What's the Difference Between a “Good Friend” and a Sugar Daddy?
There’s a line somewhere and Clarence Thomas and Harlan Crow are way over it.
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1. MOAR GIFTS!
This morning we awake to news that conservative billionaire Harlan Crow also paid for a couple years of tuition at a private school for a kid Clarence Thomas and his wife were raising.
Let me give you the most charitable reading of the story:
In 1997 the Thomases brought their great nephew to live with them, presumably because his home life was not optimal. They took legal custody of him and raised him. Justice Thomas’s good friend Harlan Crow suggested that the young man might thrive at Crow’s alma mater, Randolph Macon Academy. Crow then paid for the kid’s first year of tuition.
After the first year, the child was sent to a different boarding school, in Georgia. Crow paid for this year of tuition, too.
This is the official story from
journalist lawyer special-friend of the justice Mark Paoletta, who seems to have taken on the job of crisis comms for Thomas.1
How much did Crow spend on tuitions for this kid? That’s unclear. More than $6,000. Maybe as much as $70,000. Fancy Southern boarding schools aren’t cheap.
Was Thomas required by the letter of the law to disclose any of this?
But that’s not really the point.
Even if Thomas was in some violation by not disclosing this . . . what do we call it? A gift? Help from a friend? Even then, it wouldn’t be the biggest deal in the world.
Look: The Thomases did something extraordinary in taking this child in and raising him. God bless them for that. It sounds like they made a difference in his life. And when people take on extraordinary duties, sometimes they need help. That’s why friends and even strangers organize meal trains and start GoFundMe campaigns. When I was a kid and Hillary Clinton wrote It Takes a Village I laughed and called her a commie. Now that I’ve been around the block and seen the elephant, I realize she’s exactly right. Raising kids is hard. We all need help.
But the ick-factor on this new Thomas story is that it’s part of a pattern.
First we got the stories about Crow donating money in order to pay the salary of Thomas’s activist/dilettante wife.
Then we found out that Crow provided many lavish vacations for Thomas and his wife.
Then we learned about Crow letting Thomas use his private jet for personal travel.
Then we found out that Crow paid for a gigantic monument to Thomas’s eighth-grade teacher.
Then it was discovered that Crow bought property from Thomas and now allows Thomas’s mom to live rent-free in a house that he (Crow) owns.
Any one of these things and you might say, “Hmmm. That’s a little strange. But whatever. Rich people are weird and if you have a rich friend maybe they do weird friend stuff.”
But take all of them together? Now we go from “a little weird” to “this is what cam girls hope for in a sugar daddy.”
And call me crazy, but while it’s fine for Supreme Court justices to have good friends, I think it’s not healthy for the Court for them to have sugar daddies.
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2. Your Precious Norms
Three things stick out for me.