Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Racial Preferences: Obama/Thomas

In 1974, a future Supreme Court Justice graduated from Yale Law School. In 1991, a future US Senator and Presidential candidate received his law degree from Harvard.

But there is more than a generation gap between two men of color who went on to live out success stories in American public life. Aside from differences in temperament, there is a sharp contrast in how they overcame racial prejudice and at what emotional cost.

Reviewing Thomas' recent memoirs, Jeffrey Toobin notes in the New Yorker, "The young law student quickly came to resent the fact that he had benefitted from preferential admissions.'As much as it stung to be told that I’d done well in the seminary despite my race, it was far worse to feel that I was now at Yale because of it,' he writes...

"Thomas never explains what Yale did to him that was so terrible. When he didn’t receive the job offers he wanted from law firms, he interpreted the slight as reflecting what 'a law degree from Yale was worth when it bore the taint of racial preference...' Later, Thomas peeled a fifteen-cent sticker off a package of cigars and put it on the frame of his law degree. 'I never did change my mind about its value,' he writes."

There is a sharp contrast between Clarence Thomas' seething resentment and Barack Obama's law school experience, as described today by Dean Barnett in the conservative Daily Standard:

"Regardless of his classmates' politics, they all said pretty much the same thing. They adored him. The only thing that varied was the intensity with which they adored him. Some spoke like they were eager to bear his children. And those were the guys. Others merely professed a profound fondness and respect for their former classmate."

Barnett goes on to add: "Barack Obama graduated right near the top of his law school class. That fact, along with his presidency of the Law Review, makes his uniform popularity all the more impressive. Law schools are intensely competitive places. People who thrive to an unseemly extent, as Obama did, are usually subject to an array of resentments...

"The people that Obama so thoroughly charmed generally weren't the charm-prone types."

As newly minted lawyers, they took different paths, Thomas into Washington politics, Obama into working as a community organizer in Chicago. If he becomes the first African-American president, he is not likely to find a sympathetic racial compatriot on the Supreme Court.

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