I earlier emailed a letter to the editor of the Chicago Tribune. I took umbrage with a columnist who used the recent death of former Illinois Senator Alan Dixon to show a series of political cause/effects that resulted in Barack Obama becoming our current President. In short, Dixon, in 1990 was one of 11 Democratic senators who joined 41 Republican senators in voting to confirm Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court. Thomas, an African-American, was a troubling candidate, to say the least, but more on that later. The final count was 52-48 for confirmation, and the columnist says that, even if Dixon voted “nay”, it wouldn’t have changed the end result of Thomas being ok’d for a lifetime appointment to the Court.
The writer, Eric Zorn, an otherwise usually astute observer of reality, apparently was inclined to give Dixon some posthumous political cover for his controversial “yea” vote. The chain reaction Zorn invokes goes like this: a lot of Illinois women and others disgusted with Dixon’s vote caused him to lose his Senate seat to Carol Moseley Braun, a fellow Illinois democrat, in the 1992 mid-term elections. So inept was Braun that she then, after one term, in 1998, lost the seat to Republican Peter Fitzgerald who, believe-it-or-not, was so turned off by the means in which the political sausage was being ground out in D.C. that he didn’t run for re-election which, Zorn asserts, gave Barack Obama the opportunity to become a U.S. Senator in 2004, Fitzgerald’s decision having created some political chaos (Zorn’s assessment, not mine) by refusing to run for re-election. Ok. Following along?
What Mr. Zorn fails to note is that Mr.Obama’s election to national office in November of 2004 was preceded by his highly acclaimed Keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention, in August of 2004. That speech thrust Barack into a suddenly intense national political spotlight, and he made the most of it, with his eventual election to President in November of 2008. So, over an 18 year span, starting with the Senator Dixon “yea” vote and the ensuing repercussions it caused, Zorn’s column implies, if not overtly states, that the eventual election of Obama as President makes for some sort of happy ending to the initial turmoil generated by the controversial Thomas hearings. Alan Dixon, R.I.P. But you deserved to be thrown out of office for that tone-deaf vote.
Well, Eric Zorn can spin the Dixon=President Obama opinion piece his way, but I’m not inclined to consider President Obama’s tenure much of a success or worthy of even modest admiration. Admittedly, he has had the republicans stalling and/or obstructing virtually his every move, seemingly blaming him for every bit of negative news, from immigration to Syria to Iraq to Crimea to Grandpa Lester’s incontinence. Still, his “hope and change” campaign mantra quickly was shown to be something of a bait-and-switch as soon as he installed corporate political hacks and snake oil salesmen like Lawrence Summers and Tim Geithner to his Cabinet, the same guys whose financial policies eventually helped create the near-global financial meltdown of the late 2000’s and from which many working class Americans are still struggling to recover. Instead of using his short-lived veto-proof numbers in congress early in his tenure to push for the agenda that his ardent supporters were clamoring for, he squandered that opportunity while trying to play nice with those who obviously wanted to destroy him. President Obama, a nice enough man, is more like Capitulator-in-Chief when it comes to dealing with his ruthless political enemies than Commander-in-Chief. He brings a butter knife while his opposition uses chain saws. Man up, bro!
So, Mr.Zorn. Nice try, but here’s where those political dots you connect really lead to: back to the Thomas hearings of 1990, not to our current President. Have you noticed that Clarence, accused at the onset of his Senate hearing of being a serial sexual harasser while he ran the EEOC back when, is still on the Supreme Court? This in spite of Anita Hill, and other women who worked with Thomas giving sworn testimony during his hearing as to his repeated manner of creepiness. Those women were vilified and demonized by Thomas’ handlers, who then coached Clarence to declare he was being the victim of a media lynching.
Ironically, some say that today’s Republican party is clearly waging “a war on women,” and 24 years ago, Anita Hill was placed directly in the cross-hairs of a quickly mounted smear campaign with that “media lynching” a desperate gambit that, somehow, was swallowed by a pliant press and a weak-kneed Senate, especially those other 10 spineless democrats who joined Dixon in a vote “yea” for Clarence, in spite of his stench being bad enough that even two Republicans voted against him, and republicans usually don’t break ranks on such high-profile, big stakes, political showdowns. Yes, I see my conflict here in saying the Democrats should have been voting “NO” in unison, but I haven’t finished with Thomas, not the apparent pervert that my gut tells me he was, but Clarence, the jurist.
His debatable moral character aside, the there was his paltry judicial qualifications, which could be contained in one thin manila folder at the time. Thomas=President Obama may actually be an accurate assessment of history, writ small, but Mr.Zorn misses the really, not-so-happy, really big picture: Clarence Thomas is still on, and will remain on, the U.S. Supreme Court until he either dies or quits. Obama gets eight years (used not very forcibly). Thomas gets life! And what decisions has our dubious Clarence with his paltry legal qualifications helped foist upon our democracy and working class people? Citizens United for one: Corporations are “people” and money is “free speech”. Corrupt and perverse; and more recently, but equally radical, is the Hobby Lobby decision siding 5-4 in allowing the company owner’s religious beliefs to trump its female employees access to health care coverage provisions for contraceptives. Also, Thomas, who benefited from Affirmative Action policies earlier in his life, has voted against the same social policies in cases that make to the high court. Justice Hypocrite and Hypocreep. So, by a frequent 5-4 Supreme Court vote Thomas and his four fellow corporate, activist judges get to corrode and erode our Constitution and our democracy (what’s left of it). So, I stand by my assertion that Dixon deserved to be tossed out of office, and the other 10 as well. But we’re stuck with reality.
One more history lesson, Eric: Clarence Thomas was nominated by George H. Bush to specifically replace a legendary Justice who stood for racial and social equality for all, Thurgood Marshall. Marshall and Thomas may have the same skin color but couldn’t be less alike in their demonstrated sense of fairness and respect, for the average citizen or our Constitution. That such a cynical, sinister nomination was brought forth was repulsive but so very Republican. Reality check: those of us who are simply working hard, paying our taxes and slogging along trying to get by, are reminded of the actual consequences of Dixon and those other democrats who essentially helped pave the way for our current Court of Last Resort and its five extremists that places corporations over “we the people”.
Those dots, Eric, when connected properly do lead somewhere, alright, but I’d say they lead to a steep cliff, over which our country has been tumbling for some time already, headed toward the murky, foul waters awaiting at the bottom. I wouldn’t advise anyone wait for Justice Thomas to throw anyone a safety line, though. Or any of his four fascistic friends in those ominous black robes.