Back in 1991, I was a good, unthinking liberal soldier. I was appropriately horrified when George Bush nominated Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court and was just thrilled when Anita Hill fortuitously showed up. In my own defense, since I’m not a manipulative person, it never occurred to me that the whole thing could have been a set up. To me, it was good luck, with a “he said/she said” narrative where I desperately wanted to believe her. I remember that my friends and I had long lunchtime talks about how it was perfectly possible for an ambitious woman to continue working with her harrasser rather than jettisoning her career.
I wonder how I would have felt about the whole thing if I the media had focused on the Senate testimony from John Doggett, who quite bravely came before the Senate panel to testify on Thomas’ behalf.
Why do I say bravely? After all, this is the United States Senate we’re talking about, not some Soviet kangaroo court. Sadly, though, it was a Soviet/McCarthy style kangaroo court. The Captain provides detailed evidence showing that the Democrats launched against Doggett, who is also a black attorney, precisely the same attack they launched against Thomas: they found a young woman who claimed that, on her very first day at work, he assaulted her — but she never told anyone. Then, in violation of his own Committee’s rules, Sen. Metzenbaum used this unsworn testimony to try to discredit anything Doggett said. Doggett, bless him, didn’t take it lying down:
Mr. DOGGETT. Senator, your comments about this document are one of the reasons that our process of government is falling apart. First of all, Senator, I have a copy of the statement that this person met—it is called a transcript of proceedings. But, Senator, if you read this, it is as telephone conversation that she has with some staff members pro and against Mr. Thomas, and she is not under oath. I did not do any of the things that she alleged. In fact, the first time any of these issues were raised was the day before I was supposed to come here, 8 1/2 years later. I knew when I put my information into the ring, that I was saying I am open season. For anybody to believe that, on the first day of work, for a woman working in the xerox room, who is 19 years old, a 33-year-old black man would walk up to a 19-year-old white girl and kiss her on the mouth as the first thing that they did, whoever believes that really needs psychiatric care. But let me talk about the facts, since you brought up this statement, which was not made under oath, which was not made consistent with any of the rules that you Senators are supposed to be responsible for, since this is the Judiciary Committee, let me talk about that, since you asked the question and went on and on and on. During that time that she—I have read this statement. If she had made it under oath, Senator, I would go to court, but
Senator METZENBAUM. This isn’t her statement. I am reading from your statement, Mr. Doggett.
Mr. DOGGETT. The statement that you read from was a discussion with me, and consistently your staff people said, “I don’t have the transcript, I don’t remember the exact facts.” Well, I have the transcript and the exact facts show this woman to be a profound liar who does not even remember the facts accurately.
Mr. DOGGETT. I will tell you, Senators, before I talk about the specifics, I debated, myself and with my wife, whether or not to start the process that resulted in me being here, because this is vicious, and I knew, since anything I said was going to raise the question about the credibility of Professor Anita Hill, as a lawyer, that meant my character was open season. I have never been involved as a candidate, although I have always said you can’t complain about the process, if you’re not willing to put your ass on the line—pardon me, I am sorry. I am sorry about that.
Senator METZENBAUM. Mr. Chairman —
Mr. DOGGETT. But I have said if you don’t like the way the political process is, then you have to get into it and you have to get into the fray. So, I said, okay, if I submit this information to this committee, then I am open season and people are going to shoot at me, and I do not care. I have information I think the committee needs to hear. If they feel it is relevant enough for me to be here, I will be here and I will take whatever occurs. But I will tell you, sir, I have had lawyers and professional people in Texas and around the country say that I was insane to subject myself to the opportunity to have something like this crawl out from under a rock. They have said I should have just stood on the sidelines and let it go by. I am an attorney, sir
Senator METZENBAUM. Mr. Doggett —
Mr. DOGGETT [continuing]. I am a businessman and I cannot allow this process of innuendo, unsworn statements and attacks on characters to continue, without saying it is unacceptable.
I’d like to think that, had I known about Doggett’s testimony, I would have thought twice about the attack against Clarence Thomas, but I really don’t know. I was such an unthinking soldier, so caught up in the “fate worse than death if Thomas wins” mentality, that I might have justified the Doggett attack away as easily as I did everything else. I also doubt that I would have seen the profoundly racial dimensions to these attacks in the U.S. Senate. When Clarence Thomas talked about his high tech lynching, I took the party line: he was trying to blame his accusers to avoid his own undoubted guilt. I’m quite ashamed about my young self’s inability to look at the facts and suspect a fraud.
Sadly, it looks as if Doggett is now one of the group of black attorneys pressing for reparations, a concept I find morally suspect and economically unsustainable. Nevertheless, the fact that he is in thrall to a bad idea now does not erase his bravery and integrity then.
UPDATE: I’m not the only one who feels guilty about my attitude towards Thomas 16 years ago.