Senator Thad Cochran
Part Two of Two (Click Here For Part I)
By Perry Hicks- Special to GulfCoastNews.com
Under normal circumstances the adjectives “conservative” and “revolutionary” would not seem congruent when uttered in the same breath. However, both are indeed descriptive of Thad Cochran. In the late 1960s, he was one of young Southern conservatives who crossed over to the Republican Party thus ending the Democrat’s Solid South.
Because the Republicans were a numerical minority at the time, the crossing put Cochran squarely in the public spotlight where his character and quality of leadership could quietly, if not stealthily, bring him eventually to prominence and power.
The crossing was otherwise revolutionary in that being a Republican would have been unthinkable for a member of polite Southern society over the 90 plus years following post Civil War Reconstruction. However, Cochran’s crossing, followed by success, surely won over otherwise reluctant Southerners whose sympathies were with the conservative cause.
Seething at the defection, Democrats branded people like Thad Cochran and Trent Lott as racists who abandoned the Democrat Party solely because they wanted to continue racial segregation. However, it was the national Democrats who found no problem being complicit in segregation just so long as the Solid South continued to deliver up those badly needed electoral votes.
For that reason alone, it is surprising that Democrat accusations have had any ability to maintain traction over the intervening 34 years since Cochran was first elected to the House of Representatives.
In 2002 it was used to remove Lott from the senate leadership under the pretext that he inappropriately lavished praise on a former segregationist, Dixiecrat presidential candidate, and U.S. Senator from South Carolina, Strom Thurmond.
The dumping of Lott turned out to be a major tactical mistake and other race-based presumptions, such as the verdict in the O.J. Simpson trial, or the Duke Lacrosse rape case, are proving increasingly problematic for the Politically Correct, as well.
Fortunately, charging racism has become a too oft used claim that today is threadbare and increasingly suspect. These assertions are built on a foundation of self-defined “code words” and interpretations of history that do not square with the facts
Considering the internal power struggles that were (and continue) to rage within both parties, those brand new young Republicans of the late 1960s had reasons for leaving the Democrat Party that had nothing to do with them wanting to perpetuate segregation.
Becoming a Republican
In an exclusive interview with GCN, Senator Cochran recounted the reason why he became a Republican:
“Well frankly, I think Vietnam had a lot to do with it. I was in the Navy and I was an officer serving on a heavy cruiser operating out of Boston. And when I got out, I went to law school and I continued at my service in the Naval Reserve; I had to go back on active service in summers and teach at OCS in Newport teaching military law…
“Anyway, Vietnam was going on, I hadn’t been assigned to that theatre at all- I was in the Atlantic Ocean- but I had other friends doing it in other services and I was watching it all very closely. It was my age group who were having to fight that war and I got so irritated with the way Lyndon Johnson just seemed to be unable to bring that war to a close and we kept sending more and more people over there…”
To put Cochran’s remarks in context, one has to revisit the 1960s, a decade where event after event promised to turn the old social order upside down. Race riots, assassinations, attempted assassinations, and anti-war protests punctuated the years from 1963 well into the next decade.
President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 as was Bobby Kennedy, brother to the president, in 1968 as was the Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King.
Also, an independent segregationist candidate for president and former governor of Alabama, George Wallace, was paralyzed by an assailant’s bullet in 1972. Then there were three separate attempts on President Gerald Ford’s life in 1975.
Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson succeeded Kennedy to become the 37th president of the United States. Johnson continued to advance Kennedy’s goals of civil rights, space exploration, but also continued prosecuting the highly unpopular Vietnam War.
The decade was full of social turmoil with the streets of Washington being periodically filled with mass protests for either ending the war or for demanding civil rights. After the assassination of King, many cities throughout the United States erupted in violent riots.
Pressured as he was, Johnson promised not to do exactly what he wound up doing- escalating the war. On one televised address Johnson promised he would “Not send American boys to Southeast Asia to do what Southeast Asian boys should be doing.”
The subsequent military buildup peaked with over a half million American troops fighting in South Vietnam. According to the number of names inscribed on the black marble walls of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., over 58 thousand U.S. service men and women gave their lives over the course of America’s involvement in that conflict.
Cochran put that number into context by saying, “When you compare that with the Iraq War right now- when we have almost 3000 to have lost their lives- and I am not saying the Iraq situation isn’t serious and dangerous and we need to wrap that up as quickly as we can, too- but, I got very disappointed in the Democratic Party- Hubert Humphrey was a big player in the party…”
Cochran’s opposition to Vietnam and his opinion that America needs to get out of Iraq soon should be no surprise at all. His position is consistent with paleo-conservatism.
Paleo-cons, as they are called, believe true Republics should be too busy with internal affairs to seek empire or undertake interventionist actions abroad. This is one of the core differences paleo-cons have with liberals and Republican neo-conservatives such as President George W. Bush.
This is difficult to believe now, but at one time, Democrats used to count in their membership ardent anti-communist conservatives who were strong on national defense and unwavering in their support for Israel. In this regard, Humphrey had impeccable credentials and it was highly likely he would have continued Johnson’s policy of prosecuting the war.
Democrat’s would treat Cochran’s opposition to Hubert Humphrey no different than they would have the Dixiecrats of 1948. However, the trail of the Dixiecrats did not lead to the Republican’s doorstep.
At the 1948 Democratic Convention held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, then 37 year old mayor of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Hubert Humphrey- an early civil rights advocate- delivered a stirring speech urging the party to "get out of the shadow of states' rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights." It was a message that was not well received by all Democrats.
On hearing Humphrey’s speech, enraged delegates from Mississippi and Alabama walked out in protest. However, these disaffected segregationists didn’t leave only to join the Republicans. Instead, they attempted to create their own alternative party calling themselves “Dixiecrats.”
Dixiecrat is a morpheme of the words “Dixie” and “Democrat.” The official party name for this splinter group was “The States Rights Democratic Party.”
Strom Thurmond, South Carolina’s segregationist governor ran for president on the Dixiecrat ticket. If the goal was to either elect Thurmond or deny the Democrat’s the presidency, the new party ultimately failed and the segregationists grudgingly remained Democrats.
In 1952, Thurmond broke with his party again by endorsing his old World War II Supreme Commander and Republican presidential candidate, Dwight D. Eisenhower. It wasn’t until Barry Goldwater’s 1964 bid for the White House that Thurmond switched affiliation to the Republican Party.
While the Democrats point to Thurmond’s acceptance in the Republican Party as an indictment of its racist proclivity, the Democrats curiously offer no explanation for their ire at his going.
Goldwater actually was not very compatible with the segregationist Dixiecrats. While he supported the Arizona NAACP and the Civil Rights acts of 1957 and 1960, he did oppose the more comprehensive Civil Rights Act of 1964; doing so based on its infringement of constitutionally guaranteed states rights.
By the early 1970s, Thurmond himself was embracing racial integration and this change appeared to be more than just lip service. He not only hired African-Americans onto his staff, he voted to confirm African-Americans judges. After his death in 2003 at 100 years of age, it also became public that he had fathered a daughter with one of his family’s African-American maids.
Crossing the Line
Seeing stress cracks forming in the Democrat Party, Republicans began looking for ways to turn the Solid South into electoral swing states. Just as now, presidential elections could be won by small margins if only the battleground for election could be placed squarely in the political center. Appealing to disaffected conservative Democrats was to become known as the “Southern Strategy,” a term coined by Nixon political strategist, Kevin Phillips (Photo Right).
Cochran continued his narrative telling GCN, “… all of a sudden I decided in ’68… I thought, gosh, I’m going to vote for Nixon, I guess; and I got a call from somebody in Washington asking me if I’d head up something called Citizens for Nixon-Agnew.
“It was Lamar Alexander from Tennessee… he was working up here in Washington for Howard Baker. He had gotten involved in this group as a staff member. Three or four guys were sitting around the Willard Hotel one night saying who do you know? We’ve got to do a nationwide organization of people who are either Democrats or Independents and get them involved in the Nixon campaign as Citizens for Nixon-Agnew.
“And that was the appeal they made to me was to come to an organizational meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana and I’d meet the candidate, as they referred to Nixon, and meet some people from around the country who had agreed to serve...
“…So, I asked the senior partner in my law firm in Jackson to see what his reaction to it was and he said I think you ought to go to the meeting and we will pay your way up there… see what you think.
“So, I went and met Dick Lugar, who was mayor of Indianapolis, he seemed as young as I was… and he was very talented and obviously very eloquent, and I met President Nixon, Mrs. Nixon, and Buddy Wilkinson who was the national honorary chairman of this group who was a football coach at Oklahoma.
“So they asked me and Raymond Brown who was fresh from the Baltimore Colts… where he was a superstar… he had been a clerk for a Supreme Court justice and had gone to Ole Miss Law School- he and I were contemporaries as undergraduates… anyway, they said he was interested and they wanted us to head it up in Mississippi. We came back home and got to work trying to get people involved in this campaign.
“The problem with our candidate was that George Wallace was running as an independent… so we came in a bad third. But there I was publicly supporting a Republican candidate for the first time in my life…”
If Cochran and others had wanted to follow the path of segregation, they would have worked to promote George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama. Wallace ran for president in 1964, 1968, 1972, and 1976.
In the 1968 campaign he ran on the “American Independent Party” ticket, in 1972 he ran as a Democrat, and he dropped out of his 1976 bid endorsing of all people, Jimmy Carter.
Running for Congress
Cochran went on saying, “We had a congressman unexpectedly decide to retire and a couple of Republicans came to see me to ask me to run for congress. I told them I wasn’t a Republican, but they said, you supported Nixon… I started thinking about it and ended up, the more I thought about it and the more people talked to me about it, the word got out that they were trying to recruit me and I would get phone calls at the house urging me to run… I thought the worst thing that could happen is that I could win, so I asked my wife what she thought about being married to a U.S. congressman and she said, I don’t know, which one?
“No body thought I was a politician type, but I ran and I won… the party made sure that nobody else was competing for the nomination- they wouldn’t support anybody but me and that word went out all over the district that I was the choice for the Republicans. I ended up at the general election- there were 9 candidates on the Democratic side and an independent- a young African-American from Vicksburg, Mississippi, who Charles Evers talked into running to prove to the Democrats that they couldn’t win elections in Mississippi without the black vote and that ought to let the blacks participate in the Democratic Party…
Cochran’s support for Nixon mirrored the political realignment going on in both parties. Where Republicans and Democrats once hosted a greater variety of view points from across the political spectrum, the Democrats were intentionally purging their party of the politically incorrect.
Consequently, the Republican Party was beginning to see a surge of conservatives- some former Democrats as well as many newly motivated to be politically active. These new members swelling the Republican ranks were either political kin to the “Old Right” (paleo-cons or “plain old conservatives” as Cochran would identify himself,) neo-conservatives (neo-cons,) other liberal leaning types who had populated the Democrat’s near-center, or they were part of the growing “Religious Right.” movement.
Both the Neocons and the Religious Right believed in a strong military defense, opposed communism, and supported Israel. Their principle differences would be over abortion rights and illegal immigration.
By the late 1970s, Democrats nationally were becoming increasingly intolerant of anyone, including fellow Democrats, who supported traditional American culture, strong national defense, low taxation, and the protection of Israel- ironically the very policies that were hallmarks of the Kennedy Administration.
By the new millennium, bucking the Democrat elite on even one of their hot topics would assure expulsion from the party.
U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman learned that lesson in 2006 when he publicly supported President George Bush over the Iraq War. The Democrat leadership pushed him out in the Connecticut primaries and ran an alternative candidate forcing Lieberman to run as an independent.
Presently, the Democrat Party leadership is heavy with socialist elites whose rhetoric is always at odds with traditional American values. They seek radical social change that would bring about a “post family” social order devoid of personal responsibility, accountability, and self-sufficiency.
For the socialist elite, the Constitution is not a document to be strictly adhered to, but a “living document” whose words change their meaning as often as those same elites would want to redefine them.
For conservatives, change must come within the context of existing traditions, customs, and institutions. For them, doing otherwise would be both reckless and proscriptive to both liberty and human nature.
Conservatives also believe that society is universally familial, and so the defense of the traditional family is seen essential to social stability.
They also recognize that our basic “human rights” are derived from Natural Law; that is, our Constitutional Rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness comes from a higher power- from God, the creator of the universe- so that no government can legitimately take these rights away.
In this context, the cultural war on Christmas does make sense: If God could just be banished then there would be no unalienable rights for anyone.
Republicans Not Segregationists
What these same far-Left Democrats are loath to admit is that not only did the Mississippi branch of their party practice segregation; they also denied African-Americans public office even where African-Americans were the majority of voters.
Even worse, this was all done under the acquiescence of the Democrat National Committee.
Cochran detailed how some of this history had personally touched him saying, “They (blacks) had this Freedom Democratic Party, but they weren’t welcome at the real Democratic Party. Basically you had two Democratic Parties, the whites and the blacks, they were still segregated. But Republicans; you know, I went to Jackson State and campaigned, I had (black) people helping me… Evers told me he supported me… he said I helped you win, without me you wouldn’t have won and he may be right.
“The same thing happened when I ran for the Senate, he (Evers) ran as an independent and got about 25% of the vote and I got, again, less than a majority of the vote, but the Democrat (Maurice Danton) got less than I did so I was elected to the Senate.”
Cochran was speaking of Charles Evers, the older brother to slain iconic Civil Rights activist, Medgar Evers, who was gunned down in his driveway by segregationist Democrat Byron De La Beckwith. Beckwith was tried three times but not successfully prosecuted until 1994, 31 years after the murder. (Photo Right: Charles Evers - Used with permission of the CivilRightsConnection.org)
The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party Cochran spoke of was formed in 1964 and ultimately attracted a membership of about 60 thousand voters. The purpose of the party was to put pressure on white Democrats to allow black to participation in Mississippi’s political process.
Being rebuffed at the state level, the Freedom Democrats traveled in the summer of 1964 to Chicago to attend the Democrat Convention. There they hoped petition the convention that some of them might represent Mississippi.
Fearful that segregationist Democrats would bolt the party, Lyndon Johnson is reported to have pulled the plug on television coverage when Freedom Democrat Fannie Lou Hamer’s pleadings started to focus attention to the issue. The convention never did seat any of the Freedom Democrats.
For a time, Charles replaced Medgar as the head of the Mississippi’s chapter of the NAACP. Charles Evers also became the mayor of Fayette, Mississippi in 1969, an event of such significance he was voted NAACP’s Man of the Year.
Charles Evers ran for governor in 1971 and the U.S. Senate in 1978 when segregationist Democrat James Eastland announced his retirement. Evers did not run as a Democrat but instead, as an independent. Not long after, he crossed over to the Republican Party himself, where he remains a prominent member to this day.
What made it possible for African-Americans to run and win elections across the country was the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. Suddenly, there were nationally about 1469 black elected officials in 1970, 3503 in 1975, 4912 in 1980, and 6056 in 1985.
Of the 1975 number of black elected officials, more than 1500 were in the South. Mississippi had more black elected officials (444) than any other state. According to the U.S. Census, the number of Mississippi black elected officials in 2001 had increased to 892.
While the VRA did enable black candidates to win historical elections, such when Mike Espy won his congressional seat in 1986, the emergence of black candidacy was hardly a smooth one.
In 1969, when Bennie Thompson (now Mississippi 4th District Congressman) was elected as an alderman of Bolton, Mississippi, his white opponents challenged the election in court. (Photo Right: Rep. Bennie Thompson)
What the race charging Democrats are loath to admit is that who allowed state Democrats to commit voter fraud and harass black office holders was the national Democrats themselves, not the supposedly segregationist GOP. Up until 1992, Democrats dominated the majority of state elected offices and held the office of governor. That is the year when Kirk Fordice became the first Republican to be elected governor since Adelbert Ames in 1874. (Photo Right: Gov. Kirk Fordice)
None of this was lost on Charles Evers for after his run for the senate in 1978, he joined Mississippi’s Republican Party where he remains a prominent member today.
Shared Conservative Values
To switch to the Republicans would have been unthinkable had they not shared core conservative values with Cochran. When asked how he saw Republican values at that time, Cochran replied, “Those were typical Mississippi values as I saw it: Hard work, ingenuity, these are the things that are rewarded in our society.
“ Now, if people are down on their luck and need help from the Government, sure, we need to be responsive to that; but Government subsidies or Government bailouts and all the rest that’s for special, unusual circumstances like Hurricane Katrina, not for everyday life.”
About the Author.....
Perry Hicks is the senior writer for GCN. He is a former Mississippi Coast resident and was a correspondent for the old Gulfport Star Journal. He has appeared on Fox News Channel. Perry has also hosted his own radio talk show on the auto industry with a mix of politics. Perry is a former college professor and a frequent contributor to GCN writing on stories of national importance with local interests. His articles can be found in the GCN Archive.
Contact the Author: email@example.com