BOSTON - What do we say now? I told you so?
It has been nearly 10 years since Anita Hill was called from her Oklahoma campus to testify on Clarence Thomas' nomination to the Supreme Court. It has been nearly a decade since those hearings set off a stunning national furor about sexual harassment, about what he said and she said.
Had Mr. Thomas, the former head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, trod on a woman's rights? Had he harassed her with porn talk? Was she out to get him? A tease? A tramp?
The whole country, glued to the television, seemed to divide into right and left or male and female asking: Who was the victim and who was the liar? Was Mr. Thomas subject to "a high-tech lynching"? Was Ms. Hill the target of a White House smear campaign?
Mr. Thomas won confirmation by a bare two votes but the case never really closed. It was argued in kitchens and in print.
In the aftermath, writer David Brock became the chief partisan of the right, building up his reputation by tearing down Ms. Hill as "a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty." In his vitriolic book, "The Real Anita Hill," the writer stripped the clothes off her character, describing her as incompetent, unstable, even kinky.
Now the "Honk if You Believe Anita" bumper stickers are gone. Justice Thomas is on the court, with mud clinging to the hem of his robe. Professor Hill is at Brandeis University, the reluctant Rosa Parks of harassment.
And David Brock has recanted.
"A little bit nutty and a little bit slutty"? This recovering hit man confesses in an upcoming Talk magazine article and in a new book that he was on a search-and-destroy-Anita mission. He says he printed charges he knew were false, "dumping virtually every derogatory - and often contradictory - allegation I had collected on Hill into the vituperative mix." He falsely trashed evidence that Mr. Thomas had been a good customer of porno videos and falsely trashed Ms. Hill's supporters.
So do we say, "I told you so" to those who believed what they read? Do we tell the man from Santa Fe whose recent review on Amazon.com calls Mr. Brock's book "solidly researched" to try again? Do we recycle the copies of his out-of-print falsehoods?
I do not offer Mr. Brock absolution. The man who made a best seller out of a defamatory rant now wants to make a best seller out of repentance. What's his next gig, "My Life as an Opportunist"? If his old allies accuse him of lying about lying, he deserves that. He did too much damage.
But Mr. Brock was just the right-hand scribe, the mop-up crew after the nomination was cinched.
I'd rather hear a mea culpa from Orrin Hatch, who said Mr. Thomas couldn't possibly have taunted his employee with porn talk. Why, he would have been a "psychopathic sex fiend or a pervert."
I'd rather have repentance of John Danforth, the senator who sang "Onward Christian Soldiers" with Mr. Thomas in the bathroom before the hearings. What do they think now?
In "Strange Justice," a book that Mr. Brock savaged before his reformation, Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson wrote that the "preponderance of the evidence suggests" that Justice Thomas "did lie under oath."
The senators gave Mr. Thomas much more than the benefit of the doubt; they gave him a lifetime appointment to the highest court.
When Charles Ogletree, an attorney for Ms. Hill, heard about Mr. Brock's confession, he cut to the chase, or rather to the record. "We knew we were unfairly maligned and that he would be an ideologue of extreme proportions." Indeed, Mr. Thomas' record has been one long attack on prisoners' rights and women's rights and civil rights and, of course, sexual harassment.
"It's been a tough decade for the civil rights community to have the African-American who replaced Justice Marshall repudiate everything Marshall stood for," says Mr. Ogletree. That's the real legacy.
Nearly 10 years have passed. Many senators still regard those hearings as the ultimate confirmation nightmare. The chance of sequel prompts the calls to avoid "politics" or "incivility" or "personal attacks" in passing judgment on new judges. But the real penitence is due from those senators who confirmed in haste, leaving us to repent in leisure.
Justice Thomas was 43 years old when he was confirmed. He told his friends he'd stay on the bench 43 more years because it would take that long to get even. That's 33 to go.
Ellen Goodman is a columnist for the Boston Globe. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.