‘Who the hell would want to go through this?’
Former president Richard Nixon posed that question to me on October 11, 1991, as we discussed the spectacle of the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings taking place before the Senate Judiciary Committee and the nation.
While I thought Thomas would survive the fusillade of sexual harassment allegations made against him by Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill and win confirmation to the Supreme Court, I also believed that the trauma of the circus might discourage future outstanding candidates from accepting nominations or running for office.
Twenty-seven years later, the country is experiencing déjà vu all over again as a new generation of Democrats tries to block a Republican president’s high court nominee with a similar riot of uncorroborated smears, blatant lies, shameless hypocrisy and dripping sanctimony. They hope that what failed for them in 1991 will succeed today. The names may have changed, but the Left’s dirty playbook and radical objectives remain the same.
After Hill’s allegations were published, the Committee was forced to extend the hearings to include further investigation and more public testimony. They had expected an easy time with Thomas, who as a prominent member of the Reagan administration had been investigated previously by the FBI and confirmed by the Senate four times.
Suddenly, however, they — and the nation — were plunged into a bizarre melodrama.
Nixon’s insights then are particularly resonant — and prescient — today, given the parallels in the storylines.
As I originally reported in my book Nixon in Winter, the former president was a product of a generation wholly unfamiliar with sexual misconduct and its effects, but to his credit, he was determined to understand its development as both a social issue and potential political force. In that sense and as usual, Nixon was ahead of his time.
‘You’ve got to wonder why she waited ten years to move on the damn thing,’ Nixon said to me. ‘That casts her whole case in doubt … But what she is doing is going to deprive everyone else out there suffering from this sort of thing of a fair shake.’
When I mentioned that the Thomas allegations could not be proved or disproved, Nixon replied, ‘Right on! By going after him on sexual harassment, they could go after what he believed in.’
That, of course, meant Thomas’s conservative principles and constitutional originalism, and more specifically, ‘abortion. I know it,’ Nixon said. ‘You see what they have done? They are out to destroy him because he’s pro-life. And since he doesn’t have any political problems, they have created a personal problem.’
He continued, ‘Those senators had better…ask her why she waited so long to come forward. Ask her if she has any witnesses or proof. Ask her if she has ever talked to NOW [National Organization for Women] or [the National Abortion Rights Action League] or any of those people. Because if she has and they can prove it, then that’s it.’
When asked if he believed her, he replied, ‘My instinct is to say no…but I’ll answer that question again after the hearings.’
On October 11, 1991, the Committee re-opened the hearing to investigate Hill’s claims. Sexually explicit and emotionally unsettling, her testimony made for riveting if uncomfortable television.
‘Can you believe the words we heard coming out of the United States Senate today?’ he asked when we spoke later that day. ‘They had to take this on for political reasons, but it’s being done on an ad hoc basis. Harassment OK, but the hearings themselves have become a scandal.’
When I pointed out that the Committee was proceeding without substantiating her claims, Nixon agreed: ‘That’s it right there. It’s the women’s groups and the abortion issue.’
The hearings continued for several days, collapsing into a chaotic bout of mutual destruction. Thomas delivered his now-famous fiery defense, identifying the broader forces of leftist ideology, raw politics and no-mercy activism at work.
On October 14, 1991, with the hearings over and the vote scheduled for the next day, Committee Chairman Joe Biden stopped two of Thomas’s witnesses and told them he believed Thomas, not Hill. Nixon, unaware of Biden’s comments, had reached the same conclusion.
‘My opinion hasn’t changed,’ he told me. ‘I believe him…The point is the American people support him two to one.’
He went on to predict that Thomas would — and should — be confirmed by a 52 to 48 vote in the Senate, which was the exact result.
Nixon had felt a true affinity with Thomas. Both of them, he believed, had fallen prey to an increasingly dangerous reality: the leftist agenda was the higher good, and people and institutions must be mowed down to achieve it.
In the nearly three decades since, the Left’s tactics have only been turbocharged. The Thomas hearings triggered a much-needed discussion about harassment. But they also should have alerted the American people to the extent to which bedrock principles and decent public servants were being laid waste.
Given that they’ve seen this movie before, Republican leaders should have also been better prepared for the Kavanaugh assault. For the Left, it’s not personal. It’s about power.
Nixon himself had been the most important casualty of this bigger battle, so he knew better than most the stakes involved.
For the sake of the highly qualified Kavanaugh, the rule of law and the integrity of republican government, current GOP Senators — and the American people — must understand the stakes as well.
As he did with Thomas, Nixon would advocate fiercely for the confirmation of the supremely qualified Kavanaugh, because the consequences of failure would be catastrophic to the extraordinary American experiment.