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A portrait of an American hero: “Created Equal: Clarence Thomas In His Own Words”

by | May 26, 2020

By Dave Andrusko

At first blush, you may wonder what voice synthesizers and a recent revealing documentary on the life of Roe v. Wade critic Justice Clarence Thomas could possibly have in common. Stay with me for a few paragraphs, and it will all come clear.

I ran across this awhile back on the Internet and it continues to absolutely fascinate me. Employing a voice synthesizer, someone has former President Barack Obama “reading” President Trump’s 2017 inaugural speech. What did we—or at least yours truly—learn?

That Mr. Obama could deliver a prepared speech. It was arguably his greatest strength. In 2004, the then largely obscure Illinois state Senator running to become a United States Senator delivered a speech to the Democratic National Convention which became by universal consensus the springboard for his eventual presidential run.

I also learned that in the hands of a gifted orator, President Trump’s speech soared. The contents didn’t change, the presentation did. 

And while I did not learn this (it was hardly new information to me), I was reminded that the substance of what President Trump said three years and four months ago was remarkable and genuinely historic in its challenge to the status quo.

When he said, “January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now,” President Trump drew a line in the sand. It was a direct threat to the old ways of doing things.

This changing of the guard is not a novel idea. Had Obama, the orator, said many of the same things, he would have been hailed as nothing short of a liberator. But because Trump said it…

The media, reliably pro-abortion and virtually uniformly pro-Democrat, went after him hammer and tong and has ever since.

Enter “Created Equal: Clarence Thomas In His Own Words”  which aired on PBS May 18 and, as best I can tell, may be watched free only through June 1. Perhaps someone knows how in the world a documentary wholly sympathetic to Justice Thomas made it on PBS, because I sure don’t.  But consider this:

“This film gives fascinating insight into one of the most important and yet enigmatic public figures in the country,” said Perry Simon, Chief Programming Executive and General Manager, General Audience Programming at PBS. “Michael Pack’s latest film continues PBS’s long tradition of airing point-of-view, biographical documentaries that empower audiences with new information and points of discussion that are both insightful and relevant.”

Justice Thomas’ journey to the Supreme Court (where he has served longer than any other current member of the Court) is the ultimate Horatio Alger story.

“Justice Thomas’ life is a remarkable journey, the quintessential American success story,” said executive producer Gina Cappo Pack. “He began life in Gullah-speaking Pin Point, Georgia, suffered poverty and privation in Savannah, dealt with the vicious iniquities of segregation, and yet rose to serve on the highest court in the land.”

“His intellectual journey is just as remarkable,” said producer/director Michael Pack. “He was raised by his grandfather with strict discipline, taught by Catholic nuns in parochial schools, yet he rebelled and became a ’60s radical who supported the Black Panthers, only to rethink his way back to his traditional beginnings. He went to work for Ronald Reagan as a rare African American conservative, and now serves as one of the most influential justices on the Supreme Court. We offer viewers a chance to hear Thomas’ story directly from the man himself, a unique opportunity.”

It’s an incredible, inspirational saga. So why isn’t Thomas revered, held up as an shining example of how anyone can make it in America, even if they began their lives in a broken home living in a shack without indoor plumbing?

Of course you know the answer. In Thomas’s terse words, he was “the wrong kind of black guy,” so “he has to be destroyed.”

There were not many reviews of “Created Equal: Clarence Thomas In His Own Words” as opposed to the Niagara of complimentary reviews of “RBG,” a hugely flattering “portrait of an unlikely rock star: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”

There were some that understood that Thomas is (in Kathleen Parker’s words) an “American hero” for what he had overcome.

And, yet, because he’s a conservative, a sin especially grave to some because he is black, and because he opposes Roe v. Wade, he is reviled by the many who, were he ideologically otherwise, would herald him as a triumph of individual will and grace over seemingly insurmountable odds.

“Were he ideologically otherwise”–four words that explain everything.

 Most reviews were snide, harshly critical, and many read as if they had not (to be polite) done their homework. One particularly vicious critic (on the grounds that Thomas insisted during his hearings that he had not had a conversation about Roe) concluded that Thomas was “incurious.”

He’s a go-along-to-get-along kind of guy, a man who worked hard and achieved something and enjoyed a steady rise without ever being driven to explore things. He was a bureaucrat.

I don’t think it is humanly possible to be more wrong. Let’s count the ways.

As Jeffrey Toobin wrote back in 2007, with his “effusive good nature,” Thomas is “universally adored.” As another critic of the documentary conceded in the first few paragraphs, “Unlike most of his colleagues, he learns everyone’s name, from the janitors to each justice’s law clerks.”

But he is more than a good man whose ”booming laugh fills the corridors.” Thomas is a powerful and deeply under-rated intellectual force.

Thomas has written more than 600 opinions, “30 percent more than any other sitting justice,” as one of his former law clerks remarked. 

“He wrote the most concurrences, dissents, and opinions of any justice during each of the past five terms, according to data from SCOTUSblog,” Emma  Green, writing in the Atlantic, tells us. 

“Should Thomas remain on the high court until his 80th birthday, as has become common, he would become the longest-serving justice in U.S. history,” adds Kyle Smith.

And, as we’ve written on other occasions,At long last, Justice Thomas’ enormous influence is beginning to be recognized.” He has moved the High Court in his direction even as he has created a stable of young conservatives who are found everywhere in the pro-life Trump Administration and in the federal courts.

If you haven’t already, check out your local PBS station for ‘Created Equal: Clarence Thomas In His Own Words” before June 1. Justice Thomas is a remarkable man who has suffered more slings and arrows in his nearly 72 years than most armies.

But he endured, he persevered, he refused to give in when 99.9% of the rest of us would have buckled. How?

Parker concluded her column with this insight:

Audiences will learn why Thomas rarely asks questions and why he never gives up. A clue can be found inscribed on a bust Thomas keeps of his grandfather, who often said to the young Clarence: “Old Man Can’t is dead. I helped bury him.”

Categories: Supreme Court