GRAVES REGISTRY: Go for the money


I think you will agree with me that it isn’t easy to be certain of anything in this topsy-turvy world of ours. I’m still going to risk stating something unequivocally: The only thing that could possibly make one of Michael Bay’s "Transformer" movies worse is casting Kelsey Grammer in it. The newest entry, endearingly called "Transformers: Age of Extinction," had its world premiere in Hong Kong. A couple of hours before the big event, the city was hit by a monsoon. I wondered if the storm might be considered a thumbs down from God.

As long as I’m on the subject of prolonged, noisy, vacuous entertainments, the Republican primary runoff was held on June 24 in Mississippi. It made Bay’s ode to chaos look like a quilting bee and it probably cost almost as much to wage. And there wasn’t even a hero to save mankind, just a winner and a sore loser. Nestled snugly in the South, our nation’s incubator of wistful regression, Mississippi, is a standalone in at least one unflattering way. Ranked by the per capita income of its residents, it is the poorest state in the union. It is also securely held GOP territory. The party of Abraham Lincoln recognized a priceless opportunity to capitalize on southern white bigotry after Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society initiatives declared war on poverty and racial injustice in 1964.

You wouldn’t think that there would be a major public outcry against an attempt to reduce poverty in an area that encompasses eight of the 10 poorest states in America. The South is big on tradition, however, and extreme poverty makes racial injustice a lot easier to maintain. Better to cozy up with slick operators like Karl Rove and the Koch brothers than to mollycoddle people who just don’t know their place.

Once a Democratic stronghold, the South fell over itself abandoning the core principles that Lincoln ultimately gave his life to defend in order to vent its collective miff over sharing drinking fountains and preferred seating on public transportation.

The primary was a nail-biter for incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran, who has been a fixture in Mississippi politics for almost as long as its namesake has kept rollin’ along. Cochran has somehow been able to keep his balance on what might be termed an ideological high wire. While flourishing in an area that is notoriously hostile to the government up North, he has been able to channel more federal pork into his state than the Chicago stockyards see in a decade.

It can’t be easy to maintain an overtly hostile posture when, largely thanks to Cochran’s seniority and his persuasive powers, Mississippi gets $3 back for every tax dollar it sends to Washington. There is a valid case for implying a certain degree of hypocrisy here, but let it never be said that Mississippians are an ungrateful lot. Thad Cochran squeaked by to run for a near-assured seventh term. Cochran looks like a senator. I mean the casting department at Warner Bros. couldn’t come up with a better choice if they ever decide to revive "The Dukes of Hazard." His troubling admission that he did some things with animals while he worked on a farm in his younger days was unfortunate, but I’m sure Republican voters are more focused on threats to traditional marriage than they are to youthful indiscretions. Given Sen. Cochran’s Sugar Daddy reputation, it was surprising how close the race proved to be. Cochran’s opponent was Tea Party poster boy, Chris McDaniel, who nicely projected that party’s intransigent, spoiled brat mentality.

The monster that the GOP was so instrumental in creating to fight the dark specter of Barack Obama (implication intended) has come back to bite them in their well-padded butts. What once would have been the proverbial cake walk for Mr. Cochran degenerated into something far uglier -- not to mention more threatening -- than anything he has ever faced from a Democratic rival. Mr. McDaniel’s tactics included photographing Cochran’s wife in a nursing home and somehow connecting the woman’s frail image with her husband’s ability to serve the people of Mississippi. It was a slimy maneuver that might have caused Richard Nixon to blanch.

To counter McDaniel’s threat, Cochran did the unthinkable. He sought help from the enemy. He "reached out across the aisle" according to McDaniel. In tea party parlance, that’s like inviting Maleficent to a baby shower. But voters in Mississippi decided that receiving billions of dollars in federal money did have its plus side. Poorest doesn’t mean dumbest.

After his loss, Mr. McDaniel demonstrated that he hadn’t quite grasped the fundamentals of the election process, especially the part about the winner being the person who got the most votes. "We are not prone to surrender, we Mississippians," he thundered. "A strong and sturdy people we are. A brave people!"

I didn’t think people talked that way anymore. Even politicians.

Alden Graves is a Banner columnist.


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