Senator Reid only betrays his ignorance

Posted: Dec 13, 2004 12:00 AM

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid disparaged Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, calling him ?an embarrassment to the Supreme Court? during a recent appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press." The remarks came amid speculation that Justice Thomas might be promoted to the nation?s highest judicial position.

Tellingly, Reid?s critique was short on details. No mention was made of any actual decisions by Justice Thomas. In all likelihood, Reid has never even read an opinion by Justice Thomas. So let?s all this what it is: a desperate attention grab by a neophyte politician who is trying to fatten himself on an easy target.

I say easy target because I was around during Thomas? 1991 confirmation hearings. I remember that black Americans overwhelmingly supported his nomination. I was told about the focus group meetings where the Democrats discovered that they could discredit Thomas by focusing on his marriage to a white woman, and by labeling him unqualified. After that, every time a Democrat appeared on TV, references to Thomas? white wife and charges that he was unqualified poured out of their mouths. The Democrats tapped into a latent river of racism. It worked. Everyone was suddenly willing to believe that this black man was some sort of pitiful mental defective.

Even black Americans participated. So much so that a decade later the mere mention of the name Justice Clarence Thomas generates derisive snorts from American blacks. Much of the aversion stems from Thomas? opposition to racial and gender preferences.

Sadly, these attacks have little relation to reality. Thomas believes that protecting individual rights, rather than legislating group rights best serve genuine human equality. As the Chairman of the EEOC, this meant vigilantly pursuing claims of discrimination. As a Supreme Court Justice, it has meant eschewing the victim status that is inextricably bound up with racial and gender based quotas. Though Thomas has lauded civil rights activists for pushing issues relating to discrimination into the mainstream, he also noted that ?the [rights] revolution missed a larger point by merely changing their status from invisible to victimized.?

With these remarks Justice Thomas has attempted to strive for dignity and genuine change. His willingness to embrace the complex social problems before him?rather than simply saying we?re owed reparations-- is a lot more thoughtful than anything Senator Reid has ever whistled out of his mouth.

Yet, there is Senator Reid on TV dismissing Thomas with these infuriatingly reductive comments. Sadly, many Americans agree with him. Not because Reid is right. But because such remarks give the latent racists in our society an excuse to say about black conservatives what they think about all black people.

Of course, Senator Reid would never say such reductive and latently racist things about Jesse Jackson or Al Shaprton. Why? These men certainly are not our best and brightest. But they?re the ones that are elevated. Meanwhile those black people who are smart enough to form their own unique views on complex social circumstances are savaged. Everyone laughs when newspapers run comics comparing Condoleezza Rice to Aunt Jemima. People bob their heads in agreement when Harry Belafonte calls Colin Powell an Uncle Tom. No one talks about how this is the first time in this country?s history that a black man is in charge of worldwide diplomacy or a black woman in charge of keeping us secure. That is profound, but all we get from people like Reid are derisive snorts. And everyone gives him a free pass because his remarks are directed at black conservatives. This never happens with white people. They only reserve this treatment for black people. Hispanic appointees aren?t marginalized like this. No one dared call Miguel Estrada a sell-out. But when the Black Commentator called Judge Janice Rogers Brown a ?Jim Crow era judge in natural blackface," no one batted an eye.

Senator Reid?s remarks about Justice Thomas are no different than using the "N-word" to sum up an individual. This needs to end now.