Republican Tim Scott on Thursday became a United States senator from South Carolina, 150 years to the week since Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Democrats had between 1865 and 2013 to elect or designate a black southerner to the Senate, but they couldn’t be bothered. It took a Republican, specifically Palmetto State governor Nikki Haley, to accomplish this in the modern age. Haley named Scott to complete the term of the estimable Jim DeMint, who left the Senate to run the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Tim Scott is the first black southern senator since former slave Blanche Kelso Bruce (R., Miss.) departed in 1881, soon after Democrats torpedoed the Republican policy of Reconstruction and launched nearly 90 years of their party’s program: Jim Crow segregation. The fact that Haley, a tea-party Republican of Indian descent, appointed Scott, a tea partier, should bury like Jim Crow the relentless Democratic lie that the GOP is a racist institution, notwithstanding that Republicans include former secretaries of state Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, U.S. Senators (and tea partiers) Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, and governors Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Brian Sandoval of Nevada.
Senator Scott’s heightened prestige should make it easier for Republicans to carry their message to minority communities, especially among black Americans.
But the GOP faces one inescapable question: What is the Republican party’s message?
The fiscal-cliff fiasco has left the Grand Old Party in tatters. Dazed, confused, and fractured, Republican legislators very publicly have violated some of their most unshakable principles — in exchange for a tiny sack of broken marbles. Meanwhile, the party’s wobbly congressional leadership makes the Maginot Line look like the Great Wall of China. Senate GOP chief Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House speaker John Boehner of Ohio are neither strategic, nor tactical, nor able to negotiate without losing their shirts — plus their shoes, pants, and underwear.
With the admirable exceptions of Iowa’s Charles Grassley, Utah’s Mike Lee, Kentucky’s Rand Paul, Florida’s Marco Rubio, and Alabama’s Richard Shelby, GOP senators swallowed a cartoonishly inadequate deal. Conservatives were saddened when our sainted Ronald Reagan, mired in the 1982 recession, traded $3 in spending cuts for every $1 in higher taxes. In 1990, we were outraged when we read Daddy Bush’s lips as he endorsed $2 in budget cuts for each $1 in tax increases. Of course, those spending cuts evaporated, since Democrats always whine loudly enough to scare away the piper before he can get paid.
But those dark days are like a rainbow-sized Laffer curve compared to the “bargain” that passed Congress on New Year’s Day: This legislation cuts spending by $1 for every $41 in higher taxes. Yup: $1-to-$41. And that $1 likely won’t get cut.
Not even joints get rolled as easily as Republicans.
Obama’s notion of “shared sacrifice” fuels an exemption on “employer-provided mass-transit and parking benefits retroactive to the beginning of 2012,” as Encima Global economist David Malpass explains. “The biggest beneficiaries will be federal employees, for whom free parking and public-transportation subsidies are common, but are not counted as income.” Cost: $220 million in extensions on a program already projected to cost $27.2 billion between 2011 and 2015.
This law also contains $7 million in special tax favors for electric scooters, $59 million for biofuel-algae growers, $78 million for NASCAR, $222 million for Puerto Rican rum producers, and $248 million for the motion-picture industry. Conversely, it offers no escape from the brand-new 2.3 percent Obamacare tax that already is killing jobs and innovation in the life-saving medical-device industry.
Republicans reply that they caved today, to fight another day. The looming debt-ceiling battle supposedly will find them as intrepid as a Marine battalion, itching to slash spending and relimit government. Believe it when you see it. For now, free-marketeers would be lucky if Republicans donned the blue helmets of United Nations peacekeepers.
The GOP also backed higher tax rates on upper-income individuals. By conceding Obama’s class-warfare argument that “the rich” must pay their “fair share” of taxes, Republicans have rendered themselves incapable of refuting this central lie. (They should have responded that, in 2010, the top 10 percent of filers earned 45 percent of national income and paid 71 percent of federal income taxes.) When Obama screams yet again for more tax “fairness,” Republicans no longer can claim that they are protecting their tax-hike virginity — having shared a tax-raising toss with Obama in the back seat of Cadillac One.
The House passed this measure with Boehner, just 84 other Republicans, and an overwhelming 172 Democrats voting aye. Meanwhile, majority leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) inspired 150 Republicans to vote no, along with 16 Democrats. Thus, the GOP became a house divided against itself — 36 percent tax-and-spend to 64 percent fiscally disciplined within the lower chamber, but relatively united (if wrong) in the Senate.
As if becoming untrustworthy on spending and taxes were not calamitous enough, Boehner boneheadedly canceled a Monday-night vote on $60 billion in aid for Hurricane Sandy’s victims. People in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are suffering mightily from the October 29 storm, which smashed homes, businesses, and infrastructure. The Senate shamefully contaminated this bill with such pollution as $2 million for Smithsonian roof repairs, $8 million for new Justice Department vehicles, and $150 million for Alaskan fisheries.
Boehner should have purified the Senate bill of such irrelevancies, pushed it through the House, and sent it across the Capitol without the detritus that senators recklessly inserted. Instead, Boehner scotched the Sandy vote without explanation — even to such GOP allies as Long Island congressman Peter King. Boehner then endured bitter bipartisan criticism for his high-handed callousness. Boehner eventually relented and promised Sandy-relief votes early in the new Congress. But Boehner suffered deep, self-inflicted wounds that make him look simultaneously cruel and inept.
So, like Democrats, Republicans are now a free-spending, tax-hiking party. But, unlike Democrats, they are badly split and hopelessly unable to play hardball, and appear mean to hurricane victims.
If United States senator Tim Scott can sell that to black Americans, come 2016, Republicans should nominate him for Messiah.
— New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a Fox News contributor, a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service, and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University.