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Delicious Irony

Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina has appointed Rep. Tim Scott to fill the Senate seat held by Jim DeMint, who has resigned to become head of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank. Scott will serve for two years and then have to run in November 2014 for the remaining two years of DeMint’s term.

This just abounds in delicious political and historical irony. In 2010 Scott defeated Paul Thurmond, the son of the late Senator Strom Thurmond, to win the Republican nomination to the 1st congressional district seat in the House. Now he will have the same seat in the Senate that Strom Thurmond held for 47 years, from 1956 to 2003. Strom Thurmond, of course, was an arch segregationist—running for president as a Dixiecrat in 1948 and carrying four deep South states—and until the Voting Rights Act he had vehemently opposed enfranchised blacks and totally transformed the politics of the old Confederacy. Tim Scott is black.

The 1st district is centered on Charleston, the hotbed of secession and where the Civil War began, but Scott, who was born in 1965, the year the Voting Rights Act was passed, won the district in 2010 with 65 percent of the vote, thanks to being a conservative Republican in what is now a very conservative and Republican district. He won by a similar margin in 2012.

He will be the only current black senator, one of only two black Republicans in post-Reconstruction Senate history. (The other was the liberal Edward Brooke, who served two terms from Massachusetts, 1967-1979.) This means that there will now have been almost as many black Republicans who have served in the modern Senate as black Democrats (Carol Moseley Braun, Roland Burris, and Barack Obama, all from Illinois).

So the only black member of the United States Senate in 2013 will be a conservative Republican from the deep South. It just doesn’t get better than that.