Mississippi Runoff, a Tale of Two Styles
Mississippi Runoff, a Tale of Two Styles

As they might say in Mississippi, “I don’t have a dog in this fight.” It’s a nonpartisan newspaper. Yet I care if Republican Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi wins or loses his Tuesday runoff.

He would give a praline to a colleague who voted his way. A praline! This is endearing. A praline is a hockey puck of a candy, based on pecans and evaporated milk. They are old-school Southern, like Cochran himself.

It was a surprise when the primary between the six-term senator and his lesser-known challenger ended in a draw. State Sen. Chris McDaniel inspired tea party voters in the primary and has since drawn support from Sarah Palin and advocacy groups FreedomWorks for America as well as Tea Party Express. He got roughly a thousand votes more than the incumbent.

Cochran is a conservative, the kind of conservative who knows how to get things done in Washington. The pralines are a small (well, palm-sized) symbol of civility to me. Cochran is a life-sized symbol of the way Congress can work.

Starting with the transformative reign of Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich from 1995 until his retirement in 1999, some Republicans have taken a firebrand tone. They have manned the barricades, lashed themselves to the mast, filibustered, and slung mud.

Cochran has taken an understated and gentle tone. He has also accrued seniority, and possibly trust, among his colleagues.

A small businessman I interviewed once said he wanted mandatory term limits more than he wanted anything else politically. Those who advocate for term limits complain that legislators get so entrenched in keeping their jobs that they forget to serve the country. We all know that approval ratings for Congress are abysmal.

For sure George Washington was right to insist on term limits for presidents. But in Congress, I think long-term incumbents may have a good part to play. They build friendships. They learn about issues deeply. They learn how to negotiate complex matters.

McDaniel presents himself as a fresh new fireball who won’t be like the ossified incumbent, Cochran.

McDaniel tweeted, “I will not back down. I will not sit quietly. Our republic is worth the fight.”

That populist anger he is invoking is genuine, and it is based on real issues, issues people on the left are concerned about as well. Occupy Wall Street and the tea party are sisters under the skin in my opinion. Both include citizens who feel ignored by the political establishment and who want to make America better. Both think the corporate world influences civic life too much. Both want to preserve freedom and justice, each in their own way.

But for me, civil dialogue is the way to go. All this brinksmanship and name-calling just alienates the less-polarized citizens. In the Legislature, it probably alienates the colleagues who might otherwise have helped solve a problem.

So if I were in Mississippi, I’d amble up to the poll observers McDaniel has summoned to watch for irregularities, and I’d offer them a praline.

 

Update: AP wire reports late Tuesday night show Cochran edging out McDaniel in Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff 

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