear of letting us see his vulnerability, believing as he did that real love demanded not affection but discipline?"

Thomas gained from his grandfather a dogged determination to persevere and a genuine desire to do the right thing — even if it took him a while to figure out what that meant.

He flirted with radicalism, noting that the first time he went to Washington, D.C., it was to protest the Vietnam War. Thomas, however, always stopped short of participating in violent protest or the fashionable anti-Americanism of the day. Despite the segregation of Savannah, Daddy always loved America, and he passed that on to his grandson.

Thomas married a woman he did not love -- though he admired her greatly -- because he’d made her pregnant. He was determined he would not abandon his child the way his own father had. Thomas takes all the blame for the failure of his marriage and is unsparing in his accounts of his despair and drinking.

Thomas reveals the enormous pressure of being a black man working for a Republican, even a well-regarded moderate like Missouri Sen. John Danforth. Thomas was not yet a conservative, but his independent mind was in the process of rejecting the collectivist victim mentality of liberalism.

Much has been made of Thomas’ intellectual conversion coming as the result of his reading of Thomas Sowell, the conservative black economist. While it’s true Sowell influenced his philosophical development, Thomas already had rejected the groupthink and condescending "solutions" of liberalism in favor of personal responsibility, thanks to his grandfather's convictions.

When President Reagan asked Thomas to take over the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the media immediately and regularly described Thomas as "controversial" though he had yet to make any decisions or public statements. In the end, he actually made the EEOC more effective in pursuing discrimination complaints.

Thomas thrived as a federal appeals court judge but was surprised when he found himself on the top of George H.W. Bush’s Supreme Court list.

My Grandfather’s Son is part Horatio Alger story, part intellectual journey, and, of course, it's ultimately a political story as it culminates with the infamous Senate hearings in which liberal interest groups and Senate Democrats tried to use Anita Hill to destroy Thomas.

Other than Thomas’s recounting of the mental trauma (which approached physical pain) of having the media and half of Washington's political establishment doing their damnedest to destroy one’s character in front of the whole nation, there is not a wealth of unknown detail in these final chapters.

I’d almost (thankfully) forgotten the utter creepiness of the late Sen. Howard Metzenbaum and the oily Boss Hogg condescension of flabby Sen. Howell Heflin, both of whom regularly produced cringe-worthy moments in a league with a Larry Craig news conference. Joe Biden’s weirdly, cheerfully shameless two-facedness gets a good going-over here, too.

Most people now refer to the Senate confirmation hearings by pairing Hill and Thomas’ names, but at the time, people overwhelmingly believed Thomas after he struck back with this classic statement:

"From my standpoint, as a black American, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree."

Thomas reveals that in his sleepless, exhausted state, he no longer cared whether he was confirmed, but he was determined not to go down without naming the wrong that was done to him. The statement was not part of the administration's effort to rescue the nomination. In fact, it was so contrary to the kind of make-nice advice all nominees get that Thomas thought it just as likely to sink his appointment.

Thomas poignantly compares his public crucifixion to the ordeal of Bigger Thomas in Richard Wright’s classic Native Son. He also quotes from a relevant passage of To Kill a Mockingbird:

"The witnesses for the state … have presented themselves … in the cynical confidence that their testimony would not be doubted, confident that you gentlemen would go along with them on the assumption — the evil assumption — that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women, an assumption that one associates with minds of their caliber."

But just as revealingly, Thomas calls the fight a "spiritual battle" and relates how his faith sustained him, thanks to the support of such friends as Jack Danforth (an ordained Episcopal minister before he was a senator) and his second wife, Virginia, who had helped Thomas return to the Catholic Church and personal devotion. Thomas writes movingly of the calls and letters of support from Christians who were praying for him.

Of course, Robert Bork, not Thomas, was the first Supreme Court nominee to get such abuse from the Democrats and the media, but they have, by now, largely have forgiven him -- because he lost. Bork's mistake was trying to engage the opposing senators in honest debate on the issues instead of fighting them tooth and nail on their own ground.

Thomas, on the other hand, can't be forgiven by the Left. Not only did he leave the liberal plantation for black Americans; but he also won by taking on his foes and exposing them for who they are.

And, once again, Thomas is winning the battle with the public. His book has far outsold liberal Jeffrey Toobin’s book on the Supreme Court and proves Thomas is an appealing and admirable American with an untapped wellspring of support in real America. He should get out more often.

My Grandfather’s Son is not only a book about a great American -- though Clarence Thomas would never call himself one -- but it also is a great American book. Make it the next thing you read.

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