Tag Archives: Joe Biden

The Hungarian right loves not only Donald Trump but also Clarence Thomas

Today’s post was inspired by an opinion piece that appeared in the government-sponsored Magyar Idők titled “Historic swearing-in in Washington.” No, it wasn’t about President Donald Trump’s inauguration; it was about Supreme Court Judge Clarence Thomas administering the oath of office to Vice President Mike Pence. The author is László Lovászy, a university professor and the Hungarian member of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

In the article Clarence Thomas is portrayed as a man who is being “purposely ignored by the media both at home and abroad and about whom one can find barely any positive reference” in the literature on human rights. In the opinion of the author, the reason for this silence is Clarence Thomas’s well-known opposition to affirmative action and his pro-life position. This, he writes, was the reason for his difficulties in becoming a supreme court justice when “even accusations of sexual harassment” were raised against him. In the Trump era “we can expect to hear more about [Clarence Thomas] because, after all, he is the only black, Republican member of the Supreme Court who is opposed to positive discrimination on the basis of race.”

Those of us who know a little more about Clarence Thomas’ performance during his tenure in the Supreme Court are pretty certain that Thomas is not ignored because of his views on affirmative action and the question of abortion. He is ignored because, as a sharp-tongued critic said a few days ago, “Tell me one time that Thomas has done anything. Not just for black people—just done anything…. He is there because we see him. And he is alive because he is there. And he does stuff, like sit and stand and say, ‘I would prefer not to.’ But other than that, I don’t know what he does. Wait—I do know what he will be doing Friday: swearing in Vice President-elect Mike Pence, so there is that.” Indeed, because Mike Pence “has long admired Justice Clarence Thomas and deeply respects his judicial philosophy, dedication to the rule of law, and his historic service on the bench of our nation’s highest court,” he specifically asked Thomas do perform the honors.

Lovászy dwelt at some length on President Barack Obama’ harsh words regarding Thomas’s less than sterling record when in 2008 during the campaign he said: “I would not have nominated Clarence Thomas. I don’t think that he was a strong enough jurist or legal thinker at the time for that elevation. Setting aside the fact that I profoundly disagree with his interpretation of a lot of the constitution.” Lovászy finds these critical words inappropriate and highly reprehensible.

Actually, Lovászy is not quite correct. In the last few months Clarence Thomas’s name has appeared quite a bit in the media–mind you, not as a shining light of American jurisprudence. A few months ago, when the new Smithsonian National Museum of African-America History and Culture opened its doors,  visitors noted that Clarence Thomas ended up as a footnote to Anita Hill: “In 1991 Anita Hill charged Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas with sexual harassment. This event transformed public awareness and legal treatment of sexual harassment. Outraged by Hill’s treatment by the all-white, all-male Senate committee, women’s groups organized campaigns to elect more women to public office.”

So, it looks as if the African-American organizers of the exhibit didn’t quite agree with Mark Paoletta, assistant counsel to President George H. W. Bush, who played a key role in the successful confirmation of Clarence Thomas. According to him, Thomas is “the second most important black person in the United States after President Obama…. Absolutely the top black conservative. I’d say even the top conservative.”

Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill will forever be linked in the American cultural memory. In fact, Hill’s sexual harassment charge was resurrected recently. First, when Joe Biden contemplated throwing his hat in the ring, the U.S. media discovered his role in the Senate hearings of Clarence Thomas. Politico admitted that Joe Biden has done a lot over the past 24 years in defense of women, but “that hasn’t erased the memories of how Biden presided over those hearings as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, blamed for doing little to stop the attacks on Hill and opting not to call three other witnesses who would have echoed Hill’s charges of sexual harassment.”

Soon after, an HBO movie on the hearings, Confirmation, was released. According to one of the reviews, “the two-hour film focuses on themes that feel hauntingly current, like slut-shaming and victim-blaming. It brings up the uncomfortable reality of how powerful men often treat the women around them.” Keep in mind that these words were written at the time that Donald Trump’s treatment of women was being widely discussed.

The all-male Senate Judiciary Committee. Photo: Associated Press

And in late November Moira Smith, vice president and general counsel at Enstar Natural Gas Co. in Alaska, came forth with her story about an unpleasant encounter with Thomas back in 1999 when she was a Truman Foundation scholar. Smith decided to go public because “Donald Trump said when you’re a star, they let you do it; you can do anything. The idea that we as victims let them do it made me mad…. Sure enough Justice Thomas did it with I think an implicit pact of silence that I would be so flattered and star-struck and surprised that I wouldn’t say anything. I played the chump. I didn’t say anything.”

The conservative media is still extremely touchy about Clarence Thomas. The National Review attacked Moira Smith, calling attention to the fact that she is a registered Democrat and her first husband served in Obama’s White House. Moreover, her second husband “is now a discredited high-profile Democratic politician in Alaska.” That kind of attack is only too familiar to Hungarians acquainted with similar Fidesz assaults on their opponents: to bring up an alleged fact that has nothing whatsoever to do with the case in point.

In any event, the Hungarian right is enamored with Donald Trump. And now that Pence chose Justice Thomas to administer his oath of office, right-wing journalists and scholars close to the government, like Lovászy, have suddenly discovered him. I doubt, however, that they will be able to make a great legal scholar out of him. Moreover, although this obviously doesn’t matter to them, in trying to make Clarence Thomas a hero, they are disregarding the feelings of the African-American community, which has rejected him as someone who has never represented their interests. Their heroine is  Anita Hill, whose impact was tangible. In 1992 four women were elected to the Senate, and the number of women in the House rose from 28 to 47. Her testimony also raised people’s awareness of sexual harassment.

January 25, 2017

Viktor Orbán and László Kövér on the warpath against Washington

While we were snooping around in Felcsút and downtown Budapest over the weekend, Viktor Orbán and his old pal from college days, László Kövér, were working hard to make American-Hungarian relations even worse than they already are.

The offensive started with a letter that László Kövér addressed to American Vice President Joe Biden. In it he complained about Senator John McCain’s speech in the Senate, in which McCain called Viktor Orbán “a neo-fascist dictator.” McCain with this unfounded statement “violated the sovereignty of Hungary.” The lack of respect McCain showed toward one of the leaders of the trans-atlantic alliance is unacceptable, said Kövér. But, he continued, McCain’s outburst is not just the single misstep of an ill-informed senator but “a brutal manifestation of a process which is becoming evident by the statements, gestures, behavior of government officials and persons who are in contact with the Hungarian government.” Kövér in the letter asked Biden to use his influence to temper the statements of government officials. In plain English, Kövér demanded a change in U.S. policy toward Hungary.

Kövér’s letter to Biden was followed by a Sunday interview with an MTI reporter in which Kövér expressed the same opinion, but even more forcefully than in his letter. From the Hungarian government’s perspective, American-Hungarian relations can be improved only by a change in U.S. policy. Hungary is an innocent victim, and therefore its government has no intention of changing its current posture in either foreign or domestic affairs. In this interview he actually accused the United States of playing a concerted “geopolitical game”  in which the U.S. “is using us, the Czechs, the Romanians, and the Slovaks for their plans ‘to make order’ in the immediate hinterland of the front line.” In his opinion, the situation is worse than it seems on the surface because “on the intermediate level of the State Department there are people who have been the opponents and enemies not only of Hungary but also of Fidesz-KDNP.” Fidesz politicians are absolutely convinced that Hungary’s bad reputation at the moment is due solely to antagonistic liberal critics of the Orbán regime who influence the middle stratum of government officials in the State Department. His final word on the subject was: “The key to the normalization of the bilateral relations is not in our hands.”

Today, echoing Kövér’s tirade, Viktor Orbán delivered a speech in the Hungarian Academy of Sciences at a conference commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Timișoara/Temesvár events in December 1989 which eventually led to the fall of Nicolae Ceaușescu. I must say one needs quite a fertile imagination to smuggle an attack on the United States into a speech on such an occasion, but Orbán managed. He quoted László Tőkés, the Calvinist minister who was the hero of the Romanian revolution, who apparently said on some occasion that “words uttered at the right time and place equal in value the Word of the Creator.” From here, with a sharp turn, he got to those “words uttered not at the right place” which produce destruction. Because calling another country a dictatorship, especially when uttered by those who have never in their lives lived in anything resembling a dictatorship, is wanton destruction. “Yet they think they are in possession of a description of a phantom picture of dictatorship, when they don’t see, they don’t know its essence.”

warfare

From here he moved easily to Yalta and Potsdam where “the representatives of the western world were not too worried about checks and balances” and “offered the people of Eastern Europe tyranny on a platter.” In 1989 each of those countries alone had to get rid of the shackles that were put on them in 1944-1945.

Checks and balances had to be on the Hungarian prime minister’s mind throughout the weekend because earlier he gave a very lengthy interview to Zoltán Simon of Bloomberg. Here I will summarize only those parts that have a direct bearing on U.S.-Hungarian relations. According to Orbán,”the U.S. in response to the geopolitical situation, has come up with an action plan, which they recently announced publicly, and it involves two dozen countries. This is fundamentally trying to influence alleged corruption in these two dozen countries.”

I suspect that the interview was conducted in English, a language in which the prime minister is no wordsmith, because these two sentences make no sense to me.  Perhaps what he wanted to say was that the United States is using the “fight against corruption” as an excuse to influence other countries’ foreign policies. But “this is the land of freedom fighters. And there’s public feeling in Hungary that sees a sovereignty problem in all of this. It feels that this is an attempt to influence from the outside the sovereign decisions of a freely elected parliament.”

Moving on to the U.S. criticism of Viktor Orbán’s “illiberal democracy,” he delivered the following history lesson to ignorant Americans:

Checks and balances only have meaning in the United States, or in presidential systems, where there are two identical sovereigns, that is a directly elected president and legislature. In Europe, this isn’t the case, there’s only one sovereign, there’s nowhere to “checks it or balance it,” because all of the power is delegated by parliament. In these instances it’s much more appropriate to talk about cooperation rather than checks and balances. Checks and balances is a U.S. invention that for some reason of intellectual mediocrity Europe decided to adopt and use in European politics.

Poor Montesquieu, who coined the term “checks and balances.” Or the ancient Greeks, who are generally credited with having introduced the first system of checks and balances in political life.

As for the American and European criticism of the illiberal state, Orbán’s answer is: “Hungarians welcomed illiberal democracy, the fact that in English it means something else is not my problem.”

Finally, an update on Ildikó Vida, who filed a complaint against an unnamed person who just happens to be M. André Goodfriend, the U.S. chargé d’affaires in Budapest. Everything is proceeding apace. She filed the complaint on Friday, December 12 and by today the prosecutors are already investigating. Magyar Nemzet speculates that the investigators will call in “witnesses,” but the paper admits that it is possible that “Goodfriend will easily get off.” The Hungarian judicial system, which is normally slow as molasses, can be very speedy when Viktor Orbán wants to expedite matters.