There's been a lot of speculation about why Justice Clarence Thomas's wife, Virginia Thomas, called up Anita Hill, who famously accused Thomas of sexual harassment, and left her a voicemail asking that Hill apologize to Thomas' husband. Slate's Emily Bazelon thinks Thomas is trying to lure Hill into a scandal that caused Hill as much damage as it did the future Justice. Over at the Washington Post, Nancy Goldstein thinks that it was an intentional distraction from ongoing reporting into Virginia Thomas's political fundraising. I wonder if there's a simpler explanation: maybe, unable to let go of the scandal that tainted but hardly stopped her husband, Virgina Thomas just has bad manners.
The thing that struck me most in Michael Fletcher's piece about Thomas in the Washington Post this morning was less that Thomas has had trouble letting go of the scandal, and more that she keeps bringing it up:
In 1999, she called Washington Post reporter Tom Jackman after he wrote a front-page article about a Virginia man falsely accused of being a sex pervert. Weeping, she told Jackman that the story reminded her of the ordeal she and her husband had endured. "My husband's name is Clarence Thomas," she said.
And when author David Brock – once hailed by the right for penning a book critical of Anita Hill – was pilloried for renouncing the book he had written, it was Virginia Thomas who came to his defense. She left Brock a long voice message saying that she was praying for him and that nobody should have his name smeared like Brock's was.
This is truly weird behavior, especially if Thomas didn't know Jackman or Brock beforehand. But more to the point, when Thomas is calling up Jackman or Brock, she's not really expressing sympathy. She's making bad things they experience a chance to revisit her own personal trauma, making their suffering a chance a chance for them to share her burden, not the other way around. It's not helpful, it's obnoxious. Just as her phone call picking at Hill was. Brock's apologized to Hill for describing her as "a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty." If Thomas really sympathizes with Brock's experience, maybe she can learn how apologies work from him, before she's the one who gets dismissed as a nut.