by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
For Democrats, Thomas’s 1991 confirmation illustrated the political establishment’s contempt for women. For Republicans, the attacks on Thomas were a smear campaign.
While the notion that the Judiciary Committee insulted Hill and that the Senate ignored her credible charges has become the dominant narrative about that chapter of history, that’s not how Americans viewed it at the time. Americans were glued to their television sets during those hearings, but their initial impressions were very different from how that confrontation is remembered today. A raft of opinion polls taken at the time showed most believed Thomas, whose dignified anger about what he called a “high-tech lynching” resonated with many viewers, including African-Americans. Indeed, were that not the case, his confirmation would have been impossible in a Democratic Senate, where he ultimately received twelve votes from the majority in addition to support from Republicans.
It was only after the fact, as the Hill–Thomas story was retold through the prism of liberal journalists — Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson wrote a book about the case, later made into an HBO movie — that the narrative shifted to one in which Hill became the undoubted brave heroine and Thomas was damned as an angry and guilty man.