Nelson Mandela, the South African leader who was a passionate supporter of labor unions and who labeled freedom from poverty a “fundamental human right,” has more in common with the most conservative Supreme Court justice in three generations than with President Obama. At least that’s what conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh would have his listeners believe. On his radio show Friday, Limbaugh claimed that Mandela “has more in common or had more in common with Clarence Thomas than he does with Barack Obama.”
The crux of Limbaugh’s argument is a familiar conservative complaint — “Obama looks at the US Constitution as an obstacle and makes end runs around it every day, practically,” according to Limbaugh. Mandela, by contrast, “insisted on compliance with his country’s constitution.” For this reason, Limbaugh claims, “Mandela had much more in common with Clarence Thomas, and a lot of conservatives, than he has with Obama, but the left doesn’t care.”
Limbaugh’s decision to praise Mandela for his loyalty to the South African constitution is ironic, as it would be difficult to craft a document more anathema to Limbaugh’s world view than the constitution Mandela signed as South Africa’s president in 1996. Mandela’s constitution protects a right to “fair labour practices,” to “form and join a trade union,” to “an environment that is not harmful to . . . health or well-being,” and to “sufficient food and water.” It forbids discrimination on the basis of “race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.” Perhaps most offensive of all to someone of Limbaugh’s beliefs, the South African Constitution also provides that “[e]veryone has the right to have access to . . . health care services, including reproductive health care.”
Moreover, Limbaugh’s decision to present Justice Thomas as a foil to Obama’s supposed disregard for the Constitution is simply absurd. Indeed, it is likely that no one in American government has tried harder to read his own policy preferences into the Constitution that Clarence Thomas.
Thomas is a deep skeptic of government — at least outside of the military context. Thomas screens a film version of Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” to his four law clerks each summer, and he’s also a devotee of Ludwig von Mises — an anti-government economist who opposed the New Deal as the “first steps on the way toward the establishment of full communism.”
These political views shine through in Thomas’ judicial opinions. Among other things, Thomas wants to return to a long discredited reading of the Constitution that was once used to declare federal child labor laws unconstitutional. Though it would be difficult to catalog all the laws that would cease to exist if Thomas got his way, a short list includes the federal ban on whites-only lunch counters, bans on race, gender and other forms of employment discrimination, overtime laws and the national minimum wage.