The Corner

If There Can Be Only One . . .

. . . piece that you read today (besides all of NRO!), let it be this one, by Walter Russell Mead. Using Jeffrey Toobin’s New Yorker profile of Clarence and Virginia Thomas as his launching pad, Mead delivers himself of such observations as:

There are few articles of faith as firmly fixed in the liberal canon as the belief that Clarence Thomas is, to put it as bluntly as many liberals do, a dunce and a worm. Twenty years of married life have not erased the conventional liberal view of his character etched by Anita Hill’s testimony at his confirmation hearings. Not only does the liberal mind perceive him as a disgusting lump of ungoverned sexual impulse; he is seen as an intellectual cipher. Thomas’ silence during oral argument before the Supreme Court is taken as obvious evidence that he has nothing to say and is perhaps a bit intimidated by the verbal fireworks exchanged by the high profile lawyers and his more, ahem, ‘qualified’ colleagues.

At most liberals have long seen Thomas as the Sancho Panza to Justice Antonio Scalia’s Don Quixote, Tonto to his Lone Ranger. No, says Toobin: the intellectual influence runs the other way. Thomas is the consistently clear and purposeful theorist that history will remember as an intellectual pioneer; Scalia the less clear-minded colleague who is gradually following in Thomas’ tracks.


If Toobin’s revisionist take is correct, (and I defer to his knowledge of the direction of modern constitutional thought) it means that liberal America has spent a generation mocking a Black man as an ignorant fool, even as constitutional scholars stand in growing amazement at the intellectual audacity, philosophical coherence and historical reflection embedded in his judicial work.


If gun control and Obamacare were the only issues at stake in the constitutional debate, liberals would find Thomas annoying but not dangerous. Losing on gun control and health care frustrate and annoy the center left, but those are only two items on a long list of liberal concerns.

The real problem will come if Thomas can figure out how to get the Tenth Amendment back into constitutional thought in a serious way. The Second Amendment was a constitutional landmine for the left; the Tenth is a nuclear bomb.

And best of all:

Taken seriously today, that approach to the Constitution would change the way Washington does business. Radically. The list of enumerated powers is short and does not include, for example, health care, education, agricultural subsidies, assistance to the hungry or old age pensions. Most of the New Deal and Great Society (with the interesting exception of civil rights laws which enforce the Civil War era amendments) would be struck down. Whole cabinet departments would close.

As Glenn Reynolds likes to say: read the whole thing. You can thank me for making your day later.

Michael Walsh — Mr. Walsh is the author of the novels Hostile Intent and Early Warning and, writing as frequent NRO contributor David Kahane, Rules for Radical Conservatives.


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