The U.S. Senate lost its most senior member and gained its newest member this week. Michael Barone‘s latest column discusses the significance of Hawaii’s Sen. Daniel Inouye and new South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott.
Inouye was elected Hawaii’s first congressman when it was admitted to the Union in 1959, the first Japanese-American member of Congress. He won his Senate seat in 1962 and died 17 days short of serving 50 years.
Most Americans today would find it hard to imagine the degree of anti-Asian prejudice in the early years of his career. Inouye attended a segregated public school, and U.S. immigration laws effectively barred Asians from entry.
Japanese-Americans on the West Coast were rounded up and placed in internment camps. Such things were largely taken for granted and widely approved.
In contrast, today one has to look very hard for signs of anti-Asian animus in American life. The only significant discrimination practiced against people of Asian descent is by admissions officers at selective colleges and universities, who worry about an Asian “tilt” because so many have sterling high-school records.
Such a change in attitudes took a generation or so. It has been so thorough that most of us don’t realize that it occurred.
The appointment of Tim Scott reminds us that there has been an enormous change in non-black Americans’ attitudes toward blacks, as well.
Scott may have been appointed to the Senate. But to win his House seat, he had to win votes from an overwhelmingly white and conservative primary electorate.
In the process, he beat Carroll Campbell III, son of the late governor Carroll Campbell Jr., and Paul Thurmond, son of the late Strom Thurmond, who served 48 years in the Senate.
That’s the Strom Thurmond who was the States’ Rights Democratic party candidate for president in 1948 and who set the record for longest Senate filibuster when he spoke 24 hours against a civil-rights bill in 1957.