The falsehoods and distortions involved in the selling of Clarence Thomas to the American people neither started nor ended with the treatment of Anita Hill's accusations. From the beginning, the placement of Thomas on the high court was seen as a political end justifying almost any means. The full story of his confirmation thus raises questions not only about who lied and why, but, more important, about what happens when politics becomes total war and the truth--and those who tell it--are merely unfortunate sacrifices on the way to winning.
Of the horde of recent books withheld from prepublication reviewers until formal release, Mayer and Abramson's expansion of their New Yorker article on the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court is arguably the most eagerly anticipated. It is a largely reportorial account of the lives of Thomas and his accuser of sexual harassment, Anita Hill, up to and including the encounters that were exposed in his confirmation hearings. The book also tells of the campaign by the Bush White House to place Thomas on the Court as a sop to conservatives angered by the scuttling by liberal special-interest groups of Robert Bork's Court candidacy and the subsequent appointments of moderates Anthony Kennedy and David Souter. Its virtues are its presentation of Thomas and Hill as complex persons whose earlier experiences and attitudes help explain his denials of her charges and her long reluctance to voice those charges and its exposure of a presidential administration so determined to succeed that illegality was frequently skirted and improprieties definitely indulged. Its defects are Mayer and Abramson's unwillingness to interpret their evidence forthrightly, no documentation of far too many factual and sociological assertions (e.g., "Historically, many black men felt that black women had succeeded at their expense and so owed them special deference"), and the use of such undefined terms as Far Right, conservative, and Religious Right as epithets apparently assumed to connote political chicanery, hypocrisy, and bad faith. Perhaps the great begged question of the well-enough-written book is what effects their religious convictions--established but never taken seriously by Mayer and Abramson--had on how and why those two staunch Christians, Thomas and Hill, behaved as they did. Obviously not the last word on this controversial contretemps, Mayer and Abramson's effort is more credible than Brock's Real Anita Hill (1993), more evidentiary than Danforth's Resurrection. Ray Olson
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