Ben Adler, of Newsweek, wrote that South Carolina was â€œarguably the most unlikely of all southern states to make such a racial breakthrough.â€ The breakthrough was, of course, the election of Tim Scottâ€” the first African American Republican in congress from the Deep South since the end of Reconstructionâ€” to South Carolinaâ€™s first District. Scott beat the sons of Strom Thurmond and Carol Campbell in the primary. Most of South Carolinaâ€™s African Americans remain registered Democrats and so whites largely elected Scott. Certainly, there are very few Sikhs in South Carolina and yet Nikki Haley also won in this most unlikely state. In another Newsweek article USC political scientist Dr. Oldendick to explained the phenomenon, saying â€œThese days, for most conservative whites in South Carolina, ideology trumps race.â€
This is an improvement, to be sure. Except that race has never been an issue in South Carolina except as ideology. Race was paramount because of the ideology of white supremacy. This is what ideology does. It takes a detail or an aspect and makes it central; uses it to explain the world. The world, however, is inexplicable. And so force is required in order to make the ideology work.
We ought to use this recession, use all of the craziness of our times, Bush v. Gore, 9/11. the wars, Abu Graihb, and all of the rest of it, to become funnier, wiser, sexier, scrappier, and quirkier. That is, to become less ideological. When Tea Partiers are funny, wise, sexy, scrappy, or quirky, it is usually as a grotesque deformed by ideology and not the kind of individual who can attempt to see the world as it is, maddening detail by maddening detail, all in their insane proliferation.
Unfortunately, as Tim Scott historically takes his seat in the Congress, he will, along with Boehner and the rest of them, be more concerned with ideology than with anything else.
The Congress read the Constitution today. A good exercise, but there was no discussion of the meaning of the document. This Congress has entirely embraced the idea that the Constitution is a religious document rather than a political one. They read it in the same way they read the Bible: it is to be absorbed rather than interpreted. In the hands of this Congress, the Constitution became an accoutrement of ideology.
Ideology is the enemy of thought. It functions in absolutes and generalities. The life of the individual always breaks through ideology. This is why ideologues kill individualsâ€”but true individuals have the power to kill ideology.
In honor of Tim Scottâ€™s electionâ€”and as an antidote to prevailing ideologyâ€”I offer the biography of South Carolinaâ€™s previously most prominent African American Republican in Congress, Beaufortâ€™s Robert Smalls.
Robert Smalls was born a slave in Beaufort. As a young man he was taken to Charleston where he started working the docks. He piloted a Confederate ship. When the white officers were ashore, he and the other slaves aboard captured the ship and steered it, at great peril, to a Union blockade. Smalls gave the Union maps, codes, weapons, and men. He helped convince Lincoln that African Americans should be able to fight for the Union. He piloted the same ship, the Planter, as a Union ship. When it came under fire and the Union Captain decided to surrender to the Rebels, Smalls took control of the ship and brought it to safety.
Smalls became captain of the Planter. After the war, he bought the house of his former master. He went into business and was elected to Congress where he served several terms.
If Tim Scott breaks free of the ideology of his party (and does not embrace any other ideology), he could be a great congressman. He could be a great American, like Robert Smalls. But I fear he will hear Smalls only at his most ideological, when he says â€œevery colored man who has a vote to cast, would cast that vote for the regular Republican Party and thus bury the Democratic Party so deep that there will not be seen even a bubble coming from the spot where the burial took place.â€