Before the conventional wisdom gets too confused—which, of course, requires presupposing that it has not already shown itself befuddled beyond function—it would behoove us to recall that there is nothing new, here insofar as some, when presented with bad choices, play chess instead of checkers. And in considering Mississippi, well, what, really, does anyone expect?
Last week, in a bit of a surprise, incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran survived a Republican primary runoff in Mississippi, thanks in large part to an unexpected group of supporters: African-American voters. Though many are Democrats, many in Mississippi’s black community saw Cochran’s right-wing rival as far more offensive.
Soon after the dust settled, many of those responsible for rescuing Cochran’s career, preventing him from suffering a humiliating defeat, had an idea on how the senator can return the favor: it was time for Cochran to support the Voting Rights Amendment Act, a bill to repair the civil-rights law gutted last year by conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court.
By some measures, the request seemed fairly modest. After all, Cochran had supported the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act quite recently. All his new-found African-American allies were seeking is support for a law the senator has already backed in the recent past.
It looks like Cochran’s rescuers may need to think of some other way for him to pay his debt.
It would seem the problem is that the Republican senator’s spokesman has shown himself insufficiently enthusiastic, which, in many cases, does not actually signify anything. The problem is that if Cochran is to deliver on any obligations to the Democratic voters who helped quash the McDaniel campaign†, he will have to negotiate treacherous, shallow waters under stormy skies; regardless of whether the long arc of history bends toward Justice, the politics of a Southern white Republican bucking the Party in order to support minority voting rights would seem complicated insofar as having pulled off a spectacular feat of politics the Cochran staff must now try to plot a course to there from here. At the very least, we can expect this will take a little while, so perhaps it is unfair to expect the senator’s spokesman to know exactly what to say. These treacherous waters are also exceptionally unfamiliar to conservatives in the South.
Perhaps, then, Benen’s concerns are stated in too immediate a context. That is to say, it is not so much that he overstates a problem, but, rather, that in focusing on points like, “as of this morning, the Voting Rights Amendment Act still has zero co-sponsors”, we might accidentally undertake a myopic endeavor. The challenge would seem to be to keep pressure on Sen. Cochran to step up and make the policy change. And it might well be useful if that pressure is constructive. Cochran has dug himself something of a hole; refusing to pay this modest moral obligation has potential including the agitation and augmentation of the apparent racial divide in Southern politics. To the other, if the seventy-six year-old Mississippian son of educators can navigate the hazards and swing his policy argument in favor of the VRAA, he might well also open a route for dialogue toward reconciliation between the GOP establishment and black voters.
It is hardly the steepest of prices, but the need is immediate. Cochran just spent a lot of political capital on credit, and the lenders really, really need him to pay this back. And quickly.
And the professional hands know what to do, how to keep the heat up. Not only is the VRAA a big deal for those in need of its help, but this could lead to something even bigger for Republicans, minorities, and the nation in general. That potential return on investment simply reiterates the need for Sen. Cochran to put his hand to the helm, lash his courage to the mast, and find a way through the proverbial storm a-brewin’.
† Jamelle Bouie dissects the obvious: “Black voters had to choose between the man they knew—a relative moderate who deals in earmarks and largess—and a new man. If you know anything about Chris McDaniel, this wasn’t a hard choice.”
Benen, Steve. “Cochran already rebuffing those who rescued him”. msnbc. 30 June 2014.
Bouie, Jamelle. “Why Mississippi’s Black Democrats Saved an Elderly White Republican”. Slate. 25 June 2014.