The Quiet, Polarizing Legacy Of Thad Cochran
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Politics and Activism

The Quiet, Polarizing Legacy Of Thad Cochran

The late senator leaves behind memories of a tenure marred by flawed record towards Civil Rights.


On May 30, 2019, Cindy Hyde-Smith, the junior senator from Mississippi, took to the floor of the Upper Chamber on Capitol Hill, and before her 99 colleagues of The U.S. Senate, announced the death of her predecessor, Thad Cochran. Passing into time, and into history, the veteran senator who served in The United States Congress for more than four decades passed into a history defined by times he helped shaped instrumentally, but quietly. Quiet as the 99 senators who sat quiet and still. Their eyes fixed upon the desk where their colleague once sat. Silent, but hardly still.

Though Thad Cochran's death attracted very little media attention unlike his fellow Republican Senator John McCain, the native of Pontotoc, Mississippi seldom needed the flash of a camera to demonstrate the depth of his influence.

Once selected by "Time" as one of "America's 10 best senators," Cochran garnered a reputation as "The Quiet Persuader." Soften spoken and courtly, Cochran preferred to win over his own caucus and those on the other side of the aisle privately. Combined with his experience and mastery over the issues who sought to address, The senator from Mississippi grew into a formidable negotiator. A discrete, effectual diplomacy that allowed him to approve $29 billion in reparations for The Gulf Coast after the outbreak of Hurricane Katrina, double of what Congress and The Bush Administration originally pledged, and to pass a landmark care at home bill for the elderly where both health and social needs of such citizens in their frailty were tended to by federal and state-funded medical professionals. Both of which passed the Senate with bipartisan support.

But despite garnering praise for his political acumen and moderate stances on various legislative issues as a senator who represented arguably the most conservative state in America, where such a chorus falls solemn, silent and still like the entire Senate chamber at the end of May, is when it concerns Cochran's record on Civil Rights. Although the senator of The Magnolia State — the state of William Faulkner — voted in favour of Ronald Reagan's push to establish the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. as a national holiday, his support for this resolution became overshadowed by his acceptance of the opportunity to use the desk of Jefferson Davis during tenure in Congress, and his opposition to the removal of statues dedicated to the memory of the former President of Confederacy in The U.S. Capitol.

Furthermore, his already tenuous stance on Civil Rights was further eroded when he publicly expressed his unwillingness to support a bill which called for the U.S. Senate to apologize for its failure to enact federal lynching laws in the early 20th Century at the height of The Great Migration, stating to "The Washington Post": "I'm not in the business of apologizing for what someone else did or didn't do. I deplore and regret that lynching occurred and that those committing them weren't punished, but I'm not culpable."

Like many of the greatest, and most notorious figures who have passed into time and history — especially a time and history that concerns America — Thad Cochran will never pass free of controversy. No matter how persuasive. No matter how quiet. Yet, should few seek to ponder what is written and spoken of the now passed senator from Mississippi, they will find themselves stilled. Silenced. In the face of history. Of times full of deeds committed from the highest of virtues, and of a stifling, but not entirely unspeakable heinousness.

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