Very much up for grabs: this year’s profile in courage

OPINION — “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Identifying the politician offering that idealistic advice is not so hard — President John F. Kennedy at his Jan. 20, 1961, inauguration. But that’s not all the 35th president had to say about the promise and challenges of America.

Climate change? “The supreme reality of our time is the vulnerability of our planet.” Income inequality? “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, based in Boston, planned to regularly tweet out Kennedy’s quotes, though if you now try to seek a daily dose of inspiration, you will see a note on its page: “We’re sorry, but we will not be posting updates to our social media channels during the government shutdown. Also, all National Archives facilities are closed and activities are canceled until further notice.”

The Criminal Justice Bill Shows Where the GOP Is on Race

OPINION — Sen. Tim Scott, Republican from South Carolina, was optimistic after the Senate passed an amended bill this week that makes bipartisan progress on an issue — criminal justice reform — that has divided lawmakers for years.

Scott, an original co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement: “By cutting recidivism, encouraging job training, education and mental health and substance abuse treatments for incarcerated individuals, and making our criminal justice system both smarter and tougher, we have taken a positive step forward.”

The bill is considered a First Step, as it is named, toward addressing inequities in the system that disproportionately affect African-Americans and the poor, in everything from arrests to sentencing, and have contributed to a mass incarceration crisis. Criminal justice advocates will also point out that the changes are modest and apply only to the federal system, which truly makes this a first step. Yet it’s something.

Could NAACP leader and black GOP senator find common ground?

In the bipartisan effort to strengthen the Voting Rights Act of 1965, key parts of which were eliminated by the Supreme Court last year,  Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and the Rev. William Barber, head of the North Carolina NAACP, would likely find themselves on opposite sides.

And that’s just if the debate were strictly political. Now, it has gotten personal, with Barber’s recent remarks about the tea party-backed Scott, the only black Republican in Congress, causing both sides to retreat to established positions and preconceptions.

Tim Scott treads – carefully – through South Carolina and D.C. political thicket

Tim Scott, the junior senator from South Carolina, is a reliably conservative vote, most recently his “no” on Wednesday’s bipartisan budget agreement. But while the Republican’s record mirrors that of other tea party-backed members of Congress, his rhetoric is noticeably cooler.

That much was clear during his recent conversation with members of the Trotter Group, a national association of African-American columnists, who spent a few days in Washington meeting with policymakers from various parties and persuasions.

The weird racial politics of South Carolina

South Carolina, the cradle of the Confederacy, is represented by African-American Sen. Tim Scott, and has an Indian-American governor, Nikki Haley – both conservative Republicans. Yet any idea that the state is progressing on the racial conflicts that have defined much of its history took another hit on Sunday. That’s when the Haley for Governor Grassroots Advisory Committee, her grass-roots political organization, asked for and received the resignation of one of its 164 co-chairs after his statements on racial purity came to light.

Civil-rights groups and Democrats had been pressuring the Haley campaign, which initially stood by Roan Garcia-Quintana, a member of the Council of Conservative Citizens. But his defense of his beliefs didn’t work out so smoothly. In an interview last week with The State explaining his position on the board of directors of the council, Garcia-Quintana denied that he and the group are racist. The council “supports Caucasian heritage,” he said. “Is it racist to be proud of your own heritage?” he asked. “Is it racist to want to keep your own heritage pure?”

Tim Scott’s importance as GOP senator and symbol

Yes, the giddiness is almost embarrassing as Republicans congratulate themselves on making history with Congressman Tim Scott tapped to join the U.S. Senate – the only African American in the exclusive club of 100. And no, it’s hardly a quick fix for the party’s troubles attracting minority voters since Scott’s conservative political beliefs will hardly trigger a stampede to the GOP. But Democrats should not discount the man or his symbolism.

Scott’s conservative views and his raised by a hard-working single mom background strike a chord with Americans of every race. His humble thanks to “my lord and savior Jesus Christ” at the Monday announcement of the historic news didn’t hurt, especially in his Southern home. Democrats did nominate an African-American senator who is set to start his second term in the White House, a feat the GOP is far from matching. But in the 113th Congress, Scott will be the only black senator, and he will have an “R” after his name.

Sanford vs. Sanford? Dream on, political (and drama) junkies

Pop some popcorn and take a front-row seat. The South Carolina electoral scene, endlessly mesmerizing in a train-wreck sort of way, could feature a Sanford vs. Sanford contest. Though it’s unlikely, that imaginary race tops the holiday wish list for anyone who likes politics with a heavy dose of soap opera.

Former governor Mark Sanford is seriously considering a run for the U.S. House seat now held by Tim Scott, a former top aide first told CNN late Thursday. On Monday, Scott was chosen by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to fill the Senate seat of Jim DeMint, who is departing to run the conservative Heritage Foundation. Mark Sanford’s ex-wife, Jenny Sanford, was on the short list to take DeMint’s place. Many observers, though, thought being nominated was honor enough for Haley’s long-time ally, especially helpful if she expressed interest in running to replace Scott. He is set to be sworn into the Senate in early January.

All the players in this particular game of political musical chairs are Republicans, this being South Carolina, a virtual one-party red state. Though all share conservative positions, each lugs very distinctive baggage.

Is Jenny the South Carolina Sanford with a political future?

A little more than three years ago, Mark Sanford – the photogenic South Carolina conservative governor with the picture perfect family – was the future of the Republican Party, mentioned as a presidential contender.

In the summer of 2009, a detour to Argentina that revealed an extramarital affair made the wrong kind of headlines. And though Sanford is now respectably engaged to his then-girlfriend and told The Wall Street Journal he hasn’t said no to a political comeback, the focus is on another Sanford. Ex-wife Jenny Sanford is reportedly on South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s short list to fill out the U.S. Senate term of Jim DeMint, who is departing to head the conservative Heritage Foundation. It’s a reminder that Jenny Sanford has been and continues to be a political player.