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Obama, Thomas and Liberal Bias

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Sen. Barack Obama is highly intelligent, likeable, articulate (no racism intended), dynamic, well-educated and witty. He is receiving virtually worshipful coverage from the news media.

Now imagine the Republican presidential front runner is a highly intelligent, likeable, articulate, dynamic, well-educated and witty conservative. He is also black and formerly liberal. His name is Clarence Thomas.

What would be missing from the picture? The adoring mainstream media, for one. What would we find? The rank racist comments, cartoons, editorials, speeches, etc., reserved for black conservatives by liberals of all colors.

Obama and Thomas are about as far apart politically as it gets. If they were cities, you’d need satellite tracking to pinpoint both, and they wouldn’t be in Georgia.

But there are important similarities. Both were deserted by their fathers and were primarily reared by their grandparents. And both have written an autobiography.

The New York Review of Books provides some background on Obama:

He is the son of a Harvard-trained Kenyan economist and a white mother from Kansas, and he was raised in Hawaii mostly by his white maternal grandparents. His father returned to Kenya when he was two years old, and his parents divorced; he lived for a time with his mother, moving to Indonesia with her for five formative years, from age six to ten, when she married an Indonesian man. He returned to Hawaii with his mother, and now a little sister, and they lived together for three years as his mother pursued her master’s degree. But when she returned to Indonesia to do her fieldwork, young “Barry,” as he was often called then, chose to stay behind with his grandparents. He attended a private high school and, though his grandparents were far from rich, he had a life of relative comfort.

In his book, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, he tells his boyhood search for identity and the rage he felt as a young black man:

We were always playing on the white man's court … by the white man's rules,” he writes. “If the principal, or the coach, or a teacher … wanted to spit in your face, he could, because he had the power and you didn’t. … The only thing you could choose was withdrawal into a smaller and smaller coil of rage. And the final irony: should you refuse this defeat and lash out at your captors … they would have a name for that too. Paranoid. Militant.

You’d also need GPS technology to find any criticism of Obama’s “rage” or lashing out in the rave reviews of his book by the MSM:

All men live in the shadow of their fathers--the more distant the father, the deeper the shadow. Barack Obama describes his confrontation with this shadow in his provocative autobiography, Dreams from My Father, and he also persuasively describes the phenomenon of belonging to two different worlds, and thus belonging to neither. —New York Times Book Review

Fluidly, calmly, insightfully, Obama guides us straight to the intersection of the most serious questions of identity, class, and race. —Washington Post Book World.

Many American reviews of Dreams From My Father singled out the exceptional grace of Obama's prose, its honesty and freshness. Consciously or not, Obama has placed his book in a literary tradition of political prose that goes back to another master of the American language: Abraham Lincoln (Obama is the senator from Illinois, Lincoln's home state). —UK Guardian  

Thomas’s autobiography, My Grandfather’s Son, begins at his birth into the extreme poverty and hunger of tiny Pinpoint, Ga., and ends in “the American dream: a poor black child from the segregated South [grows] up to become a Supreme Court Justice.”

After his father moved north, leaving his young mother to raise him and his siblings on the $10. a week she earned as a maid, she sent him and his brother, with all of their belongings “stuffed into a pair of grocery bags,” to live with her father and step-mother in their modest home in Savannah, Ga. The boys worked 12 hour days on their grandparents’ farm when other kids enjoyed the lazy days of summer.

His grandparents taught them the virtues of hard work, love of God and country, self-reliance, honesty, and the importance of a good education. Thomas’s hard work and excellent grades earned him a scholarship to Holy Cross University and a law degree from Yale, after he declined Harvard’s offer.

Thomas dedicated the book to his mother, “who gave me life,” and his grandparents, “who taught me how to live.”

Thomas also shares his transformation from liberal to conservative, which included intense interaction with Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams and other conservatives, black and white. Thomas also makes his case against those who would confine black Americans to liberal orthodoxy, as he did at his contentious confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

He provides the ultimate insider’s view of his confirmation ordeal in the last chapter. Although I watched the hearing and have read extensively about it, I hadn’t nearly appreciated the impact of what he suffered until learning about his life’s journey from obscure poverty in the segregated south.

Black journalist Juan Williams denounced the viciousness directed at Thomas’s nomination in an op-ed in The Washington Post:

Here is indiscriminate, mean-spirited mudslinging supported by the so-called champions of fairness: liberal politicians, unions, civil rights groups and women’s organizations. They have been mindlessly led into mob action against one man by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. … In pursuit of abuses by a conservative president the liberals have become abusive monsters. Thomas, p. 274.

Other than an objective review by Jan Crawford Greenburg, author of Supreme Conflict, other MSM reviews focus on a “sullen, angry man” who’s “evening the score”:

The Justice Looks Back and Settles Old Scores. … Justice Thomas, recounting his years in government, adopts a defensive crouch, lashing out at his enemies, reopening old wounds and itemizing insults that should be forgotten. —William Grimes, The New York Times

Justice Thomas Lashes Out in Memoir: Book Attacks Liberals and the Media, Breaks Near-Silence on Anita Hill. … Thomas settles scores in an angry and vivid forthcoming memoir, scathingly condemning the media, the Democratic senators who opposed his nomination to the Supreme Court, and the “mob” of liberal elites and activist groups that he says desecrated his life. —Robert Barnes, Michael A. Fletcher and Kevin Merida, The Washington Post

Jeffrey Toobin, author of a recent book about the Supreme Court, describes in a review published in The New Yorker how Thomas’s career looks like a model of how affirmative action is supposed to work, but that isn’t how Thomas sees it.” The review, entitled “Unforgiven: Why is Clarence Thomas so angry?,” is accompanied by one of The New Yorker's famous illustrations. This one: a caricature of a “seething” Thomas. (See analysis by Scott Douglas Gerber.) 

The Supreme Court justice lambastes liberals and those who challenged his confirmation. … Thomas is “the most polarizing justice” and has written “a polarizing memoir” that is a “furious assault on liberalism.” —Edward Lazarus, The Los Angeles Times   

Thomas certainly expresses his anger, but most of it is directed not at individuals, but at failed policies and practices that have harmed him and other minorities. If he didn’t express some anger, his critics would undoubtedly accuse him of dishonesty about his true feelings. If you assassinate a man’s character, call him a liar, accuse him of violating the law he was charged to enforce, you should expect some heat. But Lazarus misses the forgiveness Thomas has expressed for those who aroused his anger and his confession of pride.

I had the privilege of meeting Justice Thomas at the White House swearing-in ceremony of Justice Samuel Alito on Feb. 1, 2006. A gregarious spirit, infectious smile, and booming laugh are rarely the traits of an “angry, sullen man.”

After finishing his book, I felt an even greater appreciation for the man who wears well the mantle of great accomplishment. It is an intensely personal revelation of tragedy and triumph, sin and repentance, and personal accountability. And when he took the time to write me a personal letter on the occasion of my retirement, he confirmed my belief that he cares about common people.

Sen. Obama has won Democratic primary races in states that are primarily white. I think that says something very good about the decline of racism in America. When he spoke in Kansas about the white side of his family, thankfully, there were no cries of “Oreo” or other racial slurs. On Super Tuesday, he won the primary in Kansas.

Won’t it be wonderful when racism declines to the point that a black conservative has an equal chance to achieve the American dream without experiencing a nightmare at the hands of “abusive monsters?

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