- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 18, 2001

Clarence Thomas does not like large crowds. He prefers the company of family and friends; the comfort of neighborhood eateries and baseball diamonds where he can teach kids to keep their gloves down as ground balls come skipping their way.

But circumstance often thrusts unassuming men into major roles and last Tuesday, before a throng of formally dressed men and women at an American Enterprise Institute dinner, the associate justice of the United States Supreme Court issued a long-overdue call for a renewed civil-rights movement.

He didn't advertise his talk as such, and he never would accept responsibility for leading any cause, but his address carefully analyzed a phenomenon many Americans have come to recognize: The civil-rights movement has gone slowly, perceptibly, terribly wrong.

What began as a crusade for equal rights under the law has soured into a big-money quest to impose racial preferences. A movement that once united Americans of every class and color has turned into an agent of segregation, race-baiting and political intrigue. What arose as a populist cause championed by ordinary citizens has degenerated into cults of personality backed by corporate America and shielded from scrutiny by a cadre of enforcers and intimidators. "We Shall Overcome" has given way to "Show me the money."

The grandees of the New Segregationism have maintained their authority through the raw and shameless use of force. The average hack employs two weapons: protests and killer epithets. If a white man runs afoul of the establishment, he gets tagged a "racist." Black iconoclasts get dubbed "Uncle Toms." These labels are the most corrosive and feared in the land, and the mere threat of using them has reduced strong men and women to gelatinous nothings.

Nevertheless, truth has a funny way of squirming through the murk. Consider these propositions: Kids have a better chance of living good and productive lives if they grow up in the same home as their mother and father. Federal welfare imposed a family-wrecking policy on poor Americans. A strong conscience is a surer and more admirable form of birth control than a condom. Jury nullification has helped predators create a whole new generation of black victims.

The "civil-rights movement" has become a Potemkin operation: all storefront and no store. There is no longer a practical distinction between affirmative action and quotas. Diversity training has become a tool for imposing uniformity of thought. Race-norming, like Jim Crow, fetters black students and workers with low standards and low expectations. And most importantly, "black leadership" has become the chief shill for programs that have inflicted breathtaking damage on average black Americans.

Everybody knows these things are true; almost nobody dares say them aloud for fear of reprisals job loss, humiliation, a demand for some groveling public recantation. It has been that way for some time. In his speech, Justice Thomas offered a 1974 quote from theologian Michael Novak: "Honesty on questions of race is rare in the United States. So many and unrecognized have been the injustices committed against blacks that no one wishes to be unkind, or subject himself to intimidating charges. Hence, even simple truths are commonly evaded."

Justice Thomas encouraged his audience to stop indulging in polite lies about race relations and demand public acknowledgment of impolite truths. "A good argument diluted to avoid criticism is not nearly as good as the undiluted argument," he said, "because we best arrive at truth through a process of honest and vigorous debate. Arguments should not sneak around in disguise, as if dissent were somehow sinister."

Most Americans know racial harmony isn't difficult to achieve. You give people a chance to live side-by-side, and share everyday triumphs and hardships. We have won most of the big battles already: Discrimination no longer enjoys any cachet. Younger Americans don't think of racism as a threat, and intermarriage rates make it obvious that love increasingly is becoming colorblind.

As a country, we have rolled back the tide of old animosities. Unfortunately, the New Segregationists keep getting in the way, demanding that the nation relive the 1960s and revive old suspicions and grievances.

Justice Thomas outlined the best way to deal with such bullies: Punch back. A good place to start would be to call out anybody right or left who makes gratuitous use of the "racist" label. The same goes for activists who believe that the road to personal salvation must travel though a government office.

When Martin Luther King Jr. talked about going to the mountaintop, he didn't mean standing in line to get some government-issued scrip. He had in mind the kind of dignity Clarence Thomas discussed and has practiced while his detractors were raising money for causes that have made them rich while keeping their "people" poor.

Tony Snow is a nationally syndicated columnist.

Tony Snow is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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