10/01/2007 11:41 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Clarence Thomas: Nobody Knows the Trouble He's Seen

You have to feel sorry for the judge. Like George Bush he has failed upwards until the poor guy is now hopelessly out of his league. Unlike our president, however, he doesn't have to pretend to understand the complexities of his job for just eight years and then retire to the back nine. Poor Clarence is stuck there for life. He seems caught in some sort of chilling Twilight Zone episode, cursed for what he wished for. His new memoir, My Grandfather's Son,"is yet another sad chapter in his lifetime of self-hate.

Am I being too hard or condescending on what should be one of the wisest people in the nation? How else do you explain his terror of asking a single question from the bench? His excuse is that the other justices "talk too much."

It's called doing their job.

They arrive with questions that need to be answered, instead of dogma that needs to be adhered to. Justice Thomas is clearly that terrified kid in every class that knows that if he opens his mouth everyone will realize that he didn't understand today's lesson. Instead of being a beacon of pride for young black kids that, like him, might have been raised in poverty, he is an embarrassment.

His supporters point to his writings, but back in his chambers he is backed up by clerks who are some of our very smartest legal minds. Kato Kaelin could sign off on their briefs and sound like he knew what he was talking about.

George Bush the First's appointment of a black man who was patently unqualified to the highest bench is exactly what affirmative action is not supposed to be about. The point is to open up gatekeepers like elite law schools and medical schools. Once the students graduate, however, they, and every other job applicant has to rise to a certain standard. My sister is a heart surgeon. Nobody is going to let her cut somebody open just to fill a quota. She has to be excellent at what she does. The bar for a lifetime appointment to our highest bench should have been just as high.

My mom went to Yale law school a few years after Thomas, after having graduated Magna Cum Laude from Howard. She was a thirty-five-year-old black mother of two teenaged kids. She knew she was brilliant, the best of the best, and thrilled at debating the other students. She never once said, "Oh, I'm only here because they needed a brown body. I really belong at the DeVry College of Law."

And that's how she raised me. Old school. Yes, racism still exists, she would tell me. So a B+ might do for the white boys, but you have to be that much better. How pathetic is it that Clarence Thomas writes that he graduated from Yale Law School with his head hanging low, convinced that the world knew that his diploma came with an asterisk of inferiority? When my mom's friends graduated they burst out of law school ready to kick ass and take names.

The most odious part of Thomas's memoir is his continued insistence that his contentious confirmation hearings elevate him to the canon of tragic black heroes like Native Son's Bigger Thomas and To Kill a Mockingbird's Tom Robinson. As Jane Meyer and Jill Abramson clearly demonstrate in their book, Strange Justice, Anita Hill was only one of several and Thomas, now one of the nine highest judges in our nation, lied repeatedly during his confirmation hearings. The bitterness that seems to be eating away at him and spews out of this book might stem from the fact that he was the head of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission while he was sexually harassing Anita Hill and he is now sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America because he lied his ass off in the United States Senate.