The demotic Supreme

Jeffrey Toobin wonders why Clarence Thomas is so pissed-off. (Why indeed. He is a Supreme Court justice after all – what more does he want? Universal adulation? Well – sorry, but that’s not owed to anyone.)

A touchstone of Clarence Thomas’s career on the Supreme Court has been his hostility to what he calls élites…“All the Law School cares about is its own image among know-it-all elites.”…“Nothing but an interest in classroom aesthetics and a hypersensitivity to elite sensibilities justifies the school districts’ racial balancing programs,” he said. “If our history has taught us anything, it has taught us to beware of elites bearing racial theories.”

One wonders what he thinks he is, if not a member of a pretty conspicuous (and tiny, and powerful) elite. Does he think he’s not really part of an elite – especially not a know-it-all elite – because he didn’t get where he is because of his accomplishments or publications or achievements or experience but rather because of his particular combination of race and politics? If he does think that for that reason, one wonders how he manages not to consider the implications – one wonders how he manages to be so self-righteous about his hatred of elites. Who, exactly, does he think put him where he is if not a paradigmatic member of the elite? Who, exactly, does he think George Herbert Walker Bush is? Willy Loman?

Triumph over the élites, Thomas writes, took faith in God and, especially, courage. This, too, has been a longtime theme for him, and he elaborated upon it in the annual Francis Boyer lecture of the American Enterprise Institute on February 13, 2001.

Ah yes – the American Enterprise Institute – that bastion of anti-elitism.

On this night, in other words, Thomas, while celebrating the courage to speak unpopular truths, was telling some of the most powerful people in the worlds of government, business, and finance precisely what they wanted to hear—that affirmative action was bad, that black people didn’t want or need their help, that government did more harm than good. Be not afraid. Indeed, throughout his judicial career Thomas has, in the name of anti-élitism, shown a distinct solicitude for certain kinds of élites—say, for employers over employees, for government over individuals, for corporations over regulators, and for executioners over the condemned. Thomas’s tender concern for the problems of the powerful reveals itself, in the end, as a form of self-pity.

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