Posted on November 1, 2011
“This is not an opportunity to talk about difficult matters privately or in a closed environment. This is a circus. It's a national disgrace. And from my standpoint, as a black American, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree.”
That was what Clarence Thomas said to the Senate Judiciary Committee as it investigated what the future Supreme Court Justice said and did to his colleague Anita Hill when they worked together at the Department of Education and at the EEOC.
I was working for House Minority Leader Bob Michel at the time, and the tension between the male and female staffers was, to say the least, about ready to explode. The men thought that Anita Hill was crazy. The women thought Thomas was a pig.
That Clarence Thomas was a black conservative who was replacing a black liberal on the Supreme Court only added to the combustion on the Hill.
This story had all of the elements of a first-rate scandal. It had race. It had sex. It had lurid allegations and heated denials. And it hit Washington like eight tons of bricks.
Washington D.C. was changing. The females who had long dominated the Hill from a staff perspective had had enough of the old guard of old men, who couldn’t type and could barely dial the phones for themselves. Most members of Congress didn’t have computers on their desk, and certainly didn’t have blackberries. Many didn’t even have pagers.
The mostly male members of the House and Senate were completely dependent on their mostly female staff, and the female staff were getting pretty sick of being treated like second class-citizens. The Hill-Thomas hearings had an outsized impact on the 1992 election.
Don’t forget that 1992 was the year of the women politician, as new female Senators, like Carol Mosely Braun and Barbara Boxer, were swept in with William Jefferson Clinton, the man who women loved (politically and otherwise). Hillary Clinton promised to be a new kind of First Lady, not the kind who sat around and baked cookies, but the kind of woman who led important policy initiatives, like a health care task force.
This revolution was sparked by the sexual harassment charges leveled by Anita Hill against Clarence Thomas.
Two short years later, Hermann Cain was selected to head the National Restaurant Association, where he took a prominent role in stopping Hillary from achieving success with her health care task force.
Throughout the 1990’s, sex in workplace would continue to make headline news. Bill Clinton, who was swept in by women voters who were angry at men for being serial sexual harassers, not only was charged with a sexual harassment lawsuit by Paula Jones, but was also impeached for lying about his sexual relationship with a young intern.
Clinton survived politically, but two Republicans (Newt Gingrich and Bob Livingston) who attacked him for his sexual adventurism, had to resign because it was proven that they too were not purer than the driven snow when it came to sexcapades.
It is interesting to see the success of the television series “Mad Men”, where the men were all philanderers and the women were all pliant secretaries. The scene was set in the 1960’s, but that mindset wasn’t really completely smashed in Washington until 1991.
I obviously have no idea what Herman Cain did or didn’t do when he was the head of the National Restaurant Association. But it is not that surprising that an executive like him would have been confronted with allegations of sexual harassment back in the 1990’s. That was the era in which he lived.