They have reportedly begun a lot of speculation down in South Carolina about who will be chosen by the state’s governor to succeed Republican U.S. Senator James Demint, who resigned last week. And among the names prominently being mentioned in these stakes is the black Republican congressman, Tim Scott, whose formula for winning that House seat in 2010 was to show off his arch-conservative stripes and how qualified he was for the role of Tea Party poster child. There’s even talk of pressure from some quarters for Governor Nikki Haley to give Scott the nod. And how’s that for irony of ironies if she does!
As an African American who for some reality-denying reason considers the Republican Party home turf, it seems the route to an attention-grabbing presence is assuming a position well to the right of non-black conservative voices in the camp – doing the extremism number more aggressively, perhaps more conspicuously, than they. Which has given us the likes of Herman Cain and Clarence Thomas. And which doubtless accounts for departing right-wing firebrand Demint being on record as a Tim Scott supporter (Sarah Palin too, if there’s need for further clarification to determine where on the curve Scott belongs).
Scott and Allen West, the wing-nut from Florida, were the two “trophy” blacks paraded by Republicans after their big anti-Obama House gains in the 2010 off-year elections. The utterly repugnant West was mercifully put out to pasture (permanently, one would hope) last month. Scott, his ultra-right/Tea Party credentials apparently as solid as they come, won re-election in the safely Republican district he represents.
So now, with all the chatter about the GOP brand’s disconnect from the changing electorate, its outdated reliance on a traditional bedrock of older white guys, here comes the possibility of the South Carolina governor making Scott the only black in the U.S. Senate. To be sure, getting there via the appointment route is a whole different ballgame from winning a state-wide election. The paucity of minority numbers over time in that exclusive 100-person enclave is no freak. Scott, if the governor pivots his way, would have that ride until at least 2014, when the seat would have to be won at the polls.
There is, with this, a parallel to when Mr. Justice Thomas was up for elevation to the nation’s highest court. Thomas wasn’t in ground-breaking territory; Thurgood Marshall had been given that pioneering honor back in the 1960s as the court’s first African American, thanks to LBJ. Even so, although lots of us couldn’t possibly imagine how destructively anti-progressive Thomas would turn out to be, there was enough about his track record to leave no doubt his filling the seat vacated by Marshall was a travesty. A very savvy Eleanor Holmes Norton remarked at the time, quite perceptively, that if given a choice between Thomas and a white nominee who was more sensitive to issues that have bedeviled minorities in the society, she would have no problem opting for the latter. In the matter of a possible Senator Scott, Ms Norton’s line of reasoning is easy to adopt. Only problem is, any white guy Governor Haley is likely to select will certainly be in the same political mold as herself and Scott.
Scott embodies all the patented ideological markers of the ultra-right template: taxes are bad; government spending is bad (the military being an exception where, for instance, he favors the U.S. remaining in Afghanistan); entitlements get characterized as a sworn enemy; recognizing no delineation between church and state; unwaveringly pro-life. He’s a strong supporter of the crudely disguised anti-labor measure his state and others have embraced, advertised as the right-to-work law…You get the picture.
Even now and more so when and if he is appointed to that Senate vacancy, Scott will present some blacks, both in his state and elsewhere, with a quandary about where should they come down regarding a “brother” (or “sister”), who is the antithesis of what one expects them to be in the political game. The Thomas high court nomination posed that dilemma to some black folk as well, while others, uninformed as to the political back story, saw themselves as predisposed to be supportive of blackness. (Presumably, the intervening years and Thomas’ despicable record would have substantially reduced the tally of those so inclined.)
What is it that drives this phenomenon of a paltry few black players finding their version of nirvana in a niche on the extreme right of the spectrum? How does one of such ilk parrot the party line of cutting entitlements while there’s a “hands off” reverence reserved for the well-to-do? What makes black Tim Scott comfortable being there? Born and bred in the South and presumably having a sense of the civil rights struggle and Republicans’ (and Dixiecrats’) reactionary role in it, what explains the paradoxical posture of a Tim Scott?
The last Black Republican in the Senate was Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, who served for two terms after being elected in 1966. Brooke certainly wasn’t a Republican of the Herman Cain-Tim Scott strain, and one understands that even a white dude looking to ape the Brooke political profile would have no easy time of it in today’s GOP, let alone Scott. That notwithstanding, it needs be said that a moderate Brooke was in large measure tolerable. Scott’s toxic extreme is a whole other unpalatable matter.