The Antithesis Candidate

"Scott deftly blended three modes of popular oratory—preaching, cheerleading and motivational speaking—into an elixir that was nationalistic without being nativist."

Presidential Candidacy Declaration Speech 

Charleston Southern University, North Charleston SC, May 22 2023.

Speechwriters know antithesis as a device that encapsulates a contrast to make it memorable, often through alliteration and parallel structure. Tim Scott luxuriates in them:

His career climb: “my family went from cotton to Congress in [his grandfather’s] lifetime.” “He said to me you can be bitter or you can be better.”  

His self-help ideology: “patriotism over pity” “A hand up not a hand out.” “greatness not grievance,” “victory not victimhood.” Scott led the assembled in chanting the last two phrases.

His agenda: “less CRT, more ABC.” “China started this new economic Cold War, but we’re gonna finish it.”        

The culture clash over US history: Americans should “stop canceling our Founding Fathers and start celebrating them.” America is “the land of opportunity not the land of oppression.”

Scott’s devotion to antithesis is shared with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, who ran through the alphabet with them when he assumed office in January. But their vision of American life splits by party ideology. Scott sees individuals succeeding without the involvement of government. This was evident when, in keeping with the declaration speech ritual, he opened by giving elaborate thanks to his benefactors, especially his mother, grandfather, and mentor John Moniz. Scott’s core donor Larry Ellision, the seventh wealthiest person on the planet, got a quick shout-out for attending the address. However, the Senator did not thank the person who appointed him to his seat. No surprise there: ex-governor Nikki Haley is a current rival, and the existence of political promotions clashes with the self-made vision. Still, a graceful word of thanks to her would have been disarmingly sly.       

On stage and on camera Scott embodied an antithesis as well as deploying them as a figure of speech. He offered a stylistic divergence from Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, the top grievance miners of his party. His optimism was manifest in his nonstop full-wattage smile. He bounced, swayed, crouched and perambulated. At points his exuberance verged on buffoonery; memes of his voice rising into a squeaky squawk brought out comparisons to Howard Dean’s 2004 scream. But Scott deftly blended three modes of popular oratory –preaching, cheerleading, and motivational speaking– into an elixir that, pardon my antithesis, was nationalistic without being nativist. 

Are you proud to be an American? I – I can’t hear ya! I can’t hear ya!

Will you believe it with me? Will you join the team of the greatest nation on God’s green earth? 

The slogan on the bottle he’s peddling, “Faith in America,” has a clever double meaning.

Near his close Scott poured out his mission statement/unique selling proposition:

This is the fairest, freest land, where you can go as high as your character and your grit and your talent will take you. I bear witness to that, I testify to that. That’s why I’m the candidate the far left fears the most….I disrupt their narrative. I threaten their control.

Scott was not entirely positive. Here and there he went after Biden and the radical leftists whom Republican audiences expect to scorn. He blamed Biden (not the pandemic) for driving people out of the workforce and onto the financial backs of those who toil at their jobs, his spiel laced with statistical fact-fudging. He accused the administration of “retreating away” on issue after issue, a redundant phrase that only elitist grammarians would criticize. His China-bashing led to policy prescriptions not all that different from the Democrats (military force projection, supply chain independence), so he stressed his personal willpower and called Biden weak. 

The magic words were appended to a partisan shot that reflected his core principle:  

Joe Biden and the radical left are attacking every single rung of the ladder that helped me climb and that’s why I’m announcing today I’m running for president of the United States of America.

Scott embraced the GOP/MAGA party line on deficits, abortion, crime, immigration and the lockdown. He did not mention guns, civil rights, or the 2020 election. And he straddled the debate over the proper U.S. role in Ukraine. He sought no distance from Trump, who in a social media missive welcomed him to the contest. Perhaps the Republican ticket in 2024 will represent a synthesis.         

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