Patterico's Pontifications


Jan Crawford Greenburg Interviews Justice Thomas

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 5:17 pm

Jan Crawford Greenburg’s summary of her interview with Justice Thomas is now available online, here. [UPDATE: Here is her blog post with more details.]

The interview encompassed seven hours. Video segments will be available on Nightline beginning tomorrow night.

The online summary is in eight parts. It’s quite long and undoubtedly quite interesting. I will have an update with more thoughts in about an hour.

UPDATE: In seven hours of interviews, Thomas

painfully recounts periods of alcohol use and acute financial problems as a young professional and even a fleeting thought of suicide.

Thomas explains why he is so honest in the book: he would like it to serve as an inspiration for young people who are in the situation he is in.

“There was a point in my life when I could have used a book like that — when I was a kid. I mean, who would provide the leadership for me to come out of Georgia? . . . .

“I would have wanted somebody to be honest with me, someone to come back and say, ‘I was there with you, just like you — I was there just like you are,’ not that ‘I’m greater than you are,’ not that, ‘I’m stooping down to touch you or condescending to you,'” Thomas says. “‘I was there, and I can’t solve all your problems, but here is a way that might work. I don’t have all the answers, but here is something that I humbly submit might work.'”

“And that’s not just for blacks. That’s not just for kids. That’s for everybody who’s still trying to be hopeful with their problems,” Thomas says. “You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say, ‘I had no problems, but I could help you.’ You’ve got to say, ‘I had those problems, and I want to help you and be a part of your solution.’”

I’m forwarding the link to local talk radio host Larry Elder, a black man who advocates hard work and making your own way. If he’s not talking about this interview tomorrow, there’s something wrong.

If self-reliance is a huge theme of the interview, so is race.

One may agree or disagree with Thomas, but any rational person reading this piece must necessarily conclude that — contrary to the nasty comments Thomas’s critics make about him — Thomas cares deeply about the plight of black people. He just has different ideas about how to help them.

And he has, of course, experienced racism, and it’s not something he has forgotten. He talks about how black people had to plan out their trips under Jim Crow, because, for example, you couldn’t just stop anywhere for gas or food. Another set of examples:

Thomas encountered overt racism in high school, which he has talked about over the years and which has been described in other books about him. When he won the Latin Bee, for example, some of his classmates broke off the head of the prize, the Statue of St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes. Thomas glued the head back on, and someone broke it off again. He stubbornly glued it back. He would keep that statute for decades, as a reminder.

Another time a student passed him a note in class that read, “I like Martin Luther King.” Thomas opened it up and saw one word: “Dead.”

The way Thomas responded should be an inspiration to blacks today. He didn’t join a group of thugs, beat the offender unconscious, and await the help of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Instead, he chose to get revenge by rising above his racist schoolmates:

“You have a number of choices. You could continue to always fight against people who are really distractions. They’re people in the cheap seats of life. Or you can do what you went there to do. I mean, did I go to the seminary to constantly get distracted by jerks, or did I go to the seminary to achieve certain goals?

. . . .

“That was the hard part. How do you become a better person when you’re dealing with people who are not good people? . . . The first reaction (is) you want to punch him. You want to hit him. You want to strike out. That’s your first reaction. But then, after you’ve done that, what do you do? I mean how does that advance your vocation? Have you become a better person?

“And the way you ultimately win all of that is to become better than they are,” Thomas says.

This attitude reminds me of the rebuke that Aaron, the Albert Brooks character in “Broadcast News,” gave to his classmates who had tormented him: “You’ll never make more than nineteen thousand dollars a year!”

Thomas discusses his grandfather, whom he considered a father, and who clearly shaped his life. Thomas came back home from seminary, tired of being around white people and having to prove himself. His grandfather told him that if he was giving up on life, he was going to have to move out.

The issues of self-reliance and race come together in Thomas’s views regarding affirmative action — a policy that has clearly shaped his life . . . he says, for the worse.

Justice Thomas firmly believes that affirmative action has hurt blacks generally. First, he says, it puts some blacks in places where they are doomed to fail — a documented fact, by the way, in the university context.

Naturally, many have concluded that about Thomas himself — that if he hadn’t been replacing the black Thurgood Marshall, he never would have been nominated. Such people are unlikely to have their minds changed by the revelation that Bush I had initially considered Thomas as a replacement for Brennan — worrying that if he waited until Marshall’s retirement, Thomas would be perceived as a quota pick. (Bush’s aides talked him out of this plan, and fobbed off David Souter on him instead. Ugh.)

But it is clear that another aspect of affirmative action rankles worse — and is intensely personal for Thomas. He clearly believes, in his bones, that affirmative action causes bigoted leftist whites to belittle conservative blacks by lazily asserting that they are affirmative action beneficiaries:

And the discussion of affirmative action, he says, is particularly damaging. It’s become an issue that pits blacks against whites, liberals against conservatives—to the point that it’s almost impossible to honestly debate its impact, Thomas said.

Thomas spoke at length about how his own experiences as a black conservative—and a black justice—prove his point. Because he’d benefited from affirmative action at Yale Law School, he said people have questioned his qualifications and discounted his achievements. Even as a Justice, he says, people continue to believe he merely has “followed” Justice Scalia because a black man couldn’t possibly hold those views or be smart enough to come up with them on his own.

“Give me a break. I mean this is part of the — you know, the black guy is supposed to follow somebody white. We know that,” Thomas says. “Come on, we know the story behind that. I mean there’s no need to sort of tip-toe around that … The story line was that, well I couldn’t be doing this myself, he must be doing it for me because I’m black. That’s obvious.

“Again, I go back to my point. Who were the real bigots? It’s obvious,” Thomas says.

There is plenty of evidence to support Thomas on this point. This is always the first line of attack by leftists against him: that he benefited from affirmative action, therefore he isn’t allowed to oppose it without being mocked for it.

Greenburg cites a particularly telling example from a white liberal and former Carter aide, who said in 1976: “Mr. Thomas is surely familiar with those chicken-eating preachers who gladly parroted the segregationist’s line in exchange for a few crumbs from the white man’s table. He’s one of the few left in captivity.”

There is no denying the ugly racism of that comment — and one sees it even today in the repeated epithets of “Uncle Tom!” that are constantly thrown at Thomas. I’ve seen this in comments on this very blog — and indeed, the attitude is utterly pervasive among Thomas’s leftist critics, whom he regards as bigots little different from the rednecks who called his race stupid and smelly when he was growing up in rural Georgia.

Actually, Thomas considers the modern-day liberal bigots to be worse — because, he says, redneck bigotry is often born of ignorance, which can be cured. For example, when his future wife Virginia, who is white, introduced him to her family, her uncle was initially hostile. But Thomas talked to the uncle and won him over.

“On the issue of prejudice, a lot of that come out of ignorance. Once we got a chance to talk…it was gone immediately,” he says of his conversation with Virginia’s uncle. “He was just acting out of what he knew, and what he knew, when proven wrong, he totally changed.”

“Again, I contrast that with the intentional bigotry of those who are elite,” Thomas says. “It’s well thought out, it’s planned, it’s malicious.”

Along those lines, Thomas is resentful that professors at Yale opposed his nomination — and again, sees a barely veiled racism behind it:

“When I was at Yale, I got along fine. I had friends. The professors were great. I took a lot of very demanding courses — and, again, it was the seminary all over again. Here’s this challenge,” he says. “But (then) all my achievements were collapsed, or actually discounted. . . . “The assumption was that you only have that because you’re black, and it’s not as good as the white kids,” Thomas says. “And that would be, again, one of the things that would happen when I was nominated to the Court — that I couldn’t possibly be as good as the white Yale graduates, because I obviously went to Yale because of the color of my skin. So everything was discounted.

“And I always find it fascinating that people who claim, well, you did this because you went to Yale, all these good things happened because you went to Yale,” Thomas says. “I couldn’t get a job out of Yale Law School.”

Thomas came to believe whites assumed he wasn’t as smart as his white Yale classmates, and when he couldn’t get a job when he was graduating, he saw that as proof: Because he was black, he says, people believed his degree was not as good as a white student’s degree. He saw no “benefit” from affirmative action.

“I was humiliated,” he wrote, “and desperate.” He peeled a 15-cent sticker off a package of cigars and stuck it on the frame of his degree “to remind myself of the mistake I’d made by going to Yale.”

It’s both funny and poignant.

Here’s something that may shock you: at least back in the day, Thomas considered himself a libertarian, not a conservative. For example, when he went to work for John Danforth,

Danforth’s position was that the federal government had no business telling the states what to do on abortion. Thomas responded: “The state had no business telling women what to do with their bodies.”

By the way, there is absolutely nothing inconsistent between that position and a belief that Roe v. Wade should be overruled. If you don’t understand that, you really have no business talking about the subject.

The piece is full of other fascinating tidbits. Did you know that Thomas ran a marathon? (In 3 hours and 11 minutes, no less.)

What I have given you only scratches the surface of Greenburg’s extensive and fascinating post. The interviews will be broadcast on “Nightline” beginning tomorrow night. The TiVo is set, and I just can’t wait.

I want to close the post with this line, which especially amused me, and endeared Justice Thomas to me more than ever:

[O]ne of the vows I made when I got here was that I would never do this job as poorly as journalists do theirs.

Heh. As low as that standard admittedly is, Justice Thomas, you’ve risen far above it.

29 Responses to “Jan Crawford Greenburg Interviews Justice Thomas”

  1. There was also a 60 Minutes piece with Steve Kroft interviewing Thomas that aired tonight. It’s probably coming on right now on the Left Coast. Good stuff.

    Pablo (99243e)

  2. TiVo is set.

    Patterico (2a8eaa)

  3. What a powerful interview. There are so many layers to it: Justice Thomas’ opinions on race, his grandfather and his family, the church, liberals and conservatives, and his expectations of himself. If I had to pick one part, this would be my choice for the most inspiring section:

    How do you become a better person when you’re dealing with people who are not good people? And do you allow them to pull you down into their swill? Those are the things that were going through my mind at 16,” Thomas says.

    “The first reaction (is) you want to punch him. You want to hit him. You want to strike out. That’s your first reaction. But then, after you’ve done that, what do you do? I mean how does that advance your vocation? Have you become a better person?

    And the way you ultimately win all of that is to become better than they are,” Thomas says.”

    Justice Thomas is incredibly revealing but honesty can be liberating. No one can hurt you with revelations when you’ve revealed all there is. The greater point is that Justice Thomas’ honesty may help others struggling with similar feelings. I’d like to think that’s why he wrote this book.

    DRJ (ec59b5)

  4. “[O]ne of the vows I made when I got here was that I would never do this job as poorly as journalists do theirs.”


    SPQR (6c18fd)

  5. I rarely watch 60 mins, but this was worth it.
    What a great Justice of the SCOTUS.
    I admired him before but now all the more.
    How fortunate we are to have him on the SCOTUS.!

    atmom (4374b1)

  6. SPQR: Regarding –

    “[O]ne of the vows I made when I got here was that I would never do this job as poorly as journalists do theirs.”

    I think he chose JCG for his interview because she is a journalist that does her job well.

    DRJ (ec59b5)

  7. DRJ,

    Indeed. That’s one of the portions I quote in my extensive update, which summarizes the interview.

    Patterico (2a8eaa)

  8. Hard work perseverence and afirmative action got him where he is today. If you’re going to say that Thomas ended up on the court based strictly on
    other qualifications you’re lying either to yourself or the rest of us.

    blah (85b8bb)

  9. Could be worse, blah, he could have been William O. Douglas.

    SPQR (6c18fd)

  10. Hard work perseverence and afirmative action got him where he is today. If you’re going to say that Thomas ended up on the court based strictly on
    other qualifications you’re lying either to yourself or the rest of us.

    Your proof, please.

    Patterico (2a8eaa)

  11. Didn’t the ABA rate Thomas as “not qualified?”

    Did journalist Jan Crawford Greenburg have any response to the line you quoted at the end?

    alphie (99bc18)

  12. Ah, the ABA. The Gold Standard!

    JCG is not your typical journalist. I think Justice Thomas knows that.

    Any other inane comments?

    (What a question. Look who I’m talking to.)

    Patterico (2a8eaa)

  13. See, if they had to give a thumbnail description of Estrada, the editorial would read like this:

    “What kinds of nominees are Senate Democrats balking at? Well, one was rated ‘unanimously well-qualified’ (the highest possible rating) by the American Bar Association.

    alphie (99bc18)

  14. Right. So if leftists who *do* pay attention to such nonsense want to ding someone well-qualified like Estrada, it’s fun to watch them dance around the ABA ratings when they’re high.

    Patterico (2a8eaa)

  15. Aren’t those dirty hippie leftists always high?

    alphie (99bc18)

  16. That’s the best explanation I can think of for most of your comments.

    Patterico (f5d171)

  17. Show me his record. Show me anything on it of professional distinction other than in his role as black republican. Your argument has been tried before. It failed.
    Of course here as I aid before with your own hand picked jury you win hands down. But under all other circumstances your argument will get you laughed out of court.
    You agree with him on the issues that’s enough.
    Enough to trash Anita hill the black republican and defender of Robert bork, I’ll even wager that you were a defender of the old david Brock the one who wrote that hill was ‘a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty.’

    Given the oversimplification and obfuscation the post is silly.

    blah (85b8bb)

  18. Given the oversimplification and obfuscation the post is silly.

    Then why’d you post it, “blah”? I mean, geez, if you KNOW what you’re going to say is silly, why bother with it?

    Rob Crawford (c55962)

  19. Rush Limbaugh will also broadcast a ninety-minute interview, he pretaped with J. Thomas, today. I don’t know which segments of his show it will be though. From the “teaser” I caught Friday, a lot of it will be about Thomas and his grandfather.

    nk (7d4710)

  20. …. the intentional bigotry of those who are elite,” Thomas says. “It’s well thought out, it’s planned, it’s malicious.”

    Beautifully sums up blah, alpee, et al … they are particularly vicious when because they believe they own blacks and any uppitiness must be punished.

    Fun to watch blah continue to expose his racism.

    Darleen (187edc)

  21. Since most of us readers of your blog are not lawyers, please explain your comment about Roe vs. Wade.

    steve gerber (668c03)

  22. steve gerber,

    Overruling Roe is an issue of Constitutional law. If you believe Roe should be overruled, you believe that the Constitution says nothing about abortion. You can hold that belief and still believe — as a matter of *policy* — that the state should allow women to make the choice.

    Patterico (d157f2)

  23. “any rational person” — don’t go looking for these among the Thomas critics. Being a leftist means never having to consider an argument or the facts — Marx wrote the leftist handbook, for the left an “argument” is all about explaining why what the other guy said is tainted and false simply because of who he is, e.g. the statements of free market economists are false because they are property owners. The left has a million “arguments” like this — and they use them every day against Thomas.

    PrestoPundit (a2369b)

  24. Darleen, I’ve had too much fun lately.

    SPQR (6c18fd)

  25. “The way Thomas responded should be an inspiration to blacks today”

    Really Massa Patterico? Guess a shiftless, lazy ungrateful negro like me jus’ don’ know betta.

    David Ehrenstein (b35c9c)

  26. So how do you feel about contraception Pat?
    What’s your position on griswold?

    blah (db3598)

  27. […] Though not an angry person by any stretch, that’s not to say that he doesn’t feel any bitterness towards how he was treated in his confirmation hearings, and beyond. Part of the reason for this meeting was to promote his memoir My Grandfather’s Son, which was released yesterday, in which he talks about, among other things, the vicious unsubstantiated attacks waged on him by Anita Hill and other liberal Democrats during his confirmation hearings. ABC News did an extensive series of interviews with Thomas and his wife Virginia in advance of the release of the book, which you can read here (h/t: Patterico). […]

    Sister Toldjah » New media bloggers get the chance to meet Justice Clarence Thomas (1466f5)

  28. Best comment I’ve seen yet on the Anita Hill controversy comes from G. Will:

    “Anita Hill and her allies blazed the path subsequently trod by Crystal Gail Mangum and her fans in the university/media establishment in the Duke non-rape case last year.”

    daveinboca (d0db99)

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