Tim Scott and History

Some musings on South Carolina Senator and “GOP rising star” Tim Scott:

To start, Tim Scott doesn’t care much for history. When he was running for congress, and then for senate, he got a lot of attention, and for good reason. He was the first black Republican elected to Congress from the south since Reconstruction and subsequently the first black senator (Republican or Democrat) elected from the south in the same time period. But Scott wasn’t interested in this or any explicit discussions of race or history. On the eve of his Congressional primary victory in 2010, Scott was interviewed by the New York Times:

“The historic part of this is nice to have — maybe,” he said of winning the Republican nomination, but he said it was also “a distraction.”

His feelings were understandable here – people run for office for lots of reasons, and black politicians shouldn’t be forced to define their campaigns based on their identities. But later in the same Times article, his lukewarm feelings about history take a bizarre turn. Here’s Scott addressing the fact that he co-chaired segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond’s final campaign:

“The Strom Thurmond I knew had nothing to do with that,” Mr. Scott said. “I don’t spend much time on history,” he added, noting that Mr. Thurmond had “evolved” by the time Mr. Scott was born

The Strom Thurmond whom Tim Scott knew actually had quite a bit to do with “that;” i.e., with a political philosophy firmly built on the subjugation of black Americans. Furthermore, Mr. Scott need not tell us he doesn’t “spend much time on history” – that isn’t hard to tell. The year Mr. Scott was born, 1965, Strom Thurmond had “evolved” from filibustering civil rights legislation for 24 hours straight to claiming the Voting Rights Act would lead to “despotism and tyranny.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Thurmond never made full amends for his segregationism, as senator and former Ku Klux Klan member Robert Byrd spent the latter half of his career doing. Thurmond may have been personally gracious to Scott, but recall that Thurmond also had a black daughter. So far as anyone can tell, Thurmond cared for her deeply (if secretly) while simultaneously trying to deny the rights of citizenship to any southerner that looked like her. Being a decent guy to black folks one-on-one and being a structural white supremacist aren’t mutually exclusive.

Likewise, it’s possible to be a democratically elected politician while actively ignoring the dilution of democracy. Rather than favor a Voting Rights Act that traditionally targeted states and other jurisdictions with a history of voter suppression, Scott wants a new VRA to apply an equal standard of scrutiny nationwide. On Face the Nation in March 2015, Scott asserted “To specifically punish six Southern states for atrocities that happened 40 or 50 years ago without updating that formula seems to be discriminatory in and of itself.”

Again, Scott has little regard for history, failing to acknowledge that (1) the VRA was re-authorized twice since 1965 (both times in near unanimity) and (2) that perhaps states with a history of racial oppression are more likely to continue that oppression in different forms, even far into the future. Maybe certain events that began in South Carolina roughly 100 years before the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act could help explain this tendency. Or maybe Scott could take a long, hard look at the outcome of his state’s voter ID requirements and the strange, twisting shape of the state’s lone Democratic congressional district.

Senator Scott’s distaste for history continued in 2015, following the massacre of black churchgoers in Charleston by neo-Confederate Dylann Roof. This time Scott’s hatred for unflattering facts about the past related to the Confederate flag. While he admirably called for the flag to be taken down from the State Capitol, this was only after bending over backward to note that the flag “has come to be seen” as a symbol of hatred and racism “to some.” Whereas its true symbolism is, of course, regional pride. I don’t mean to undermine Mr. Scott’s work in moving the country forward, but if he could just spare me a moment more to look in the rearview mirror:

And then last week, here comes Tim “I-don’t-spend-much-time-on-history” Scott again, this time waving the bold new Republican precedent that Supreme Court Justices don’t get confirmed in an election year. The only thing close to “precedent” on this obstruction is the so-called Thurmond Rule, named for Senator Scott’s favorite non-racist advocate for apartheid.

And why, exactly, did Strom Thurmond advocate that no permanent judicial nominee should be approved in the last 6 months (not 11 months) of a President’s term? Well, like all good southern politicians, Thurmond saw that the Warren court had gutted the legal foundation of that which was most dear to him and his people: state’s rights. And by this he meant, of course, the state’s right to purge its voter rolls of color, bar black people from marrying whites, and educate children separately based on their race. Given a chance, President Lyndon B. Johnson would have solidified the Court’s liberal majority and hence written in stone the humiliation of the south. In response, Thurmond did what he and his protégés have always done best: oppose, oppose, oppose. (Or in this case, delay, delay, delay.)

Tim Scott has a dislike for knowledge of the past. So long as he’s a senator, that doesn’t bode well for his country’s future.


*This video is pulled from Eric Foner’s Civil War and Reconstruction class, which Columbia University offers online for free. The video by itself is a great run down of how explicit the Confederacy was about seceding to preserve slavery. The course as a whole is fascinating and well worth exploring.

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