I get why Mississippi voters of all parties, races, and creeds pulled together at the very last minute to give Sen. Thad Cochran a win in his GOP primary and thus effectively another six years in the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body™ (also known as the League of Unextraordinary Gentlemen).
The short version: Cochran has been very, very good to the Magnolia State, first as a congressman (1973-1978) and then as a senator (1978-forever). Not because he has authored or championed legislation that has expanded the scope of human freedom and flourishing. No, he’s just one of the great elder statesmen of what should be called out as “Red State Socialism,” the process by which supposedly conservative states—typically filled with politicians and voters who rail against welfarism in all its manifestations—are gifted massive subsidies courtesy of mostly blue-state voters.
By any measure, Mississippi has been on the government teat longer and more fully than the kid on that creepy Time magazine cover about attachment parenting. According to the Tax Foundation, Mississippi has never been lower than fourth in the amount of federal taxes paid vs. the amount of federal money received. In 2005, Mississippi received a jaw-dropping $2.02 in federal money for every $1 of taxes its residents sent to Washington.
By 2010, that had jacked up further still to $2.47. That same year, the Tax Foundation calculates that fully 49 percent of Mississippi’s state general revenue comes from federal taxpayers who will never step foot in Morgan Freeman’s and William Faulkner’s beloved stamping grounds.
It’s not just Mississippi, of course. As lefty publications such as Mother Jones love to point out, “Most Red States Take More Money from Washington Than They Put In.” In 2010, states overall received $1.29 in federal gravy for every dollar residents kicked toward D.C. (such a persistent mismatch between money in and money out exemplifies what I’ve called Groupon Government and explains massive and mounting debt and deficits). Besides Mississippi, other notable red-state freeloaders included Alabama ($2.03), Alaska ($1.93), and South Carolina ($1.92). “Republican states, on average, received $1.46 in federal spending for every tax dollar paid,” writes Dave Gilson. “Democratic states, on average, received $1.16.” Shame on both sides for bilking the system—and props to places as generous and different as Delaware (which received just 38 cents per dollar paid), New York (72 cents), California (87 cents), Texas (85 cents), and Massachusetts (83 cents).
Cochran and his bipartisan supporters—he was by all accounts helped in his victory over Tea Party favorite Chris McDaniel by Democrats both in and out of Mississippi—underscore just how powerful the fiscally unsustainable status quo really is (a federal government that kicks out $1.29 to states for every dollar they send in will eventually hit the skids). Sure, Cochran may be a Republican and he may call himself a conservative advocate of limited government. Yet he has rarely met an expansion of government power and spending he couldn’t warm up to (in this, he is very similar to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor).
Of course Cochran was in favor of invading Iraq and nation-building there, and he has always supported more money for the military (if he quibbles with foreign interventions, it’s clearly because of partisan politics, not deeply held principle). He voted not just for the Patriot Act, but its various reauthorizations, and he doesn’t give a rip about government spying on its citizens.
As the Tea Party group FreedomWorks has documented, Cochran voted in favor of Medicare Part D, the Bush-era abomination that gave free and reduced-price prescription drugs to seniors (without creating any revenue to pay for such largess!). He pulled the lever on the expensive and ineffective federal boondoggle known as No Child Left Behind, which accomplished nothing except for more federal bureaucracy in K-12 education. He’s voted against balanced budget plans put forth by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and others. Cochran loves farm subsidies and high sugar tariffs.
In 2012, he voted to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, one of the purest excresences of crony capitalism imaginable. The bank secures loans and other goodies to foreign companies and governments to buy American products; its client list is dominated by industry giants such as GE, Boeing, and Caterpillar.
Unsurprisingly, Cochran tried to keep earmarks alive, as such federally funded gifts to specific interests back home were among the things he was known for. The GOP establishment in Mississippi—folks such as former Sen. Trent Lott and former Gov. Haley Barbour—explicitly pointed to Cochran’s unparalleled ability to bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan as a reason to give him a seventh term as senator. “Over the years, we’ve had to fight for funds,” explained Lott in an ad. “Without Thad Cochran we could lose some of these important facilities.” For his part, Barbour stressed “how much [Cochran] has helped and can continue to help Mississippi.”
That such “contributions” are paid for by taxpayers in California, New York, Texas, Delaware, and elsewhere doesn’t seem to bother many Republicans or even Democrats. The Democrats I can understand: They are explicitly in favor of bigger government, whether it’s paid for or not.
But the Republicans? They’re supposed to be the party of fiscal discipline and good, old-fashioned values like paying your own way and keeping government small, limited, and constitutional. Republicans, it turns out, have no shame and no excuse for not just putting up with the likes of Cochran but rushing to his defense at the very moment he was—finally—going to have to search for honest work.
For years now, polls have been showing that growing majorities of Americans want a government that does less and spends less. A record low of 7 percent of Americans have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress. That’s not because “conservatives” such as Cochran have spent too little. It’s because they have spent too much while claiming they were all about shrinking the size, scope, and spending of government.
Earlier this year, Gallup noted that the number of voters who identified as Republican had fallen to just 25 percent, the lowest figure recorded since 1988. Kudos to the GOP: You’ll hang onto that seat in Mississippi. But if you ever want to get serious about growing your popularity or, more importantly, actually enacting policies based on your limited-government rhetoric, you’re going to have go after red-state socialism with the same energy and drive you go after Tea Party candidates who challenge the status quo.