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Is Sarah Palin the new Clarence Thomas?


For days, I have been wondering why the Sarah Palin Experience has seemed so maddeningly familiar. Last week, I suggested this was all an an echo of the Harriet Miers debacle back in 2005. Well, strike that. Hit the reset button. After Palin hit the ball out of the park at her nomination speech last week, those comparisons left with it. Palin has revealed herself to be a master politician–at least on the stump. (We still don’t know about the press, but why is there any reason to think she can’t handle it?)

This morning, it hit me. This is Clarence Thomas’ nomination fight all over again. 

You will recall last week when GOP pundit Peggy Noonan was caught on an open mic in St. Paul saying that the Republicans were going to push narrative in this campaign instead of experience. That, in a nutshell, was the White House strategy after Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court by the first President Bush back in 1991. 

Thomas had only been a judge for a brief time on the D.C. Circuit appeals court, and before that had been an administrator at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And while Justice Thomas wrote in his recent autobiography, My Grandfather’s Son, that Bush told him he was chosen because he was the best qualified candidate at the time, few believed it then or even now, 17 years later. 

Instead, it looked like a race-based pick. Thurgood Marshall had retired from the court and the thought of turning the bench back into a whites-only club may have seemed unpalatable to Bush–much less to civil rights advocates. But the truth was that Thomas opposed the agenda of those civil rights advocates in almost every way.

Regardless, Thomas was an almost bulletproof selection. Criticize his record and one opened himself to charges of racism–or at the very least, standing in the way of social progress. And as his critics tip-toed softly, afraid of stepping on land-mines, Thomas after his confirmation aggressively embraced and advanced the legal conservative agenda–and does to this day. 

The McCain campaign will tell you until its talking points scream for mercy that Palin wasn’t chosen because she’s a woman, that it was purely because of her record. Even if that was so, since she was tabbed, no one has forgotten for one second that she is a woman, not the press, not the McCain campaign, not anyone. And it appears she is benefitting politically because of her gender, if the polls are to be believed.

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Filed under 2008 Election, The Sarah Palin Experience