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JEFF JACOBY

Party of minority civil rights? GOP

South Carolina’s conservative Republican governor, Nikki Haley, is the daughter of Sikh immigrants from Punjab. US Representative Tim Scott of Charleston, a Tea Party hero who was raised in poverty by a divorced single mother, is South Carolina’s first black Republican lawmaker in more than a century. To anyone who shares the ideals that animate modern conservatism — limited government, economic liberty, color-blind equality — it stands to reason that Haley and Scott are conservatives. And their Republican affiliation should surprise no one familiar with the GOP’s long history as the party of minority civil rights.

But many people aren’t familiar with that history. So relentlessly have liberal propagandists played the race card over the years that virtually anything conservatives or Republicans do — from opposing Obamacare to tweaking the president’s fondness for golf — somehow gets twisted into proof of racial malice. So when Haley announced last week that she would appoint Scott to the US Senate seat being vacated by Jim DeMint, who is leaving to take a job at the Heritage Foundation, I indulged in a bit of preemptive snark.

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“An Indian-American governor appoints an African-American to the US Senate,” I posted on Twitter. “Man, that lily-white GOP racism never ends, does it?”

On being sworn in, Scott will become the Senate’s only sitting black member and the first from the South since the 1880s. Indeed he’ll be just the seventh black senator in the nation’s history; three of the others, including Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, were also Republican. Haley, meanwhile, is one of only two Indian-Americans ever elected governor (the other is Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, a fellow Republican). For anyone who esteems racial and ethnic diversity, this has to be a good-news story. Could even the most determined racial McCarthyist find reasons to decry Scott’s appointment?

Of course they could.

“Tokens. That’s all they are,” one Twitter user promptly replied to my tweet. Remarked another: “The man’s race may be inconvenient for the Repubs, but he’s a teabagger like them so they’ll ignore it.” Twitter users elsewhere smeared Scott as an “Uncle Tom” and a “house Negro.”

In fairness, on Twitter anyone can pop off about anything. What about more serious venues?

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Well, the NAACP — which used to be a serious organization — promptly let it be known that, while it was glad to see “more integration” in Congress, it disliked Scott’s “record of opposition to civil rights protection and advancing those real issues of concern of the . . . African-American community.” Does the NAACP really believe that Johnson opposes black civil rights? A ludicrous canard. Then again, so was its absurd resolution two years ago denouncing the Tea Party movement as a platform for “anti-Semites, racists, and bigots.”

Writing Wednesday in The New York Times, University of Pennsylvania political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. was in a similar froth. “His politics, like those of the archconservative Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, are utterly at odds with the preferences of most black Americans.” Scott has no legitimate connection to “mainstream black politics,” Reed scoffed. He’s just another “cynical token” — one more black Republican elected to Congress from a majority-white district.

It’s an old story by now, this venomous lashing-out at blacks and other minorities who embrace conservative or Republican values. It especially infuriates the Democratic left to see the enthusiasm black conservatives inspire among Republicans. Far from celebrating the fact that minorities can demonstrate appeal across the political spectrum, the left whips out the race card. The rise of black Republican leaders, they say, is just a thin disguise for GOP racism. Yet if Republicans oppose a black Democratic leader, they call that racism, too.

Perhaps historical guilt feelings explain this reflexive racial demagoguery. For a very long time the Democratic Party was a bulwark of American racism — it was the party that defended slavery; that fought the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments; that founded the Ku Klux Klan; that enacted Jim Crow segregation; that opposed anti-lynching laws. Could it be the psychological weight of such a record that leads so many Democrats and their allies today to promiscuously impute racism to their political opponents? Above all, to their black political opponents?

“I’m a black Republican,” Scott says serenely. “Some people think of that as zany — that a black person would be a conservative. But to me what is zany is any person — black, white, red, brown or yellow — not being a conservative.” If the accusation is that he doesn’t think with his skin, Scott seems happy to plead guilty as charged.

Jeff Jacoby can be reached at jacoby@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeff_jacoby.
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