When word first came that Sen. Thad Cochran, Republican of Tennessee, was retiring on April 1 for health reasons, I waited for the punch line. It had to be an April Fools’ joke, right? The day Cochran became a Senator 40 years ago, Jimmy Carter was president and Grease had just hit the theaters. On the longevity scale, he’s right up there with Sam Rayburn and Ted Kennedy. It was an odd thing to contemplate: How do you have a Senate without Thad Cochran?
Easy, I realized. You have a better one, maybe.
Thad Cochran is one of those occasional public servants whose conservative cruelty goes largely unnoted. Perhaps it’s the luck of geography; with sincere apologies to the Magnolia State, the easiest deflection in politics is “Yeah, but he’s from Mississippi.” Having former Sen. Trent Lott as your wingman, as Cochran did for many years, certainly raises the bar for mendacity while taking off a good amount of heat. Lott enjoyed the cameras; Cochran was too busy.
Thad Cochran’s desk, a gift he happily accepted, belonged to Jefferson Davis when Davis was president of the Confederacy. In his time as a senator, Cochran requested nearly half a billion dollars in earmarks, more than anyone in Congress. In 2005, the Senate formally apologized for not passing an anti-lynching law during the days of Jim Crow, a grimly necessary measure at the time. Cochran and Lott were not among the 80 senators who cosponsored the resolution.
That same year, Cochran voted against the Detainee Treatment Act, which would have prohibited the gross abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. Joining him in that vote favoring torture were today’s right-wing all-Ssars: Jeff Cornyn, Ted Stevens, Jim Inhofe, Pat Roberts and then-Senator Jeff Sessions. In 2009, Cochran voted against the Affordable Care Act, and just last year signed a…