The lone Black candidate participating in the second Republican presidential debate said Wednesday in no uncertain terms that while he thought slavery had no redeeming qualities, the lingering adverse results from the enslavement of Black people in America were nothing compared to the racial consequences from a landmark federal social welfare program in the 1960s.
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott was responding to a question about Florida’s controversial school curriculum teaching students that slaves benefited from slavery. But while Scott criticized Florida’s educational standards, he also managed to send a backhanded slap to Black America.
“Black families survived slavery! We survived poll taxes and literacy tests,” Scott, 58, lectured the audience at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, before adding: “We survived discrimination being woven into the laws of our country.”
Up until that point, Scott was onto something. But then he took it there and resorted to the widely debunked right-wing talking point that Black fathers are absent – a misconception he trumpeted as fact while and attributed it to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” welfare program. Scott said the Great Society was “hard to survive” for Black families compared to slavery.
“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,” Scott concluded without any data to back up his hollow point.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) reiterates his criticism of Florida’s educational standards, but says LBJ’s domestic programs were harder to survive than slavery for Black families. pic.twitter.com/u4gvREUi6R
— The Recount (@therecount) September 28, 2023
It was quite the take from Scott, who also during the debate on Wednesday night in California vehemently reiterated his belief that the United States is not a racist nation.
What is the ‘Great Society’?
On Jan. 4, 1965, Johnson addressed that nation to unveil his “Great Society” plan that he said “rests on abundance and liberty for all… [and] demands an end to poverty and racial injustice.”
Over the next several years, this vision was embodied in a series of ambitious federal laws and programs aimed at breaking down the barriers blocking full and fair access to opportunity and prosperity. The Great Society legislation ranged widely across the social and economic policy landscape. It included landmark civil rights legislation, the creation of Medicaid and Medicare, new strategies for tackling urban blight and neighborhood distress, job training initiatives and expansion of minimum wage coverage, and support of early childhood education.
The “Great Society” was also designed in part to provide “help for unemployed parents preparing to enter the workforce,” History.com reminds us.
That may have been what Scott was falsely alluding to during the debate in a disingenuous comparison that suggested the above social programs were “hard to survive” for Black families in relation to slavery, which, of course, tore apart Black families in the most ruthless and inhumane ways.
But Johnson’s successor, former President Richard Nixon, went on to popularize the now-reliably Republican talking point that the “Great Society” was nothing but government handouts that disincentivized entering the workforce – the same rationale Republicans in 2023 cite for opposing government programs like the expanded child tax credit, whose expiration last year has led to growing child poverty.
Despite all of the above, Scott would still have people viewing the debate Wednesday night think that Johnson’s “Great Society” social welfare program was harder for Black families “to survive” than slavery, a demonstrative societal scourge that is all but the basis for the ongoing systemic racism that contributes to societal scourges like the racial wealth gap that keeps widening nearly 158 years after slavery was abolished.
The truth is that Scott, who is running in a distant sixth place among all candidates seeking the Republican presidential nomination, likely planned that anti-Black soundbite about the “Great Society” in an effort to energize his base and attract new supporters to his fledgling campaign.
After all, recent polling suggests that white people like it when Scott downplays racism.
This is America.
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