Saturday, May 16, 2020

Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words

He was Borked (his opponents use that very term), but he refused to stay Borked. Instead, Clarence Thomas stood his ground, faced the lions in the U.S. Senate coliseum, and was confirmed as a Justice of the Supreme Court. Since then, the media-pop-culture complex has continued a propaganda campaign against Justice Thomas. No matter what you think of him, you should take the time to learn who he really is and what he really thinks, direct from the man himself, in director-producer Michael Pack’s Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words, which premieres Monday night on most PBS outlets nationwide.

To understand Thomas, you need to know where he came from: Pinpoint, Georgia, a hardscrabble hamlet outside Savannah. Unfortunately, things would get much worse for the young Thomas after his family’s shack-like home and all their worldly possessions burned to the ground. His father was not in the picture, so Thomas left with his mother and brother for Savannah. To paraphrase the Justice, rural poverty was tolerable, urban squalor was miserable.

Eventually, Thomas was sent to live with his grandfather, who would have a formative influence on the rest of his life. He subsequently converted to his grandfather’s Roman Catholicism, which would lead to no end demagoguery during his confirmation hearings. Thomas even studied for the priesthood, until overt racism drove him out of the seminary. For a while, he adopted the militant politics of the era, but he slowly started to reject leftist dogma.

Perhaps the most valuable part of Created Equal is the discussion of what “Natural Law” means to Thomas. As the Justice explains, he was seeking a legal framework that would fundamentally prohibit the evil practice of slavery. Theories of Natural Law argue mankind is endowed with inalienable rights by our creator—and that divine investiture precludes any legal or moral justification for holding one’s fellow man in bondage. It also becomes clear just how deeply Thomas studied constitutional law, under the tutelage of Claremont scholars John Marini and Ken Masugi.

Pack also prompts Thomas to directly address one of the media’s favorite talking points: his reluctance to ask questions during open sessions. However, Thomas’s response is simple: he is a judge, not an advocate, so it is not he role to participate in oral arguments. Chief Justice Roberts talked about judges calling balls and strikes rather than taking up the bat, but Thomas actually means it. On the other hand, he has written 30% more opinions than his colleagues, which he argues is the justices’ real work.

Yes, Pack spends considerable time on the confirmation hearings and the Anita Hill accusations. In fact, he has Thomas recount the controversy step-by-step. Maybe some viewers will say he should have pressed harder, but honestly, how many more times should Thomas give the same answers to the same questions? In fact, the fuller context Pack provides is valuable, reminding us the FBI investigated Hill and did not find her credible, as did a majority of the American people. Yet, it all takes on an unexpectedly ironic tinge seeing Joe Biden overseeing the circus-like hearings (it is also hilarious to see the panicked expression he gets when Thomas uses the now famous term “high-tech lynching).”

One thing is clear throughout Pack’s profile. The real Thomas is nothing like the ideologically-motivated (and often racist) caricatures we see in the groupthink media. He is his grandfather’s grandson and a son of Pinpoint, Georgia. Watching Created Equal will either shake your preconceptions (and prejudices) or make you ashamed for not reacting with greater outrage at the continuing attacks leveled against him. Pack’s film is also admirably polished, featuring a bluesy soundtrack recorded by several DC-area jazz musicians and apt use of Louis Armstrong’s rendition of “Moon River” (lyrics by Savannah’s own Johnny Mercer). Highly recommended for viewers of any political persuasion, Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words can be seen on most PBS stations this coming Monday night (5/18)--and on the PBS app afterwards.