Flashback: George H.W. Bush On Clarence Thomas’ ‘Great Empathy’

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Conservatives have curiously decided that one of the best ways to battle Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee is by declaring a war on empathy. When he described his criteria for selecting a replacement for Justice David Souter, Obama said, “I will seek someone who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a casebook, it is also about how are laws effect the daily realities of peoples lives…. I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with peoples’ hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes.”

This is, apparently, a bridge too far for conservatives, and, at least in the minds of some on the right, political gold. But while they continue to mock the idea–and while the media by and large passes their objections along uncritically–they seem to have forgotten that one conservative Justice was also sold to the public as a man of great empathy.

“I have followed this man’s career for some time,” said President George H.W. Bush of Clarence Thomas in July 1991. “He is a delightful and warm, intelligent person who has great empathy and a wonderful sense of humor.”

The Thomas confirmations ultimately became the stuff of legend–but not because Democrats decided to go all in on attacking Thomas’ “empathy.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com
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