Maybe it’s possible that Senator Tim Scott could have given a more effective address in responding to President Biden’s Joint Session Speech, but I don’t know how. What a masterpiece of both rhetoric and delivery!
With a long history of embarrassments in this tricky “I respond to the President” slot (remember Marco Rubio’s water bottle?), I would say without hesitation that Senator Scott easily tops the performance of any of his predecessors.
In his brief address, the Senator from South Carolina accomplished four important goals for his party, his country and himself:
- He demonstrated the possibility of forcefully opposing President Biden’s progressive agenda without a trace of anger or self-righteous indignation. Given that Scott’s main criticism of the President involved Biden’s broken promises of bi-partisan collaboration, it made sense for the Senator to emphasize his own affability and his hopes for accommodation. He spoke in terms of disappointment at the Democrats, rather than invoking sputtering but ineffective rage. No one watching at home, no matter how committed they might be to the Biden program, could consider Senator Scott and his message without thinking: “This guy seems reasonable and decent. Why shouldn’t our folks do business with him?”
- He managed to acknowledge and praise President Trump without pushing for a return of Trumpism. Knowing that the Master of Mar-a-Lago and his devoted followers would be watching closely, Scott included passages emphasizing Trump’s pre-pandemic economic achievements, and the epic success of Operation Warp Speed in developing the vaccines that have given the nation new hope. At the same time, he made no reference to Trump’s more inflammatory attacks against his enemies – no hints of “stop the steal,” “lock her up,” “drain the swamp” or “fake news.”
- He spoke of his own experience with racism and racial profiling while simultaneously affirming that America is not a systemically racist nation. This combination should resonate with Americans of every race and ideology, offering a powerful response to Democratic identity politics that could bring victory in both 2022 and 2024.
- And speaking of 2024, Senator Scott qualified himself as a legitimate candidate for the nation’s highest office and must now be reckoned – along with Florida Governor DeSantis – as one of the obvious frontrunners. Of course, if he did win the GOP nomination, it would likely set up a fascinating and once un-imaginable confrontation between two formidable Black nominees: Vice President Harris and Senator Scott. Of course, she’s the obvious favorite for the Democratic nod if, as most observers assume, President Biden chooses to retire at age 82 rather than pushing for a second term. It’s safe to say that Scott would be the last candidate Kamala would want to face. For one thing, his background gives him a far more organic connection to the historic experience of Black Americans: he’s a son-of-the-South, a deeply devoted Born-Again Christian, with a struggling single mother and two brothers who are career military (Sergeant in the Army and a Colonel in the Air Force). His redemptive story also highlights the power of small business, not bureaucratic rescues by big government. For the Vice President: she’s a daughter of two immigrant academics, both with prestigious advanced degrees, a child of Berkeley, not South Carolina, noted for her aggressive edge (remember her debate with Biden, and her interrogation of future Supreme Court Justices?) rather than her collaborative good nature.
If nothing else, a possible Harris-Scott contest would likely yield two important results:
- An instant rebuttal to the persistent accusations that the United States is incurably, irredeemably racist, and
- An historic victory for the GOP and the cause of “common sense and common ground” that Senator Scott invoked tonight.