Barrett: Herman Cain faced with the Clarence Thomas treatment

Clarence Thomas can't leap, two-by-four in hand, to the defense of fellow Georgian Herman Cain. As a sitting Supreme Court justice, Thomas tries to maintain detachment from presidential politics. Plus he's a class act.

But nobody knows better than he what Cain - a man of humble origins not unlike Thomas' - is being put through.

Thomas was abundantly qualified when President George H.W. Bush nominated him to the Supreme Court in 1991.

He had been chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for the better part of a decade. He was a Yale graduate. And he had been a judge on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals. He was confirmed to multiple previous positions by the Senate, which now held his nomination in its hands.

One would think his high court confirmation, if not a trip to Burger King, would have been fairly smooth.

But working against Thomas was a combination of traits that makes liberals spontaneously combust even more reliably than a rumor that somewhere a schoolchild is saying a prayer: He was conservative and he was black. Putting such an individual in a position of national prominence makes it all too clear that conservatism isn't some eerie white phenomenon.

Liberals couldn't have that, so they had to destroy Thomas - or try to. And they were at times candid about it.

"We're going to Bork him," said attorney Florynce Kennedy. "We're going to kill him politically."

She was referring to the Democrat-run Senate's remarkably vicious campaign four years earlier against Robert Bork, a Reagan Supreme Court nominee. Bork, the nation was told, would bring back segregation.

The smear was baloney-stuffed from the get-go, but it worked. Bork was toast.

The Borking of Thomas, however, would backfire in regal fashion.

It centered on Anita Hill's allegations that he had said things nearly nine years prior that made her uncomfortable.

Hill didn't claim Thomas' words rose to the level of actual harassment, but even what she did allege wasn't credible. Among other things that are improbable for a harassed person to have done, she followed Thomas to a second job after he supposedly caused her discomfort at the first, and she later asked him to speak to her students. She also called him repeatedly and met with him on numerous occasions - alone or with others - after he was no longer her supervisor.

It didn't add up, and Thomas himself succinctly jaw-popped his detractors at a confirmation hearing, declaring: "This is a circus. It's a national disgrace. And from my standpoint as a black American, as far as I'm concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate, rather than hung from a tree."

Despite a political and media barbecuing, Thomas won a close confirmation vote and joined the Supreme Court. He has served well since.

Which should comfort Cain as liberals seek to make an example of him to other black non-Democrats.

MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell suggested to all 18 of his viewers that Cain was a racial loafer who hadn't done much for the cause of civil rights. No word on when silver spoon white Bostonian socialists such as Lawrence O'Donnell became the arbiters of which people did enough for whatever cause in the face of violent opposition.

And now surfaces what Cain's foes hope is red meat on a silver platter in their effort to puncture his candidacy: thus-far-unsubstantiated allegations from over a decade ago that he sexually harassed two women.

What critics seem to consider proof of the harassment is the fact that the National Restaurant Association, which Cain headed at the time, paid small settlements to the women. That indicates the critics are either ignorant or dishonest. It can be insanely expensive and time-consuming for organizations to defend against even the shakiest allegation. It is scarcely unusual for them to pay a settlement rather than drag things out. The notion that such a cost-benefit analysis proves guilt is mystifying.

I hope Cain is ready for more of the same treatment, though.

Liberals have a special reservoir of hatred for black conservatives. They want not only to defeat Cain but to pulverize him. Based on what we know at this point, it would be a shame if the rest of us abandoned him to that fate.

Reach Steve Barrett at 423-757-6329 or [email protected]