More on Clarence Thomas

Chatterbox may have overdone it when he referred to Clarence Thomas as a “dim bulb.” Many readers have objected to that term. Some of these are obvious partisans.’s reliably conservative “Best of the Web” column attacked Chatterbox for questioning Thomas’ qualifications to sit on the Supreme Court–conveniently ignoring Chatterbox’s larger point that Thomas’ self-pity is unjustified and out of control–and this sent a lot of angry Thomas buffs Chatterbox’s way. (Thanks for the link, though, fellas!) But other readers objected to the term “dim bulb” on non-ideological grounds, and on reflection, Chatterbox is inclined to agree with them. There is too much mindless vituperation in commentary today (Hendrik Hertzberg of TheNew Yorker once aptly termed the style “Chicken McMencken”), and Chatterbox does not want to contribute to it. To be sure, Chatterbox stands by his original sentiment: Thomas’ speech to the American Enterprise Institute, which occasioned the earlier item, and his reluctance to pose questions at oral arguments, are not evidence of a nimble intellect. (To those readers who claim that Thomas reserves his brilliance for his written legal opinions, Chatterbox offers the obvious retort that writing opinions is what Supreme Court clerks are for.) Nonetheless, Chatterbox wishes he’d found a less insulting term to make his point. The irony that Thomas’ speech was, in part, a battle cry urging conservatives to eschew civility, does not excuse incivility here.

That said, Chatterbox would be remiss if he failed to remind readers that “dim bulb,” as used in that regrettable sentence, was meant to describe not only Clarence Thomas but also George W. Bush. Chatterbox is equally sorry that he used this expression to describe the president of the United States. Now that the damage is done, however, he might as well share an interesting finding from his experiment in Menckenesque discourse: Although several people wrote in to object to Thomas being called a “dim bulb,” no one wrote in to object to George W. Bush being called a “dim bulb.” Apparently, the latter is a rude but not particularly controversial statement. Indeed, less than one month into his presidency, George W. Bush’s apparent mental shortcomings no longer constitute news. What else can one conclude from the fact that a devastating Washington Post story on this subject is buried todayon Page A8? The story portrays Bush as the “I’ll get back to you” president, unable to answer even the simplest question about his policies. Among those who contributed reporting to the story is David Broder, who is not generally known as a cheap-shot artist. In the article, the only significant dissent to the “Bush is clueless” thesis comes from Eric Holder, the former deputy attorney general. On the evidence of attending one Cabinet meeting, Holder says, “He has a light touch, but he takes up the space.” This is the same Eric Holder who raised no objection to Bill Clinton’s pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich.

[Update, Feb. 21: Unbelievably, Chatterbox has still received no e-mails arguing against his characterization of Dubya as a “dim bulb” (unless you count one that disputed the insult’s applicability to both Bush and Thomas before offering the opinion that it takes one to know one). This is beginning to get alarming.]

For more on bulbs, dim and otherwise, check out thisSlate “Shopping” column by Eliza Truitt.