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Monday, June 28, 2010

A Recommendation for Your Beachbag: Clarence Thomas' Autobiography, My Grandfather's Son

Summertime and the living is easy....well, a little easier for most of us with maybe a trip to the beach or some time at the pool. So what's in your beachbag (besides sun screen and towels)? I hope a good book or maybe two. Here's my recommendation for a compelling, hard-to-put-down read: My Grandfather's Son by Clarence Thomas.

The book was sitting on my shelf for months and might be still if my book club hadn't selected it. I'm glad they did. What a story! Thomas and his brother were raised by his hard-working grandfather and loving grandmother. When Thomas' single mom, Leola, asked her parents to help out they agreed to take the boys but made it clear the placement would be permanent. And, in fact, for the rest of their grandfather's life, the two young men would refer to him as "Daddy." Thomas' grandfather never complained about his lot in life, although he had to work hard to make ends meet, and he wouldn't let the boys whine either. He kept them busy working hard and out of trouble -- a smart man. He also encouraged them to get a good education. Thomas attended a local parish school where his abilities were recognized and fostered. To this day he has great respect for the nuns who taught him.

But at times, it seemed to Thomas that his grandfather was too hard. Angry over Thomas dropping out of the seminary, he sent him out on his own at eighteen. Later on he refused to attend Thomas' graduation from Yale law school. Thomas admits his own blame in causing the rift between them. He says he was angry and rebellious and continuously picked arguments with the older man. His one big regret is that things were never fully resolved before his grandfather died.

I had the great privilege of meeting and speaking with Justice Thomas outside St. Matthew's Cathedral the day of the red Mass shortly after his confirmation. I was there with a group of pro-lifers opposing Communion for pro-abortion politicians like Ted Kennedy. (I spoke to Kennedy that day as well, challenging him over his part in murdering the unborn.) Like most pro-lifers, I followed the hearings closely. I knew Thomas attended Truro Episcopal Church, well known for its orthodoxy, firm adherence to the gospel, and pro-life commitment. From the first, I was convinced that the democrats were trying to "bork" a good man and was thrilled when Thomas refused to turn tale and run, but fought back.

In the last chapters of the book, Thomas describes the hearings, that most painful episode in his life, with poignant honesty. For such a private person, this autobiography plumbs the depths of emotional turmoil and the sorrow of betrayal. Thomas' deep faith is revealed time and again in the story especially in his relationship with Senator and clergyman John Danforth.

What is crystal clear throughout the book is the reality that Democrats will attempt to destroy any black man who dares to step out of "his place" and think independently from the their political machine. Clarence Thomas bolted the liberal plantation to make up his own mind about issues and how they affect the black community. It was the unpardonable crime that made him the implacable enemy of the left. Anita Hill was the instrument they used to destroy his reputation and assassinate his character. "How do you get that back?" he asks in the book.

It is hard to understand Hill's despicable betrayal of a man who did all he could to help her professionally. If her verbal attack was true her actions were incomprehensible! Why would a woman who had a good, secure job follow someone who harrassed her and keep in touch with him over the years? To me, Anita Hill's behavior bears all the earmarks of the woman scorned who had a crush on Thomas that was unrequited. Her part in attempting to derail his nomination while doing it anonymously (fortunately the panel refused that degree of complicity) will forever mark her as the liberal machine's moll.

My Grandfather's Son is a passionate story that reveals depths of love, commitment, loyalty, and betrayal. One episode I found particularly moving was Thomas' despcription of his mom's reaction to the show-trial confirmation hearings orchestrated by Joe Biden and the Democrats in their attempt to destroy Thomas:
I never asked my mother how she voted, nor did she ask me why I'd chosen to ally myself with a party that so many blacks regarded as racist and evil. Now she could see for herself. Patrick Leahy, Howard Metzenbaum, Joe Biden, Paul Simon, even Teddy Kennedy: all of them were arrayed against me. How dare they treat her son that way. Never before had I seen her as angry as she was in the fall of 1991. All her life she'd assumed that Democrats in Washington were sensible leaders -- but now she saw these men as single-issue zealots who were unwilling to treat her son fairly. "I ain't never votin' fo' another Democrat long as I can draw breath," she told me as we walked out of the Senate building on what should have been my final day of testimony. "I'd vote for a dog first." 
Tuck My Grandfather's Son in your bookbag this summer. It offers a profound insight into a man of integrity. In the end his courage and constancy foiled the liberal lynch mob. I'm sure "Daddy" would have been very proud!