Monday, October 22, 2007

Jim Wooten on Clarence Thomas

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Justice Thomas landed the right job for himself — and America

By Jim Wooten | Friday, October 19, 2007, 08:47 PM

But for the failure of any law firm in Savannah or Atlanta to offer him a job out of Yale Law School, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas would likely have wound up as a tax lawyer working corporate finance in the bowels of a big Southern law firm.

Praise thee, rejection.

“I didn’t go to law school thinking about living in New York or living in D.C.,” Thomas told The Atlanta Press Club last week. “I wanted to come back to Savannah” to work with the now-dissolved law firm of former state Rep. Bobby Hill. Though memories differ on whether the firm offered him a job upon his graduation from Yale, Thomas remembers rejection there and among the big firms in Atlanta. “That was a time of dashed hope and expectations and frustration,” he said. “To say I was frustrated is an understatement. I was absolutely despondent about it. It was one of those times I got to see just how difficult it was to deal with rejection.”

Critics hear Thomas talk about such memories and hear an angry and bitter man at the top of the world with a chip on his shoulder. That is not, frankly, the man who showed up in Atlanta last week, either at the press club luncheon or later at a book-signing sponsored by the Federalist Society and the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, both organizations that would champion the originalist philosophy Thomas brings to the court. At the Federalist-Heritage event, an adoring crowd of 900 people stood in a line that snaked around the walls of a banquet-size room waiting for a signed copy of “My Grandfather’s Son,” a remembrance of his grandparents’ life lessons.

It’s unfortunate that more of the Thomas critics don’t see — or actually hear — the man behind the caricature they have created. Thomas is, in my view, among the most wronged of the honorable public figures in American life. While there’s no value in revisiting his confirmation, the truth is that it was a smear directed at a man who held the “wrong” views for his skin color. He was the collateral damage of the abortion wars. He was asked at both events about the Anita Hill episode and why he’d revisited it in the book. “Well, if I left it out you would be asking me the opposite,” he told the press club.

Listening to a Southerner residing elsewhere talk about place, and the good people who lived there, is to feel an immediate affinity — as Georgians undoubtedly would with Thomas.

“So much written about the South and places like Savannah is written through the prism of what was wrong,” said Thomas. “Of course there was lots that was wrong. I don’t have to go over that. We all know. It was the ’40s and the ’50s and the ’60s. But there’s a lot that was good.

“Out in Liberty County, the family members there out on the farm, these people were good people. There was something about them. There was no sort of vision. There was no notion that they would be doing any more than the sort of hard labor that they had been assigned to, or had been assigned to them. And yet, they endured, they persevered and they stayed positive.

“There was something that needed to be said about them.” Over the years, he said, “I have thought that my grandparents were saying ‘remember us.’ This book is to leave a record of that. …”

“I would hope there is in this book something that would give hope to this young man sitting here or to someone who is going through struggle. Maybe there’s something when they’re sitting down and studying math and it’s hard and they can see that doors will be opened for me, or someone who has a disability, or someone who has a financial challenge, they can say, ‘look, it is going to be OK if I keep at it.’ “

A bitter man? That is, I think, a fantasy of the left, of critics who can never acknowledge that their political basis for trying to destroy his professional life was cheap and frivolous.

We can return later to the newsworthy observations, to his judicial philosophy, to the accounts of life on the bench.

But for this day, the man before us is a Southerner remembering home and people and place. “It’s home,” he said. “I truly miss home. … I left here, and I was trying when I stopped in Washington, D.C., in 1979, I was trying to get home.”

I am torn. No true Southerner who’s ever lived elsewhere could fail to understanding the yearnings to come back. I do. But he now serves America — and I want him there, on the U.S. Supreme Court, for always.

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