Five defining facts about the most powerful black politician not named Obama.
(The Root) -- Practically overnight, Rep. Tim Scott has been catapulted from being just one of the hundreds of nationally unknown members of Congress to one of the most recognizable and influential politicians in the nation. With his appointment by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to replace Sen. Jim DeMint in January, Scott will become the only African American in the Senate, and as such the second-most-influential black elected political leader in the land behind President Obama.
Adding to Scott's potential star power and influence is the fact that he is a conservative Republican when there are very few notable GOP faces that are black, especially in Congress. But unlike outgoing fellow African-American Republican Rep. Allen West (who gained notoriety for controversial statements), Scott is, in many ways, an unknown entity. He has kept a lower media profile than West during his first term in office, a strategy that appears to have served him well.
Below, a look at some quick facts about the nation's newest senator-to-be.
1. He defeated the son of one of the country's most famous segregationists on his journey to Congress.
To win the Republican nomination for his congressional seat, Scott went up against Councilman Paul Thurmond, son of legendary Sen. Strom Thurmond. The senior Thurmond was best known for serving nearly half a century in the Senate and spending much of his early career as the nation's most notorious segregationist (who secretly fathered a black daughter). Scott beat Paul Thurmond in a runoff, in part by out-fundraising him, but in part by securing the support of high-profile conservatives with national followings -- among them Sarah Palin, Karl Rove and Mike Huckabee, all of whom apparently identified Scott as a rising star early on. Looks as if they were right.
2. He declined to join the Congressional Black Caucus.
Defining his politics as colorblind, Scott had this to say about joining the caucus of African-American lawmakers: "While I recognize the efforts of the CBC and appreciate their invitation for me to caucus with them, I will not be joining at this time." Added Scott, "My campaign was never about race." This shouldn't come as a particular shock to anyone who viewed his campaign ads, which didn't feature a single person of color besides him.
3. He made his name opposing "Obamacare."
Scott gained notoriety in his home state in part by drafting the first bill challenging "Obamacare," the law also known as the Affordable Care Act. The move helped seal his conservative bona fides, so much so that Scott made the bill a centerpiece of one of his first television ads in his congressional run.
4. He opposed the Justice Department's efforts to increase diversity among South Carolina's elected officials.
In the closing days of the Clinton administration, the Justice Department filed suit challenging Charleston County, S.C.'s at-large voting system. Instead of being elected by individual districts, county council members were elected via an at-large system. This meant that even though African Americans made up a third of the county, council representatives were rarely people of color and were usually Republicans.
Critics of the suit noted that there was greater diversity on the school board, which did not require candidates to identify party affiliation when running -- meaning that perhaps the issue had as much to do with party identification as with racial diversity. Scott, who had recently been elected, said at the time, ''I don't like the idea of segregating everyone into smaller districts ... Besides, the Justice Department assumes that the only way for African Americans to have representation is to elect an African American, and the same for whites. Obviously, my constituents don't think that's true.''
5. He is a major foe of organized labor.
Right-to-work laws have been thrust back into the spotlight, thanks to legislation recently signed into law by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. Part of the reason Scott has become a darling of Tea Party conservatives is his vocal support of South Carolina's right-to-work statutes, which make it nearly impossible for unions to collect dues and organize.
It's a sad truth that our leaders only talk gun control when unspeakable tragedy hits close to home.
(The Root) -- Shortly after the Jovan Belcher tragedy I was asked on a television program whether or not the NFL player's high-profile murder-suicide and sports announcer Bob Costas' courageous comments about gun violence in the incident's aftermath would have any impact on gun control in America. I answered that they would not. The reason? Because as I noted during that interview, historically our country has only addressed the issue of gun violence when it touches the lives of those with whom our leaders are most likely to identify. Rarely are those likely to be incidents involving people of color suffering domestic violence or teens of color from low-income communities who are victims of urban gun violence.
Instead the gun tragedies that have actually moved our elected officials to significant action on gun control have been those incidents in which victims are most likely to remind our leaders of their own friends, families and communities, incidents like the 1993 shooting on a Long Island Rail Road train, which killed commuters from New York's professional class or the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, which made gun control the cause célèbre of white suburban moms, culminating in the Million Mom March in 2000.
Now it appears another incident is poised to finally move our leaders to action once again, 13 years after Columbine. The murder of 20 children and six adults in the quiet and normally safe enclave of Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14 is forcing a conversation about gun control that the shooting of 26 residents in one night in Chicago this summer -- resulting in the deaths of two teens and injury of 24 others -- could not. As previously noted in an analysis by the now-defunct the Daily, more Chicago residents, many of them urban youth, were killed by gun violence in the first half of 2012 than American soldiers were killed in Afghanistan during the same period.
Just think about those numbers for a moment.
Yet I don't recall elected officials of either party making the rounds of the Sunday morning news shows, explicitly to urge action in honor of those kids. But that has happened in the wake of the Newtown tragedy, just as it happened briefly in the wake of the Aurora, Colo., movie theater tragedy. But the difference between the incident in Aurora and the latest one in Newtown is that Aurora took place months before an election, a time in which very few politicians, including the president, feel their most politically courageous, particularly when it comes to provoking the ire of the political giant that is the National Rifle Association. As I wrote at the time, apparently there are four branches of government: the executive, the legislative, the judicial and the NRA. Perhaps it would have been more accurate for me to write that the NRA was the most influential undeclared candidate in the presidential race, not to mention every Senate and House race, too.
Now with the election safely in the rearview mirror, here's hoping our leaders will drum up a bit more courage before another tragedy unfolds. Some already have begun to.
After Columbine, some newly inspired gun-control activists, many of them upper-middle-class mothers from predominantly white communities, expressed regret to mothers of color for not being involved in the fight for gun control earlier, when gun violence claimed the lives of kids who didn't grow up in leafy suburbs and whose deaths were not likely to garner extensive coverage on the nightly news. The activism ignited by Columbine resulted in more stringent gun control laws and more diligent enforcement of existing laws, particularly on the state level.
Now, more than a decade later, the cycle appears to be repeating itself. Here's hoping that this time around, the activism the Newtown tragedy sparks will have long-term impact on communities like Newtown nationwide, and as a result, also impact urban communities that appear on the outside to have little in common with the tony Connecticut suburb, but are now united in the shared tragedy and heartbreak of young lives cut short by gun violence.
Bullied into withdrawing from secretary of state contention, she joins a sisterhood.
(The Root) -- When President Obama released a statement on Thursday disclosing that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice had formally withdrawn her name from consideration as a nominee for secretary of state, it marked the conclusion of the first major political battle of the 2012 postelection cycle. Republicans, still smarting from their losses on Election Day, had decided to seek revenge the old-fashioned way: by playing politics. On Thursday they succeeded in claiming a highly prized scalp in their undeclared war with the president.
Rice had become the face of the administration's Benghazi controversy, and therefore the de facto punching bag for conservative conspiracy theorists, convinced that the deaths of Americans in the Libyan city involve some high-level Obama-administration cover-up. But what makes Rice an even more appealing trophy? The president considers her a friend.
Yet the vitriol aimed at Rice led to allegations of racism and sexism, which I have written about and spoken about before. So the question that Rice's withdrawal raises is, what will the legacy of the Rice-nomination controversy be in the Obama administration going forward, and in history at large?
Well, the first answer to that question is that in her withdrawal, she has managed to unwittingly unite the president and Republicans in one way: They all look bad.
Republicans -- particularly Sen. John McCain, who led the opposition to Rice -- look like petty, bitter bullies. Worse, McCain's previous comments about Rice's qualifications (the man who presented Sarah Palin as presidential material labeled Rice -- a Ph.D., Rhodes scholar and former assistant secretary of state -- "unqualified") has left a permanent question mark over his legacy regarding his attitudes on race.
The question that will linger is whether he holds a black woman to different standards of capability from those he holds for a white woman. Thanks to how this has played out, we will never get to see Rice and McCain have any sort of public exchange at a confirmation hearing, so we will never fully know the answer to that question, to McCain's permanent detriment.
Meanwhile, the president -- thanks to his tough talk throughout the fiscal-cliff negotiations and in defense of Rice early on -- fairly or not, looks far weaker. Yes, Rice "withdrew," but questions will always linger in the minds of some progressives -- particularly women and African Americans rooting for Rice -- about whether she truly withdrew of her own accord or felt pressured to because of the distraction her nomination fight was becoming.
The greatest legacy of the Susan Rice controversy, however, will be that she will become this generation's Lani Guinier. There are some reading this who are young enough to have just asked, "Who?" But two decades ago, Guinier was then-President Bill Clinton's nominee for assistant attorney general for civil rights. A conservative column labeling her "Clinton's Quota Queen" argued that she was a proponent of racial quotas, creating a firestorm, and Clinton, a law-school friend of hers, withdrew her nomination. (President Obama had not yet formally nominated Rice.) Guinier returned to Harvard, where she has maintained a distinguished career as a law professor but has, politically speaking, become a trivia question.
There was just one oft-forgotten detail from Guinier's tale: She wasn't a proponent of quotas but a supporter of affirmative action. But who has time for facts and details when people are busy playing politics and trying to win at all costs?
This is a lesson that, two decades after Guinier, Rice has unfortunately learned as well.
So while America has managed to elect a black president twice, the question that Rice's withdrawal raises nearly two decades after Guinier is whether or not a black woman will be able to get a fair shake at the upper echelons of power in America -- particularly if she is a woman who has the audacity to spend her career challenging the white male power structure in any meaningful way.
New state laws curtail the power of unions, and possibly black earning potential.
(The Root) -- On the heels of a major loss for organized labor in Wisconsin earlier this year, when the state's governor signed a law limiting collective bargaining rights (a law later struck down by a judge and pending appeal), unions are now under siege in the state of Michigan. On Tuesday Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law a series of controversial "right to work" laws, which will limit the powers of the state's organized labor force.
Among the measures: Union dues can no longer be compulsory in private workplaces with labor contracts, which critics fear will sap union finances and clout. The move has sparked national outrage among progressives, as well as fear among many members of the working class. But black working men and women may have particular reason to worry.
According to a report, being in a union puts black Americans noticeably ahead, economically, of their nonunionized black counterparts. "On average, unionization raised black workers' wages 12 percent -- about $2 per hour -- relative to black workers with similar characteristics who were not in unions," a 2008 report from the Center for Economic Policy Research (pdf) found. Given that blacks overindex for labor union membership, these wage differentials have a greater impact on overall black earning power.
The report went on to note that for benefits, like health insurance and pensions, unionization had an even more profound effect on the economic stability of black workers. "African-American workers who were in unions were 16 percentage points more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and 19 percentage points more likely to have a pension plan than similar nonunion workers," according to the report. For low-wage jobs, the benefits of union membership were even more pronounced. Black Americans in low-wage jobs who were unionized were 20 percent more likely to have insurance and 28 percent more likely to have pension plans than their nonunionized low-wage counterparts.
The latest jobs numbers are good, and Sen. Jim DeMint's exit might make fiscal-cliff negotiations easier.
(The Root) -- It looks like Christmas may have come early for the Obama White House, with Santa delivering not one, but two welcome surprises.
First comes some positive jobs numbers -- not just positive but extraordinary. As reported in the Huffington Post, unemployment fell to a four-year low, to 7.7 percent in November. The numbers must be a source of some vindication for the White House, which faced subtle and not-so-subtle allegations from conservative critics that the positive jobs numbers released in October were the equivalent of an "October surprise" -- part of some possible conspiracy to influence the election. The conspiracy theorists got some help from last month's jobs reports, in which unemployment increased a bit.
Then, on Thursday, it was announced that Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), one of the Senate's most conservative stalwarts, would be retiring, effective immediately, to head the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. No one serious about politics believes that DeMint is leaving on a high note, or even on his own terms. DeMint has been the Tea Party's most prominent voice in federal office. The rift that has been brewing in the Republican Party for the last few years, a sort of political civil war, has pitted conservative purists -- some would say extremists -- like DeMint and his Tea Party brethren against the party's more moderate wing.
DeMint famously backed Tea Party darling (and Ron Paul's son) Rand Paul in a Kentucky Senate primary over the GOP establishment's chosen candidate. Though Rand won, it is widely believed that the Tea Party seriously damaged the overall party's brand with the public at large, particularly independent voters. Two high-profile Tea Party candidates lost to Democrats in Senate races that Republicans should have easily won this election cycle: Richard Mourdock, who defeated legendary Indiana senator, and widely respected moderate, Dick Lugar in a primary before being defeated by Joe Donnolly in the general election; and North Dakota Rep. Rick Berg, who was upset by Democrat Heidi Heitkamp in his race for Senate.
So what does all of this mean for the Obama White House? For starters, the president may soon have a new high-profile African-American adversary. There is rampant speculation that Tim Scott, soon to be the lone African-American Republican in Congress following the defeat of Allen West, is the front-runner to replace DeMint in the Senate. Scott has been dubbed a rising GOP star as a Tea Party-approved candidate who isn't as polarizing as West but who also helps the party in terms of diversity.
But the more immediate impact is that fiscal-cliff negotiations just got a lot easier -- for the president most of all, but also for Republican House Speaker John Boehner. Here's why. It has been widely reported that Boehner is actually open to compromise, and has been all along, but the challenge has been corralling the most extreme members of his party, those for whom the word "compromise" is synonymous with defeat. The exit of DeMint should empower Boehner to reclaim the reins with some of the Tea Partiers who looked to DeMint for guidance, as opposed to the speaker. If he can get some of them in line sooner rather than later, then he and the White House should be able to hammer out a deal and avoid taking our country over the fiscal cliff.
And the jobs numbers help, too. As I wrote previously, President Obama is already winning the public relations battle on the fiscal cliff. It was just revealed that his current approval ratings are now at the highest they have been since the death of Osama bin Laden. This latest jobs report will only reinforce the idea that the president is actually getting things done, while his opponents in Congress are focused on avoiding compromise at the expense of the American people.
During a discussion on NPR's Tell Me More, I mentioned that the real battle over the fiscal cliff would not be between the president and Republicans but among Republicans as they started to turn on one another during fiscal-cliff talks in the interest of self-preservation. In the eyes of some, DeMint's departure represents the first casualty in this brewing GOP civil war, but he is unlikely to be the last.