The Republican primary runoff today between long-time U.S. Senator Thad Cochran and insurgent Tea Party candidate Chris McDaniel is a story of pragmatism clashing with political philosophy.
My love and appreciation of Mississippi is unbounded. My frustration at how it is misunderstood, mischaracterized, and disrespected is constant. But my sense of realism means saying this: Mississippi would not have survived and thrived as it has without generations of powerful U.S. Senators making sure that federal defense projects and other spending were directed its way. Mississippi is one of those states that receives much more in federal spending than it gives in taxes.
And that’s just fine. I have affection for the many states I’ve lived in, and recognize the distinctive value of each. Like a parent, I may not want to say that any of them is more or less deserving. Yet given a hard choice, I would choose to help Mississippi more than the others.
No doubt the anti-government, anti-earmarking tide is rising, and the Tea Party and Chris McDaniel are rising with it. But Thad Cochran, whose problems include his age and his supposed “liberalism”, has had to be pretty plain in pointing out that if re-elected, his seniority means that he will still be in a position to bring home the bacon for Mississippi. Maybe not as much as in years past, but still more than someone who is philosophically opposed to such spending, and who in any case would end up being one of the most junior Senators in the country.
And therein is the irony. If McDaniel wins the nomination, and if he wins the Senate seat, he can’t possibly serve the interests of his state by forcing it to go “cold turkey” without federal funds, as the Tea Party wants. Mississippi is wonderful and irreplaceable, and if there was any justice in the game of economic geography, it would be high on all the important rankings, rather than languishing at lower levels. It has been, and for the moment remains, a state in need.
There is no shame in that. If shame there is, it is in politicians who want to claim that Mississippi should just sink or swim because that’s what some abstract philosophy dictates. It may also be a shame that when push comes to shove, those same politicians may end up being hypocrites and opportunists. If and when they take office, they will face the existential question. Survival trumps philosophy, and in the case of Mississippi, it should.