Why do we ask someone else to apologize? If they really felt they were sorry, they’d apologize on their own. Apparently Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, doesn’t agree. She says she wants an apology from Professor Anita Hill for allegedly lying about her husband 20 years ago, and even left a message to that effect on Hill’s answering machine.
In case you’re too young — or too old — to remember, Thomas was nominated by the first President Bush. During Thomas’ confirmation hearing, Hill accused him of sexual harassment in the workplace. She referred to all kinds of lurid details, the most memorable involving a Coke can. Why is it so important to Mrs. Thomas to get this apology? And why now, after all these years?
It’s human nature that we remember the disgraceful, the outrageous, the sensational, and forget about the mundane. The example that people often use is a page one headline when somebody is accused of doing something awful, but just a tiny story on page 38 when it turns out that the accused really didn’t do it. So why is Mrs. Thomas bringing this up? All it will do is remind people of the charges that Anita Hill made: sexy jokes, names of pornographic movies, and Thomas allegedly referring to his sexual prowess. We’re finally enough years away from the hearing that at least some people probably don’t automatically think of possible raunchiness when they hear Clarence Thomas’ name. He hasn’t been accused of doing anything untoward since he became a justice, so why would she jog America’s collective memory and bring back the jokes and the giggles that ridiculed her husband? Mrs. Thomas must have known that by bringing this up, people aren’t going to think about Justice Thomas’ legal philosophy. They are going to think about that famous Coke can.
After both Thomas and Hill wrote books professing that they told the truth, each of them has been wisely silent about the whole controversial event. Who would want the whole country, maybe the whole world, revisiting their most embarrassing moment? Would you want everyone to find out about that one unfortunate night in college when you thought the door was locked? However, I guess getting this apology is more important to Mrs. Thomas than worrying about the public and her husband reliving the embarrassing and mortifying details of the hearing.
It’s been 20 years since the event. Is it possible that Mrs. Thomas just loves big anniversaries? I’m not sure what would be appropriate to buy your spouse who was accused of sexual harassment 20 years ago. Traditionally, the 20th anniversary is the china anniversary, but I can’t see her buying him a commemorative plate that reads something like, “She Told An Obvious Lie. ‘Sexual Prowess?’ Hah!”
One possible reason is that Mrs. Thomas wanted some attention. Let’s face it. She didn’t really expect an apology, and I don’t think she really wanted to talk to Anita Hill. When you want to talk to someone, you don’t call her at 7:30 a.m. on her office phone. You know you’re going to get a message machine if you do that.
But wait a minute. What if she doesn’t want attention? What if it’s the opposite? Maybe she wants to deflect interest away from her? Currently, she is the founder of an activist group called Liberty Central. It’s an organization dedicated to opposing the “tyranny” of the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats. Some people are upset because it’s certainly unusual for a spouse of a sitting Supreme Court justice to draw a salary from a group financed by anonymous donors. So maybe she is “throwing her husband under the bus,” to take attention away from her questionable activities.
Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe she actually, and naïvely, expected an apology. Maybe she’s been dreaming of the day that Anita Hill would finally say she was sorry for allegedly not telling the truth. Finally, Mrs. Thomas would get to quiz her on whether she had lied. But I have the feeling it would go something like this: Virginia Thomas: “You were lying, weren’t you? There was no Coke can, was there?” Anita Hill: “You’re right. There was no Coke can. It was a Pepsi.”
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from “Sesame Street” to “Family Ties” to “Home Improvement” to “Frasier.” He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his website at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.