May 29, 2014 9:53:06 AM
OXFORD -- "These are the times that try men's souls," Thomas Paine wrote two days before Christmas 1776. America had declared itself free of England six months earlier, but the British army was mighty. Many rebels were feeling, well, less rebellious.
"The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now," Paine continued, "deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."
Not to be melodramatic about it, but Mississippi voters -- bizarre campaign antics of the past few weeks notwithstanding -- face a soul-trying choice Tuesday.
Thad Cochran is being challenged by Chris McDaniel for the Republican nomination to serve the next six years in one of the state's two seats in the U.S. Senate.
Cochran, 76, has brought billions upon billions of federal dollars to Mississippi for everything from roads and parks to research centers and defense contracts.
McDaniel, 41, says slashing spending is Priority No. 1. He throws in with the tea party folks who became super-vocal during President Obama's first two years and who reel in disbelief that the national debt has almost doubled to $17.5 trillion since 2008 and that debt per taxpayer has surged from $90,000 to $151,000.
The choice, then, is whether to place the state's economy on the chopping block.
Objectively, no one can argue that the rate of federal spending during the past two decades is sustainable. Even Obama continues to say monetary sanity must be regained ... eventually.
The difference is that McDaniel and those who have already ridden debt outrage into elective office say, "Now."
But while that may -- and does -- sound appealing, the reality is Mississippi depends on federal taxpayers in other states and federal borrowing to tread water.
Any slowdown or reduction in federal spending will be felt here first and worst. There will be nothing quick or easy about it.
Here's what tea partiers don't address: The federal dollars flowing into Mississippi are not lagniappe; they form the engine of the economy across almost all sectors. Everything from agriculture to transportation to housing to education to pensions depends on federal dollars.
This isn't about doing away with a park or a museum or a fresh layer of asphalt or making a lazy bum get a job.
This is about Mississippi universities trying to operate without the $1.6 billion per year in student loans, grants and other allocations.
This is about K-12 schools operating without about $400 million less.
This is not about hundreds of jobs; it's about thousands of jobs in a state where jobs are already scarce.
The nation has fought a couple of wars in the past several years with zero disruption of the day-to-day activities for most people. If the budget whackers get enough traction, everybody -- everybody -- will feel it.
Nationally, the Tea Party Movement has lost some of its sting. In Indiana, for example, long-time Sen. Frank Lugar was tossed out in favor of a younger zealot in a Republican primary. In the general election, though, Indianans tossed the radical righty aside and elected a moderate Democrat.
In Mississippi, former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers is waiting in the wings. He plans to win the general election if voters choose McDaniel in the primary and realize the scope of the consequences by November.
Of course, there will not be an instant economic disaster if Chris McDaniel becomes the next U.S. senator from Mississippi. Those on the far right of the Republican Party who have already been elected to the House and Senate are coming to the realization that it took decades to brine America's fiscal pickle. Big change at this point would bring on a disaster perhaps equal to the one coming if spending continues to increase at the current clip.
To some extent, tea partiers are like the proverbial dog that chases cars. The operative question is, "What are you going to do if you catch one?" A moderate drawdown is our only hope.
In this red state, it is rare to have such a stark choice on any ballot, much less a Republican primary in early summer.
Do we stick with the calm, patient, reliable senator who has worked to feed the state's craving for cash?
Do we toss Cochran out in favor of McDaniel who pledges to end what everyone agrees is generations of budgetary recklessness in Washington, D.C.?
Elections have consequences.
For Mississippi and for America, this one sure does.