It would be the simplest thing in the world for me to pass along George Takei’s comments about Clarence Thomas and call the one-time actor and gay-rights advocate a racist or bigot. Given the standards by which Takei’s fellow leftists judge everyone to the right of center, it would be justified.
But the most overtly vile part of Takei’s comment — that Thomas is “a clown in blackface sitting on the Supreme Court” because of something the longtime associate justice wrote in his dissent in the recent gay-marriage case — is superficial compared to what Takei’s words tell us about the “progressive” mindset.
First, let’s take a look at what Thomas wrote that sent Takei into orbit. Responding to the majority opinion’s rhetoric that a chief end of marriage is the fulfillment of “human dignity,” Thomas wrote that, on the contrary, a human’s dignity is inherent and God-given:
“That vision is the foundation upon which this Nation was built. The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.”
As Thomas wrote, the self-evident truths that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, are in fact the foundation upon which this Nation was built, as we will rightly celebrate once again this weekend. We have fallen far short of observing these truths in practice — notably during the periods of slavery and internment — but we come closest to the mark when we remember government exists to secure liberty, not create it; to preserve rights, not bestow them.
In no sense was Thomas excusing slavery or internment (the former ensnared Thomas’ ancestors, the latter Takei’s family) or denying that those practices inflicted real harm on people. In fact, the only way I can see that one might take offense at his words is if one rejects the idea dignity is inherent in all humans regardless of the horrors imposed on them. Ironically, such a belief may undermine the constitutional case for same-sex marriage, by leaving it up to men and their majorities to decide if gays and lesbians (or any other group) is worthy of dignity. After all, if dignity may be granted, it may also be taken away; the Constitution exists to help ensure the existence of rights is not so fickle.
But that’s not the “progressive” attitude toward government. Having discarded (for the most part) the notion of a Creator, the left must find another source for the endowment of rights. So they turn to government. Unlike a divine Creator, a government of men does not remain fixed — certainly not with a “living Constitution” that does not mean the same thing today as it did a year ago, or will mean 50 years from now. That may explain why the left’s description of these rights is ever narrower: The First Amendment protects the free exercise of religion, but all you really have is a smaller “freedom of worship.” You have the freedom of speech, unless you speak out against the climate-change consensus, in which case you should be charged with “crimes against humanity.”
Second, and more telling, is Takei’s apparent belief that the concept of inherent dignity is some kind of “white” thing that “real” black people (and presumably other minorities) should not embrace. Otherwise, why would Thomas have to wear “blackface” to voice them? This is a dangerous mindset that suggests this country did not only mistreat an entire race of people for decades upon decades, a fact no one denies, but also is based in largest part on a premise which that race and others fundamentally cannot accept. If Takei wants to disavow the concept of inherent human dignity, he has that right. But why would he assume all black Americans should do the same, and that someone who did not is not authentically black?
Unfortunately, Thomas is not the only conservative minority to face such bigotry. Just ask, to name a few: Herman Cain, Allen West, Tim Scott, Nikki Haley, Benjamin Carson and Bobby Jindal — who is currently the target of a series of stories questioning, as one put it, how much “Indian (is) left in” him. Like Takei’s comment on Thomas, the basis for these attacks will be the seriously wrong-headed notion that authentic minorities may only adhere to certain beliefs.
With the GOP’s 2016 field likely to include two senators of Cuban descent (Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio), one of Indian descent (Jindal) and one African-American (Carson), compared to an all-white field on the Democratic side, we can probably expect our friends on the left to make more bigoted comments like Takei’s in the months ahead.
UPDATE: Takei has issued an apology for his choice of words, though it doesn’t really address the broader points I raised here.