Scott’s comments on ‘Great Society’ sparks debate on Black Americans

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Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the only Black candidate running for the Republican presidential nomination, has sparked a debate around former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” and the impact it has had on Black Americans. 

During the second GOP presidential debate Wednesday, Scott criticized Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for his state’s education policies, which require students to learn that slavery had a “personal benefit” for slaves because they “developed skills.”

“There is not a redeeming quality in slavery,” Scott said, adding that America has suffered from slavery.

But America has overcome slavery, Scott said, and it stands as the greatest country in the world for facing its demons. 

“So often we think that all the issues — you talk about crime and education and health care — we always think that those issues go back to slavery. Here’s the challenge, though. Black families survived slavery. We survived poll taxes and literacy tests. We survived discrimination being woven into the laws of our country,” Scott said.

“What was hard to survive was Johnson’s Great Society, where they decided to put money — where they decided to take the Black father out of the household to get a check in the mail. And you can now measure that in unemployment and crime and devastation.”

Johnson’s Great Society was a series of initiatives with goals including ending poverty, reducing crime and eliminating inequality. It was the largest social reform plan in history, with investments into education, hospital care and the expansion of Social Security. It also worked to enforce the 1964 Civil Rights Act, specifically removing barriers to voting. 

It’s long been a target of voices on the right.

Speaking to Fox’s Sean Hannity on “Hannity” after the second GOP presidential debate, former National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow called Scott an inspiration for his comments. 

“I got to give Tim Scott a lot of credit because he did this riff on Blacks, African Americans, somehow surviving through slavery and then went on to say that the Great Society of LBJ and all the Democratic presidents since then, have made the Black situation worse, not better,” Kudlow said. 

Hannity added that it was a powerful moment, which Kudlow agreed with. 

“Whether he wins or loses or draws, that was something to behold,” Kudlow said. “He’s very inspiring to say that kind of thing. The data, the evidence shows that Sen. Tim Scott is absolutely right. The worst thing to happen to minority groups and African Americans in particular in this country in the last 100 years was the Great Society.”

Some, however, quickly took issue with Scott’s comments.

“The Second Middle Passage ALONE broke up about 1/3 of Black marriages. But, yes, anti-poverty program are the problem,” Nikole Hannah-Jones, author of The 1619 Project, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Scott’s comments drew praise from other conservatives, however.

Horace Cooper, chairman for the Black conservative Project 21, commended Scott for reminding the audience “that the Great Society has done more to destroy black families than slavery and Jim Crow were able to do.”

Cooper said that while discrimination and poll taxes were “high hurdles — indeed they were unbelievably unfair and unjust,” the Black community was seeing successes in the early 20th century. 

“At the start of the 20th century — not even 50 years after the end of slavery — black men were more employed than any other groups,” Cooper said in a statement to The Hill. “From 1900 – 1960 Black children were more likely to be born and live in 2 parent households than the population at large. The benefits of that strong family meant that record numbers of Blacks were able to buy homes and automobiles. Furthermore, as Thomas Sowell has regularly pointed out, notwithstanding the devastating results of the Great Depression Black families made financial progress faster than the U.S. population at large prior to the Great Society.” 

“Tragically the Great Society all but devastated the Black family and a host of ills have followed,” Cooper continued. “Lest anyone be confused, the same effects of the Great Society on blacks are being felt among all other groups. Blacks have been like the canary in the coal mine. The destructive effects of big government social programs continue harming all Americans today.”

Some of Scott’s rhetoric on Wednesday followed previous statements from other candidates, including entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who has said the government pays inner-city women to be single mothers.  

The only Black Republican in the Senate, Scott grew up in a single-parent household and has spoken previously about coming “from cotton to Congress.”  

He has also pushed back against arguments around race, including arguments around systemic racism.  

Scott’s words, while praised by some, were met with backlash from other prominent Black thinkers.

Hannah-Jones denounced them.

“Also, just to be absolutely crystal clear, NOTHING Black people have experienced in this country is worse than slavery,” she tweeted, adding that Scott was simply trying to win over Trump voters. Former President Trump was not at Wednesday’s debate.

“Btw, a lot of people did not survive slavery, Tim Scott,” Hannah-Jones said. “A lot of people did not survive poll taxes and were murdered for trying to vote. A lot of Black folks died for lack of healthcare and still do — see Black women and maternal health in your own state.”

Even some members of Scott’s party rejected his comments. 

Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, tweeted his disappointment with just one word: “Tim.” 

Later, speaking to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Steele called Scott’s comments “a load of crock.”

“Black man sitting up there talking about there’s no racism,” Steele said. “Discrimination but no racism?”

Steele added that the entire debate was a “national embarrassment” and a “political embarrassment for the Republican Party.”

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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