LOS ANGELES, December 22, 2012 — On Monday, December 17, 2012, Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina announced that she would appoint fellow Republican Rep. Tim Scott to the United States Senate, making the 47-year-old African-American the first black Republican to serve in the Senate since Edward Brooke in 1978. Scott replaces Jim DeMint, the former congressman and senator who is leaving the chamber in January of 2013 to run a conservative think-tank, The Heritage Foundation.
Scott is a first-term congressman from Charleston who was recently reelected to a second term. Before he was elected to Congress, he served for 13 years on the Charleston City Council. Governor Haley made the announcement in Columbia on Monday afternoon, while surrounded by many members of South Carolina’s congressional delegation, including Scott, DeMint, and Senator Lindsey Graham.
While Scott’s appointment was made and announced by Haley, he is believed to be DeMint’s hand-picked successor. The selection prompted predictable criticism from pundits on the left, who find it impossible that a black man can hold conservative views without being a “sell out” or an “Oreo.” Blackness has become defined not just as a race, but as an ideology, hence by definition a black man’s identification as “black” is negated by conservative views.
An example of this kind of thinking showed up in a New York Times op-ed. Adolph Reed, Jr., a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, called Scott a “token” and added that minority politicians in the GOP will remain meaningless symbols as long as GOP policies don’t reflect mainstream black politics (in other words, as long as the GOP isn’t the Democratic Party).
MSNBC guest host Joy Reid delivered an open letter to Scott this week. She picked up on the “token” idea, said that the thinking (on the left) is that Scott’s selection was designed to improve the GOP image with minorities and show that it got “the diversity memo.” After criticizing his position on gun control, she went on to say, “But I do hope that as a senator, you’ll prove those who call you a ‘token’ wrong, and that you’re not just a new face touting the Grand Old Party line.”
Let’s be clear here. According to Reid and Reed, a black man in the GOP can only not be a token if he takes positions other than those that are common in the GOP, that is, he can only avoid being a token if his positions are more like those of Democrats.
Scott will be the only black senator in the next Congress. He will be the first black senator from the south since reconstruction, and only the seventh black senator ever to serve. He won his congressional seat by defeating the son of an icon of southern white supremacy, Strom Thurmond. The people who dismiss him as a token are like those who dismissed Collin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Clarence Thomas and other prominent black conservatives. They invite us to ask, if blackness is only a matter of political ideology, what about whiteness, maleness, and so on? Should we be providing protections under various laws for particular minorities on the basis of ideology?
Let’s recall Governor Haley’s words earlier this week: “It is with great pleasure that I am announcing our next U.S. senator to be Congressman Tim Scott,” Haley said. “I am strongly convinced that the entire state understands that this is the right U.S. senator for our state and our country. He understands the strength that we need to have in our business community as we continue to focus on jobs. He has shown that with his support of the ports and knowing that the deepening needs to be there. He’s shown courage when he helped us with the fight against National Labor Relations Board and the unions that tried to take Boeing down. He has shown it with his fiscal representation and the fact that he knows the value of a dollar. He understands what every family and small business goes through, and he has stayed consistent to that.”
Haley, herself a first – a female minority governor of South Carolina – is likewise dismissed as a “token” by Adolph Reed.
Edward Brooke, the last African American Republican to serve in the Senate, was the first and only African American popularly elected to the Senate in the 20th century until Carol Moseley Braun represented the state of Illinois as a Democrat in 1993. He was the only African American in our nation’s history to ever have been re-elected to the Senate.
Even if you loath his politics, questioning Scott’s race is an open admission of intellectual irrelevance. He’s a conservative black man. Whether he and others like him are the future of the GOP remains an open question.