'Time for Healing'

THE emotional Clarence Thomas hearings and the subsequent confirmation of the judge to the Supreme Court, seem, at least in the short term, to widen the political fault lines in the United States.The hearings raised questions about the confirmation process, the Senate, and the role of interest groups. More important, they played on the race and gender divisions in the US. Many blacks and women feel the Thomas nomination trampled on their interests. Many Americans aren't sure how well the country has been served by last Tuesday's vote to confirm. Judge Thomas himself says it is "time for healing." Healing is an important concept and a necessary goal. But the word must be more than mouthed, and it must mean more than an absence of conflict. President Bush could take the lead in healing. It should not be forgotten, after all, that Judge Thomas was his nominee. Mr. Bush is the president of all Americans, not just those who voted for him. Bush should take steps to unify the country and heal the mistrust, anger, and cynicism many feel. White House retribution for Senate votes against Thomas will not help. Bush can show his sensitivity to the concerns of all Americans by coming to agreement on the overdue civil rights bill being worked out by Congress - on a bipartisan basis. Among other things, the bill ensures women and minorities fairer treatment in the workplace. With many women, the question remains: Why wasn't more made of the sexual harassment charge earlier? Ms. Hill's initial request for anonymity isn't answer enough. The nation's consciousness of harassment has certainly been raised. Yet one of the messages of the Thomas-Hill hearings confrontation, inescapably, was that a woman who comes forward with charges of harassment, however good her own personal record, is likely to be accused by those in authority of perjury or fantasy in an effort to shred her credibility. One legacy of the hearings must not be that charges of sexual harassment are repressed. The hearings should lead to strengthened protections against harassment - including greater self-restraint within individuals who might be tempted toward harassing words or actions. This should be part of the healing. The close 52-to-48 Senate vote indicated how lacking Judge Thomas was as a candidate of stature that both sides could respect. He may become such a man on the bench. Future nominees, decided through real advise and consent, must transcend rigid "activist" versus "constructivist" ideology. Magnanimity is needed.

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