One of the many fascinating things about the MS GOP SEN runoff is the extraordinary inversion of the state’s political heritage created by the conceit that Thad Cochran is its embodiment: a genial middle-of-the-roader who happily channels federal funds to his pork-and-food-stamp-hungry constituents.
Sure, there is a tradition of Mississippi senators fighting for big defense appropriations and the occasional public works or transportation project. But it’s not like the state is some sort of paradise for po’ folks. Mississippi long vied with Texas for providing the lowest levels of public assistance under the old AFDC program. Despite an extremely favorable match rate for Medicaid services, the program is, as in most southern states, miserly, and the Big Daddy of Cochran supporters, Haley Barbour, spent much of his tenure as governor trying to reduce eligibility and benefits. Maximum weekly unemployment benefits in Mississippi are the lowest in the country at $235. And of course, the private sector in the state isn’t doing that well for the unwashed, with Mississippi regularly ranked last or next-to-last in GDP per capita and first in the percentage of the population living below the poverty level.
So it’s ironic in the extreme that conservatives backing Chris McDaniel are acting as though their approach to public policy is some sort of novel experiment in the state where Faulkner famously said: “The past isn’t dead; it’s not even past.” But here’s Rick Santorum (per Politico‘s Alexander Burns):
“I know in Mississippi, you can be the butt of jokes because you’re 50th in this or whatever the case may be. But now you can be first,” said Santorum, who has also been appearing in TV ads paid for by the group Citizens United. In melodramatic terms, he exhorted the audience to “make a difference, so you can tell your children and grandchildren: You know that race that started America in a different direction? I was here. I was there.”
Aside from the usual bizarre inability to understand there’s a connection between Mississippi’s ancient addiction to low-road economic development strategies and its persistent poverty, the idea that McDaniels-style conservatism is some sort of innovation in the state is a real howler. It makes about as much sense as wondering what would happen if liberalism broke out in Berkeley.