This week, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, tapped Rep. Tim Scott to fill the Senate seat being vacated by conservative firebrand Jim DeMint. The appointment of Scott, a Tea Party favorite, was hailed within the GOP as an inspired choice. Scott will notch a lot of "firsts": The first black senator from South Carolina; the first black senator from the South since Reconstruction; and the first black Republican senator since Edward Brooke of Massachusetts retired in 1979. Come January, he will be the only African-American in the entire Senate.
Despite the historic nature of his appointment, some liberals are unimpressed. "It obscures the fact that modern black Republicans have been more tokens than signs of progress," says Adolph L. Reed Jr. at The New York Times:
Even if the Republicans managed to distance themselves from the thinly veiled racism of the Tea Party adherents who have moved the party rightward, they wouldn't do much better among black voters than they do now. I suspect that appointments like Mr. Scott's are directed less at blacks — whom they know they aren't going to win in any significant numbers — than at whites who are inclined to vote Republican but don't want to have to think of themselves, or be thought of by others, as racist.
Just as white Southern Democrats once used cynical manipulations — poll taxes, grandfather clauses, literacy tests — to get around the 15th Amendment, so modern-day Republicans have deployed blacks to undermine black interests…
Republicans will not gain significant black support unless they take policy positions that advance black interests. No number of Tim Scotts — or other cynical tokens — will change that.
Conservatives anticipated this type of criticism as soon as Haley named Scott. Indeed, Scott's appointment, says Investor's Business Daily in an editorial, has sparked Democratic envy at the number of "GOP Hispanics, minorities, and women" who are holding elected office:
Though he'll inevitably be dismissed as a "token" or worse, Rep. Tim Scott, the next Republican senator from the former slave state of South Carolina, and the first black GOP senator since Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, shatters once again the stereotype of the GOP as a party of racists and sexists.
And Democrats would be wise not to discount him, says Jonathan Capehart at The Washington Post:
[I]t would be a mistake for Democrats and progressives who don't know anything about Scott — except that he's a black Republican — to dismiss him as mere window dressing for for the GOP.
Lord knows we're all used to that sort of thing. Herman Cain was the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination based on a showman's ability to grab attention and an economic plan so nonsensical even he couldn't explain it. Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) made a name for himself within the GOP and nationally with his offensive, racially tinged comments about Democrats and President Obama. They are just two recent examples — don't get me started on Alan Keyes.
"Tim Scott is a good guy. I like him," Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told me. The assistant Democratic Leader in the House made it clear that Scott "certainly is no gadfly. He's not anything close to [being an] Allen West….[H]e's serious." That's good for South Carolina, good for the Republican Party and good for the nation.
The true test, of course, will come at the ballot box, says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post:
At this point, it's virtually impossible to imagine — from a purely political perspective — the GOP not putting a black or a Hispanic somewhere on their presidential ticket in four years. Whether doing so will change their ability to woo and win the votes of minority communities remains to be seen.