Saturday, September 27, 2008

Thomas would approve of Palin. Trust me.

The great Dahlia Lithwick has an article in Slate today about what Clarence Thomas thinks of Sarah Palin's VP nomination...

Based on Thomas' judicial philosophy, Lithwick seems to suggest, Thomas would disapprove of a Palin Vice Presidency as a sop to bringing diversity on the ticket. (Although, in true Slatey fashion, Lithwick never comes out and says anything decisive like, "Thomas would disapprove...".)

I'm going to have to go ahead and disagree with that premise.

Few people are as fascinating to me (as full of contradiction, self hatred, anger and all the other dramatic elements) as Clarence Thomas. Unlike my fellow liberal snobs, I do not for a moment doubt Justice Thomas' intellect. The people who say that Thomas votes the straight Scalia line quite frankly don't know what they're talking about. Believe me, Thomas knows exactly what he thinks. And it is radically conservative -- probably more so than Antonin Scalia. (I have not read Thomas' memoir, My Grandfather's Son, but I highly recommend Jeffrey Toobin's great book, The Nine, for further discussion.)

Nor have I ever thought that Thomas was unqualified to sit on the bench. (When George H. W. Bush called him the "most qualified" man for the job, that was clearly not true. But he was no Harriet Miers. And much more qualified than some hack appointments over the years.)

My problem with Thomas is that his philosophy is insane.

A long time ago, Thomas made a decision that the right wing of the Republican Party was going to be his home and hearth, and that he would defend home and hearth with everything he has. Is there a philosophy that goes along with this? Sure. It's one of radical suspicion of the federal government and an all encompassing trust of local government. But Thomas is a smart enough guy to bend the philosophy to the law that suits the Republican Party every time (like, say, in national security matters).

What I think drew Thomas to the GOP was a true disgust with liberal snobs like me. (It's the same thing that ignited Richard Nixon's raging hatred of Democrats -- which Rick Perlstein details really well in Nixonland.)

For this reason, I have no doubt whatsoever that Thomas probably thought Sarah Palin was a brilliant pick. Like other arch-conservatives, Thomas favors the wisdom of the "common people." I'm sure that if Thomas ever met and had a discussion with Palin he would walk away thinking that she wasn't the brightest bulb in the world (I doubt any smart person could walk away with confidence in her) but that would not disqualify her, in his mind, from the presidency.

Conservatives have talked themselves into a very perverse position: Intelligence really doesn't matter for an executive. (The really weird part -- in my view -- is that this idea was mostly formed by conservative intellectuals.

I guess that this opinion was formed in part because everyone knew that Ronald Reagan wasn't the smartest guy in the world -- and conservatives view his presidency as a triumph. Moreover, the bar only got lower over the years with the arrival of Dan Quayle and George W. Bush on the national scene. (Of course, if you ask me, these guys look like Klemens freakin' Metternich in comparison to Sarah Palin.)

I think that Thomas would rush to her defense; the small town, common sense woman, beset by the jackals of the elite, who condescend to her because she is a woman. (Lithwick rightly points out that even though Thomas is fervently against affirmative action, he has never been shy about saying that racism has been a part of the reaction on behalf of his enemies.)

Sorry Dahlia -- I'm just not buying.