Cochran Proves the Establishment Isn't Always the Bad Guy

Matt Towery

2/20/2014 12:01:00 AM - Matt Towery

Few columnists have railed against the GOP "establishment," aka the "silk underwear crowd," more than I. For the most part, these retread politicians who put their finger into the wind, who are run like puppets by their younger staff members and who find comfort only among their closest colleagues and leach-like friends have virtually destroyed the Republican Party.

Call it "Requiem for a Heavyweight" or nostalgia for the past, but in the case of Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, who faces stout opposition from an admirable GOP "outsider" challenger, I feel compelled to punch back, or at least take a try at it.

Yes, Cochran has been in the Senate for many years, and yes, over that time period he has become a part of the GOP "establishment" as well. I can't bad mouth his GOP primary opponent, Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who is a young firebrand devoted to getting government out of the lives of his state's citizens. His message is right in line with where the GOP should be.

So why special consideration for Thad Cochran? Well, for one thing, he is one of the most decent men to serve in that body in modern times. He has developed over the years a reputation for being soft-spoken, respectful, thoughtful and considerate. And, I might add, it was Thad Cochran who helped launch the true conservative movement in Washington in the 1970s. He was willing to run as a Republican back in the days when being a Republican wasn't cool, even in Mississippi.

And Cochran, to his credit, logged plenty of miles promoting other Republicans fighting to become the first Republican to hold whatever office they sought in the 1980s and 90s in other southern states where the word Republican was considered a dirty one.

At first glance, one can understand some conservatives' beef with Sen. Cochran. He is known for earmarks and bringing needed money to Mississippi. But here is where we have to take the rhetoric, even my often conservative and anti-GOP establishment observations, and put it all into perspective.

Earmarks continue to be a fly on the back of a giant donkey. On the big-ticket items such as the Affordable Care Act, Cochran was ardent in expressing his opposition. And on most issues that are considered critical to the conservative cause, Cochran has had a stellar record.

So let's consider this earmark issue. To be blunt, our country sends massive amounts of our tax dollars to underdeveloped nations under the theory that they are critical to maintaining our relations in the international community. Of course, comparing Mississippi to an underdeveloped nation would be an affront to that state, one which some pundits and media too often tend to do.

But unfortunately, Mississippi often time finds itself at the bottom of lists related to income, health and education. The ignorant would blame it on "a southern state where backward beliefs and concepts hold a people back." It is more a factor of historical and demographic issues, handled poorly by Democrats many years ago. And sadly, federal funds are a necessary part of solving those problems. Considering the many modern and magnificent aspects of Mississippi, it is a venture worth undertaking.

Certainly when more obvious forms of woe have struck, Cochran's seniority and power on Appropriations have not sparked conservative ire. When Katrina devastated the state, Thad Cochran got the federal dollars needed to put shattered lives back together, and no one complained.

Sen. McDaniel says he wants to end Mississippi as a "welfare state." And that's a worthy goal. But if we are to spend federal dollars, why not at home in our nation, and why not in a state where statistics suggest the greatest domestic need? Why dollars for our near enemies and a grudge against a state that deserves our attention?

Sen. McDaniel is the future of the GOP, and against any other man I wouldn't hesitate to think twice about the matter. But Thad Cochran and his truly beautiful state of Mississippi are a dear and special case and deserve some thoughtful consideration of their own.