Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Clarence Thomas Reviewed

There were six of us on hand when we finally got around to a spirited discussion of Ken Foskett’s Judging Thomas: The Life and Times of Clarence Thomas, the detailed and generally positive (although unauthorized) biography of the Supreme Court’s most independent, most hardworking and, quite possibly, most philosophically consistent Justice.

Foskett is an investigative journalist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and there was some concern on my part that I would be subjected to the same kind of mischaracterization, attack by innuendo, reverse racism, paternalism and liberal myopia that so has frequently characterized the mainstream media's reporting about Thomas. But because Quint Coppi had seen Foskett on a C-Span book program, and was impressed enough to buy several paperback copies of Judging Thomas for a few of his friends to read, I chanced it.

Yes, there are times when Foskett exceeds the boundaries of biographer as when he claims to discern the intuitions and motives of his subject, or when he determines that specific elements of Thomas’ philosophy must necessarily be the result of psychological or environmental factors. There are also times when he frustratingly forgets to continue stories that he’s started (i.e. Whatever happened to Jamal, Thomas’ birth son?). Foskett's most glaring fault is a tendency to get imbalanced in discussing certain controversies, most notably, in allowing greater space to Anita Hill’s base and patently untrustworthy accusations than he gives to the many reasons her testimony should be condemned.

But even with these weaknesses, Ken Foskett’s biography is fairer, fuller and more insightful than anything that has heretofore been produced about Clarence Thomas by the regular press. By far.

Keep in mind that it was published before Clarence Thomas’ own book (My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir) – a book which has been hailed by such eminent thinkers as our own Matt Troutman. Matt was part of the discussion that night and expressed appreciation for Foskett's book but still suggested we would like Thomas' autobiography still more. I’ll accept Matt’s recommendations any day, so order me a copy, will you, Claire?

Ironically however, because Foskett’s biography came out before Thomas’ own book and because it was written by a MSM journalist with a reputation for good, fair work, the value to Clarence Thomas’ rehabilitated image in the public eye will probably owe more to Foskett’s book than even to My Grandfather's Son. So, for that reason (and because it is a well-written, generally balanced treatment about one of America’s most dramatic and inspirational public figures), it is certainly worth the read too.