LOW TIDE IN AMERICA
LATE SUNDAY NIGHT--Finally, it is over. In Washington, D.C., it is past 2 a.m.
This is the hour for stealth; a perilous period when muggers rule the streets. It's a time for the criminal class to prevail and congressional pay raises to be voted.
The faces of the senators are slack with weariness.
Arizona Senator Dennis DeConcini, that great profile in courage throughout the hearing, has folded his tent early and gone home to be with his domineering wife, Susie. Here is a man who has sold his soul to be on the safe side.
Disgraced by the real estate deals that have made him one of the Senate's richest members, DeConcini spent almost an entire Senate term groveling at the feet of Charlie Keating. DeConcini is a living testimonial to the necessity for congressional term limitations. Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, born on December 5, 1902, is virtually asleep in his chair. There are long lines creasing the faces of Senators Howard Metzenbaum, 74, and Howell Heflin, 71.
The face of Senator Ted Kennedy is scarlet. He is the only 59-year-old who still persists in attending the annual collegiate spring high jinks in Florida. Presumably denied access to alcohol for an entire day, he is testy, inches away from an emotional explosion.
Senator Joseph Biden, the committee chairman, who has fought approaching baldness as heroically as any man in the western world, announces the end.
There is no more dirt to uncover about U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Clarence Thomas, a.k.a. "Long Dong Silver." All the important questions remain unresolved. Did Judge Thomas actually boast to Professor Anita Hill about the size of his sex organ, his brilliance at the art of oral sex, or his arcane knowledge of the infinite variety of ways animals copulate with large-breasted women?
What kind of a man is he?
The phrase "Here come da judge" comes to mind. Suddenly, this humorous expression takes on an entirely new significance.
For the country, it has been an incredible weekend.
Judge Thomas, who pretended to be scandalized that anyone might think he harbored secret thoughts about Roe v. Wade, ended by denying vociferously that he was the Pauline Kael of the pornographic-movie field.
The Thomas confirmation hearing was divided into two parts.
During the first, Judge Thomas discussed the philosophy of natural law and elaborated upon the strength he derived from the poverty of his youth.
During the second, he was forced to deny he had ever boasted about the size of his private parts and his natural prowess at putting them into action.
For three days, I have been glued to the television set. I have left it only to go out to the front yard to pick up the Arizona Republic in the morning and the Phoenix Gazette in the afternoon. During recesses I have run to the store to pick up the New York Times, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal. I can't leave the television set because there is no way to know what remarkable event will take place next.
I take copious notes. This is an old habit. But even during the first day, I realize I am taking too many. I will never be able to decipher them. How will I ever be able to write a coherent piece about my reactions to the drama involving Professor Anita Hill and Judge Clarence Thomas, the man from Pinpoint, Georgia?
Now that it's over, the room is a mess. There are newspapers all over the floor. I have placed them in piles, hoping to organize the important stories that have been written by journalists all over this country.
Many of the stories are models of the newspaper art. They are written without apparent prejudice on the part of the writer. It is as though they came out of a machine.
I admire the ability of the writers to do this. I admit that I am totally prejudiced in the matter.
In the beginning, I was convinced that Judge Thomas didn't have the legal qualifications to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.
I believe Professor Hill's account of their relationship. The more Judge Thomas shouts about "high-tech lynching for uppity blacks," the more I am convinced that he is banging the table to confuse the issue.
Senators Orrin Hatch, Alan Simpson and Arlen Specter are all in on the cover-up. To them, Professor Hill is either a spurned woman or engaging in sexual fantasy.
In a moment of excess, Specter accuses her of perjury. When she takes a lie-detector test, he gulps and then decides it is of no value.
Within a few minutes, she is detailing the remarks Judge Thomas made to her a decade previously. They are so obscene as to be memorable. No one who hears Anita Hill tell her story can ever doubt that.
"One of the oddest episodes I remember was an occasion in which Thomas was drinking a Coke in his office," she says.
"He got up from the table at which he was working, went over to his desk to get the Coke, looked at the can and asked, `Who has put pubic hair in my Coke?"'
She went on:
"On other occasions, he referred to the size of his penis as being larger than normal, and he also spoke on some occasions of the pleasures he had given to women with oral sex." I looked away from the television set and glanced at my watch. It was 10:45 on Friday morning, October 11.
I wrote a note on my pad: "When she said that, I knew his nomination was dead." But it wasn't. This was a hearing that was like a carnival ride. It was all twists and turns and surprises.
Judge Thomas came back to the hearing room that very afternoon glaring out at all sides, giving a portrayal of the deceived and betrayed man every bit as convincing as Laurence Olivier in Othello. With his voice all the more compelling because it was so strained, Judge Thomas confronted the committee and the world:
"This is worse than any obstacle or anything that I have ever faced," he said. "Throughout my life, I have been energized by the expectation and the hope that in this country I would be treated fairly in all endeavors . . . .
"Mr. Chairman, I am proud of my life. Proud of what I have done, and what I have accomplished, proud of my family.
"And this process, this process, is trying to destroy it all. No job is worth what I have been through--no job. No horror in my life has been so debilitating. Confirm me if you want. Don't confirm me if you are so led. But let this process end. Let me and my family regain our lives.
"I never asked to be nominated. It was an honor. Little did I know the price, but it is too high.
"There is nothing this committee, this body, or this country can do to give me my good name back. Nothing.
"I will not provide the rope for my own lynching, or for further humiliation . . . " For a little while, I expect that Judge Thomas will withdraw his name from consideration and stomp from the hearing room.
That is the way it should have ended. It would have been best for all concerned. But the magic moment passes.
By the next day, Judge Thomas is saying that he would rather die than withdraw his name. And his allies on the committee, Specter, Simpson and Hatch, are plumbing the depths in their attempts to destroy the character and name of Anita Hill.
It is a low moment in the annals of the American body politic.
On Sunday, the committee remains in session for 14 hours. I watch, still unable to remove myself from in front of the television screen.
There are stations on which the baseball playoffs and pro football are playing. For the first time in memory, I spent an entire Sunday without watching sports for at least a brief period.
This is the first weekend I have been glued to an unfolding television presentation since the weekend in November of 1963 when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
There are moments from that time still preserved in my mind as though they were yesterday. I remember the scene at the airport when the dead president's coffin was carried from the plane . . . Jackie Kennedy in the black dress and veil . . . little John John standing there in a camel's hair coat saluting . . . the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement of the police station.
I will remember Judge Thomas' hearing in the same way.
The luminous look of Anita Hill as she gazes at the committee and the unchecked fury in Clarence Thomas' eyes.
I will also remember an interview with Roger Wilkins done during one of the breaks in the action.
Wilkins, a black man, is a famous name in the civil rights movement. He has opposed Thomas' nomination.
"No matter what happens here, Thomas will go back to his comfortable job on the Court of Appeals.
"We have had hearings like this before. Abe Fortas didn't scream that he was being lynched.
"Clarence Thomas moans dramatically that he is a dead man, but dead people don't sit there in a chair talking for hours.
"This is a man who wrote a terribly unfair and inaccurate piece for the San Diego Union attacking Judge Thurgood Marshall.
"He insists the story about his sexual harassment of Professor Hill is `concocted.' It is concocted only if he is telling the truth. If not, Clarence Thomas knows full well what took place between him and Professor Hill.
"Judge Thomas is a man who advertised his oral opportunism everywhere he went. Everyone should have understood what he was about from the start and I have never supported him for the Supreme Court." Late Sunday night, there is one more delicious moment. It comes too late to be fully included in the newspaper reports on the following day.
Only those mesmerized by their screens witnessed the appearance of one John N. Doggett, who also graduated from the Yale University law school. He knows both Judge Thomas and Professor Hill.
Doggett is a tall, eloquent black man with a closely trimmed beard. He lives in Austin, Texas, and has come to testify for Judge Thomas.
He came to claim that in almost eight years, Judge Thomas never spoke to him of Professor Hill. Doggett told a strange story of jogging in the streets of Washington, D.C., and being accosted by Anita Hill, whom he claimed wanted to start a personal relationship with him.
"I know when a woman is hitting on me," Doggett proudly announced to the committee.
At first, Doggett seemed to be a godsend for Senators Hatch, Simpson and Specter. Their eyes lit up, sensing Doggett would be the key witness who could sink Professor Hill.
Suddenly, Howard Metzenbaum began asking Doggett a series of amazing questions.
It turned out that Doggett himself had been the subject of his own sexual harassment investigation. There were two women back in Texas who had complained of his uninvited advances in the law office where Doggett once worked.
Doggett, who previously had been the very embodiment of self-confidence, came unglued before a national television audience.
"This is vicious, Senator," he said, his voice rising. "I knew if I said anything against Professor Hill that I was putting my ass on the line. I realize I am open season.
"But I'm an attorney. I can't let this continue without saying it's unacceptable. At the time these charges were made, I was working on an investigation, a long-term project into banking failure. I had also just started an intense relationship with a woman.
"In addition to that, shortly after this happened, my firm sent me to Copenhagen on one of the most prized assignments anyone in the firm could possibly have . . . I have a long record of sensitivity in women's issues." Doggett, who came to defend Judge Thomas, now found himself under the same cloud. And his reaction was exactly the same; he went on the attack.
Committee chairman Biden came to Doggett's defense, ruling that any reference to this episode would be expunged from the committee's record.
But Doggett paid a heavy price. Within the next few minutes, Biden cross-examined him on his supposed expertise in the area of Professor Hill, leaving it in tatters.
Finally, everyone connected with the hearing paid a price. And everyone who took part or watched it left it convinced their perceptions were the only correct ones.
I am writing this on Monday morning and the vote will not take place until Tuesday night.
At this moment, I am convinced the Senate will turn down Clarence Thomas' nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. In fact, I think that before the Senate actually votes, he will withdraw his name in a final fit of pique. He will do this when his handlers finally break the news to him that he doesn't have the necessary votes for confirmation.
That leaves one big question: Who will George Bush nominate next?
It will be difficult to forget the appearance of Anita Hill before the committee. She is incredibly poised.
It is a low moment in the annals of the American body politic.
"Clarence Thomas moans dramatically that he is a dead man, but dead people don't sit there in a chair talking for hours."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.
- Inmates Accuse Arizona of Experimenting with Lethal-Injection Drugs
Thu., Dec. 10, 6:25pm
Fri., Dec. 11, 7:00pm
Fri., Dec. 11, 7:30pm
Fri., Dec. 11, 7:30pm
- 10 Things Arizonans Hate About Snowbirds
- Scottsdale Couple Are Pioneers in Tiny-Home Movement in Arizona