On the right flank, Thomas & Thomas

So Virginia Thomas, wife of associate Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, was making some media noise again, after her splash weeks ago with that pretentious phone message she left for Prof. Anita Hill. In what Mrs. Thomas termed an “olive branch” gesture, she requested that Hill apologize to Justice Thomas for her part in the circus atmosphere that came to surround his confirmation hearing 19 years ago. Appropriately treating this effrontery with the detachment it warranted, Hill ignored Thomas and simply issued a statement saying there was nothing to apologize for, since she had testified truthfully back in 1991.

Maybe the fact that Mrs. Thomas has apparently earned her stripes as a front-line activist devoted to Tea Party type causes is all we need know to appreciate the kind of bluster that would prompt the lady’s communicating with Hill in the manner she did. Tea Partiers were front and center in the alleged overflow of anger that was abroad in the land since the summer of 2009. And one suspects that getting swept into that up-draught of anti-Obama hysteria was a hand-in-glove fit for the likes of Mrs. Thomas (who incidentally referred to the Obama agenda as “tyranny”), the arrogance conceivably including a belief that she was duly entitled to call upon Prof. Hill to atone for her “transgression.”

Through those particular lenses, the notion of there having indeed been some “transgression” committed comes naturally. The right to claim and exercise moral authority comes with the territory here. One would be on pretty safe ground concluding that Mrs. Thomas would be aghast at the suggestion that her phone message episode was one incredible display of chutzpah.

It’s evidently not the least bit bothersome to Justice Thomas that his wife chooses to be so vocal and visible in the social conservative sector. So much so, in fact, that she reportedly was the driving force behind the creation of yet another of those organizations wedded to such values—something called Liberty Central. There was recent speculation about whether she would be continuing as head of the outfit, but the trail so far wouldn’t seem to leave much doubt as to her intention to be conspicuously identified with right wing elements. As for her husband, he is known basically for two things on the court: that he will invariably be voting with the conservative bloc; and that his contributions to the court’s deliberations have been notably sparse and probably less than any other justice over the almost two decades he’s been there.

We’ve observed this pattern for 19 years now so no one ought be surprised, but somehow it always seems worthwhile to underscore what we’ve got here. The only African American member of the high court obviously condones his wife’s being a Tea Party provocateur – the Tea Party which, never mind being provided with some cover by these trying economic times, can’t obfuscate the nascent racism that’s embedded in its core. We wouldn’t expect Tea Party overlords to acknowledge any of this, of course. They don’t have to. We need only go to the videotape, as Warner Wolf would say. Those repugnant images of civility supplanted by outright contempt – fueled by a 2008 presidential election result, and extending to persons of color across the board – are as fundamental to what defines the Tea Party’s raison d’etre as any of the packaged fear mongering issuing from that bunch.

That the only Black member of the Supreme Court is comfortable about his closeness to all of this extremist rabble rousing is what, sadly, we have come to expect from this guy who probably conned some senators into a guilt complex after his “high-tech lynching” performance 19 years ago. We have long since been aware that the Senate’s confirmation of Thomas by a razor-thin vote was a glaring example of political correctness gone frightfully wrong. Those of us not hip to the chicanery at the time would soon come to realize that Justice Thomas’ Black face should under no circumstances be construed as a Black presence on the court. If the chain begun with Justice Thurgood Marshall was to be prematurely broken in the regime of Bush the First, so should it have been.

In which case the right-flank antics of Mrs. Thomas would concern us perhaps not at all. As it is, we seemingly can’t avoid taking note of her flag waving escapades, and the sense of righteous superiority she obviously feels, giving rise to conduct like that apology-seeking stunt. The language of her phone message to Anita Hill was quite telling, clearly illustrative of her conviction that adopting the patronizing tone that she did was inconsequential stuff. In that bizarre world, calling Hill’s office at Brandeis University and requesting an apology from her was Thomas’ idea of extending an olive branch!

After entering the history books, albeit not the route she would have preferred, 19 years ago, Anita Hill surely has earned the right to her privacy. Even if Mr. Justice Thomas believes that his wife’s stirrings in the world of political extremists on the right are fine by him, more would be the pity if his well documented silence on the court extended to not putting the brakes on a spouse’s intention to engage in what is, at best, a hair’s breadth away from harassment. Then again, who knows where the preposterous scheme was hatched, anyway?