THE BLOG
06/26/2014 12:57 pm ET Updated Aug 26, 2014

Thad Cochran's Near (Ole) Miss

As a lifelong Democrat and one who considers himself progressive and liberal in his political leanings, the recent U.S. Senate runoff in Mississippi presents a philosophical conflict that is difficult to square. I can only imagine the angst of the state's African-American population when faced with the notion of actually supporting current Senator Thad Cochran in order to avoid the seemingly more perilous prospect of being represented by a Tea Party patriot whose basic political instincts are outdated by a century and a half. Cochran is no prize but the alternative would have represented an unacceptable retreat from the hard-fought gains of the past century.

I fear that many times in politics we second guess ourselves into the most contorted electoral logic that the unintended consequences of such sophistication makes us worse off than if we had just followed our best instincts. A case in point would certainly be those of the liberal persuasion who cast a vote for Ralph Nader in the 2000 presidential election only to help precipitate the disaster that would seat George W. Bush in the Oval Office. But in this instance the choice was clearly between the devil you know and the devil you don't. Too often the choice between worse and worser (sic) breeds the cynicism that keeps voter participation at abominably low levels and with the introduction of voter identification schemes designed specifically to diminish voter turnout among minorities what happened in Mississippi is even more remarkable.

And the conundrum is accentuated by the absurd situation we now find ourselves in as our representative democratic experiment continues to go through never-ending growing pains. Today conservative political ideology has been summarily degraded by the toxic infusion of pseudo-libertarian, perverted populist and fear- and anger-induced rejection of intellectualism and scientific method pabulum that substitutes for principle. It presents even the most optimistic defender of constitutional government and democracy with a Hobbesian choice between sliding backwards or standing still while the world continues to spin on its axis and other nations look to the only superpower for leadership and guidance on a host of perplexing international problems.

So how can we possibly put a positive blush on this canvass? In my recent book, The Evolution of a Revolution: An Attack upon Reason, Compromise and the Constitution, I outline six essential conceptual remedies to the dysfunctional funk we now find ourselves in vis-à-vis our political system and our system of governance. Each is intended to reflect conformance with the precepts outlined by the Founding Fathers that represent the foundation of our government. They include: restoring value to public service; returning to the notion that government can work; elevating the public interest above special interests; placing long-term interests on par with short-term interests; demanding statesmanship from our leaders not merely leadership; and removing the corrupting influence of money from our systems of governance and politics. All are premised on the concept of compromise, a notion that is demonized by the obstructionist movement that has captured conservative ideology and the Republican Party.

As the Constitution so clearly elucidates, compromise is essential to our system of checks and balances and the incremental nature of change that is a byproduct of the founders' wishes to protect minority rights and guard against the tyranny of the majority. Without compromise our system grinds to a halt and unfortunately the traditional battle lines between right and left have given way to the current polarization that pits obstructionism against progress. We now find ourselves in the awkward and dangerous position of operating a two party system that finds one party adopting obstruction not as a tactic but rather as the goal. The asymmetrical nature of the dysfunction is most definitively laid at the feet of a Republican Party that is slowly being strangled by the Tea Party obstructionists. The result is political and policy paralysis.

The continuing strength and I fear the real legacy of the obstructionists can be found in the degree to which traditional conservatives, like Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell, and Thad Cochran, find themselves fighting for their proverbial political lives in primaries where they are attacked because of their willingness to participate in the very system so carefully constructed by the architects of American government. So naturally they adapt to the new reality and subvert their political instincts to actually participate in a functioning government. The results baffle even the most hardened veterans of political warfare. It creates a self-reinforcing feedback loop that accomplishes little except the expending of energy.

Compromise is the sine qua non of our representative democracy and the absence of it places our system in peril. I have not heard a logically presented alternative by the obstructionists to our current system of government just as I have yet to hear of constructive alternatives to legislative issues that affect the majority of the American people. Stopping things in its tracks is tantamount to throwing up our hands and surrendering to the inevitability of defeat. And that is simply an unacceptable failure that is, well quite simply, un-American.

So the real choice for Americans in this political environment is to act American and reject obstructionism. What black Mississippians helped to repel this week was an attitude that embraces failure. The real test now will be to somehow build upon that momentum to elect a Democrat to the Senate in November. I realize that is a long shot, but we just witnessed African-Americans in Mississippi helping a white, conservative, six-term Republican senator from almost certain defeat. The real choice is between growth and decay, and all Americans should opt for growth. So let Mississippi be the birthplace of the new revolution and let this race signal the evolution of that revolution.