Timothy Scott: Last week, Sen. Tim Scott declared, “Hear me clearly — America is not a racist country.” Here’s what both sides are saying. To have stories like this and more delivered directly to your inbox, be sure to sign up for our newsletter. Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore.
Top Story: Timothy Scott
On September 19, 1965, Timothy Eugene Scott was born in North Charleston, South Carolina to a working-class mother and father who divorced when he was seven years old. In what became a single-parent household, Scott’s mother often worked 16-hour days to support herself and her sons. “Frances Scott and her boys shared a bedroom, and a bed, in [a] cramped, shack-style home,” Tim Alberta reported for POLITICO in 2018. Scott ultimately graduated from high school, attending Presbyterian College from 1983 to 1984, on a partial football scholarship. “Scott grew from his humble beginnings to build one of the most successful Allstate agencies in South Carolina,” according to his Senate biography. Since January 2017, Scott has been one of 11 African-Americans to have served in the US Senate. He is also the first to serve in both chambers of Congress. Additionally, Scott has the honors of being the first African-American senator from South Carolina and the first African-American Senator to be elected from the southern United States since 1881. After President Joe Biden delivered his first joint address to Congress last week, Sen. Tim Scott gave a response. Among other points, Scott said, “Hear me clearly — America is not a racist country.” Here’s how outlets on both sides of the aisle reacted:
On The Left
The Left is split. In an interview on NBC’s Today show that aired Friday, President Biden said America is not a racist country, but that Black Americans have been left behind and “we have to deal with it.” Vice President Kamala Harris echoed those comments saying, “No. I don’t think America is a racist country but we also do have to speak truth about the history of racism in our country and its existence today.” Left-leaning commentators, however, felt differently. Here’s what they said.
Eugene Robinson criticizes Scott in The Washington Post for “offering deceptive absolution intended to provide affirmation and comfort to those who prefer to sugarcoat both the nation’s past and its present.” He goes on to promote the view of VP Harris, who he says “speaks the truth” when saying “‘it does not help to heal our country…to ignore the realities’ of historic and present-day racism.” Robinson calls it “standard GOP doctrine to portray slavery as some kind of evil sideshow rather than an essential institution of the nation at its founding.” Likewise, he doesn’t believe 1960s civil rights legislation was “the end of racial discrimination,” nor does he share the GOP view that affirmative action is “‘divisive’ and discriminatory.” Tim Scott, Robinson concludes, told the Republican base “what it wants to hear” instead of “what it needs to hear.”
Clay Cane largely concurs in CNN. He writes, “One of the main requirements for today’s Black Republicans appears to be the tricky logic of downplaying racism while simultaneously playing the race card.” Cane claims “Biden never said America was a racist country” in his speech to Congress and “only mentioned racism twice,” so Scott’s speech “wasn’t an actual rebuttal to Biden’s remarks.” Instead, he believes Scott sought “to soothe racial guilt,” using “his Blackness when it’s convenient,” as others in his party do. Cane writes that he “would never call Scott an Uncle Tom” but only because that would be “an insult to the character Uncle Tom, who… sacrifices himself for the good of others.”
Lastly, in Mother Jones, Nathalie Baptiste calls Scott’s rebuttal “a safe space for white conservatives who live in constant fear as they face the menacing specter of incremental progress in racial and social justice.” She criticizes him for turning “the social programs Biden championed into government intrusion into the lives of self-sufficient Americans” and for employing “the tired, old Republican talking point of ‘tax and spend’ Democrats.” Furthermore, Baptiste writes, “Downplaying the threat of racism is a typical talking point for those who still consider themselves Republicans” and is only meant to give “white conservatives cover.”
Left-leaning pundits largely take issue with Scott’s speech, believing it essentially lets some Americans, Republicans specifically, off the hook for their racial sins, as well as the country’s racist past.
On The Right
Conversely, the right applauds Senator Scott for calling out the harm of progressive politics while offering a hopeful way forward. They also join him in confronting Democrats for weaponizing accusations of racism against their political opponents.
The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board writes that Scott “laid out what the GOP is against…but also what it is for, and the principles behind it.” They note he also called out progressive hypocrisies, such as those who call him “Uncle Tom and the N-word” because he is a black Republican. “Hear me clearly,” Mr. Scott said, “America is not a racist country.” Even though “most Americans know this,” the editors write, “too many of our leaders are unwilling or afraid to say so publicly.“ They applaud Scott for calling out “‘those who wield race as a political weapon…to dishonestly shut down debates in the present.’” Contrary to the negative outlook presented by Biden and Democrats, the writers believe “Sen. Scott offered an optimistic Republican vision that stresses the dignity of work, individual freedom over government dependence, and belief in the principle of equal opportunity for all to rise.”
Meanwhile, Susan Crabtree praises Senator Scott’s response, calling him a “reluctant warrior” in RealClearPolitics. As she sees it, “Sen. Tim Scott never actively sought the role of race relations ambassador for the Republican Party.” Instead, she believes, “the role found him.” Crabtree describes his speech as “undeniably genuine, calm, and solution-oriented.” She notes that “In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s presidency, one punctuated in much of the public’s mind by the sight of pro-Trump rioters storming the U.S. Capitol — some carrying Confederate flags — it’s the Tim Scott that GOP leaders want American voters to know, too.” Ultimately she says, “the rare, shining moment for Republicans in recent months is raising hopes that Scott can help expand the party’s appeal among blacks and other minorities – and even suburban soccer moms who never could stomach Donald Trump’s personality.”
Finally, a New York Post Editorial agrees with that assessment, saying Scott provided a “slam-dunk response” to Biden’s speech. Specifically, the writer calls Scott “particularly effective on Biden’s talk of ‘systemic racism.’” In the rebuttal, Scott “recounted his own experiences with discrimination” before declaring “America is not a racist country” and criticizing Democrats for “[fighting] discrimination with different discrimination.” As it relates to Washington, Scott ultimately warned against using race as a “political weapon to sell every issue the way one side wants.”
Republicans found fresh energy in Scott’s response as a hopeful message of freedom and unity.
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According to the most recent polling from Gallup, 48% of Americans say they worry a “great deal” about race relations. One-quarter said they worry about the topic a “fair amount” and roughly another quarter say they worry “only a little” or “not at all.” The “rebuttal speech” to the President’s State of the Union address began in 1966. At the time, two Republicans, Senator Everett Dirksen (Illinois) and Representative Gerald Ford (Michigan), appeared on TV to respond to the address by Democratic President Lyndon Johnson. LBJ focused on the Vietnam War, citing “security as the reason for committing to the conflict long-term,” according to the Miller Center. He also discussed the Great Society, the main goals of which were to end poverty, reduce crime, abolish inequity, and improve the environment. You can listen to the speech here — it’s actually fascinating. What’s even more illuminating is how closely it mirrors some of the items Biden touched on last Wednesday. We too are engaged in a war in Afghanistan that has been compared to the one in Vietnam. LBJ said we need to address the “growing menace of crime in the Streets.” Today, the US murder rate increased by 25 percent or more in 2020 based on preliminary FBI data. Johnson also discusses inequity and the environment, two major agenda items for the Biden administration. In regards to the history of the rebuttal speech, four people have given both a response and a State of the Union address: Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush.
Flag Poll: Timothy Scott
Did you get a chance to watch Sen. Tim Scott’s speech? What did you think? Use the comment section below to share your thoughts.