Stumping Through Arkansas With Tom Terrific
As others before me have noted, Tom Cotton (R-AR) is just about the perfect Republican candidate for the 21st century, which should put us sane people on guard. Cotton’s a telegenic “aw, shucks” Arkansas farmboy, an Iraq-Afghanistan military vet, with a Harvard Law degree on top, who is more than willing to make an utter fool of himself saying any damned ignorant thing that will keep the GOP’s fun-house audience in a state of arousal.
Guys like this (looking at you, Ted Cruz) always fascinate me because they are, by all standards, smart, disciplined and well-educated. So how is it that they can allow themselves to be completely sucked in by crackpot gibberish that wouldn’t fool most twelve year olds? Where is their self-respect, if nothing else, when they stand up and soberly spout completely unfounded gibberish that 80% of the world is tittering over?
So far, during his brief tenure in Congress, Cotton has signed on with the “Hell, No! caucus” and shared these pearls of legislative wisdom:
“I don’t think Arkansas needs to bail out the Northeast,” Cotton once said of his vote against the Hurricane Sandy relief bill.
He has dismissed the potential for default if the debt ceiling was not raised as a desirable “short-term market correction.”
He said food stamps should be cut because too many recipients live high on the hog: “They have steak in their basket, and they have a brand-new iPhone, and they have a brand-new SUV.”
Well, the media had a good guffaw at Cotton’s attempt to spin his two consecutive votes against the Farm Bill as a principled objection to President Obama adding “$1 trillion of new food stamp spending” to it. They spanked him for it unmercifully, pointing out, again and again, that the Farm bill Cotton had so sanctimoniously voted against actually cut food stamp spending over the next 10 years. Not to mention the fact that the Farm Bill has included some provision for food aid for the poor since the 1930’s.
Rookie mistake . . . ? OK.
Cotton’s most recent howler, though, puts him solidly in partisan crackpot territory. Poor Tom’s signed on to the ISIS Mexican Cartels Nexus theory.
Greg Sargent of The Washington Post had the fun of breaking this one. Cotton, channeling Orson Welles just in time for Halloween, made his remarkable remarks during a town hall meeting in Arkansas:
The problem is with Mark Pryor and Barack Obama refusing to enforce our immigration laws, and refusing to secure our border. I’ll change that when I’m in the United States Senate. And I would add, it’s not just an immigration problem. We now know that it’s a security problem. Groups like the Islamic State collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico who have clearly shown they’re willing to expand outside the drug trade into human trafficking and potentially even terrorism.
They could infiltrate our defenseless border and attack us right here in places like Arkansas. This is an urgent problem and it’s time we got serious about it, and I’ll be serious about it in the United States Senate.
Bet those Arkansans left that town hall with goosebumps! Harvard must be proud.
When asked for sourcing on the ISIS-Cartels story, Cotton’s spox, David Ray, pointed Greg Sargent to a handful of far-right media outlets—Townhall.com, FoxNews Insider, Worldnet Daily, Breitbart.com and the Washington Free Beacon—that most teen-agers recognize as far-right fever dream journals.
All of this forces me to conclude that Tom Cotton, though demonstrably smart at book-larnin’, doesn’t have a whole lot of common sense. Or he thinks his electoral base is stupid.
And, maybe that’s why Tom Cotton isn’t exactly setting the world on fire like the GOP’s Next Big Thing should. As Molly Ball reported in a great profile of Cotton for The Atlantic:
. . . the fact that Cotton—the man with the golden résumé, running in a deep-red state, with the collective hopes of the American right on his shoulders, against an amiable, rather bland Democrat of no particular distinction—is not running away with the contest has stoked a perception that he is underperforming. By this point four years ago, Arkansas’ last incumbent Democratic senator to seek reelection, Blanche Lincoln, was behind by 20 points.
That might also be because Cotton has the charisma of a potato and when he does show some spark, it’s often arrogant and mean-spirited. That . . . and he seems to have a rather low regard for his constituents.
This story came out, quite by accident, when insider videos were leaked, in August, of the Top Secret Koch-a-palooza meeting in California during which the brothers Koch strategized with their newly purchased Congress critters:
One of the quintessential moments of the whole conference was during the panel on what Koch front groups were doing in the elections. Tim Phillips, the head of Americans For Prosperity, starts talking about what a hero Tom Cotton is for voting against the farm bill, and the aristocracy applauds enthusiastically. Now the farm bill is pretty important in Arkansas; it pumps a huge amount of money into a very poor, rural state. While the billionaires at the secret meeting at the luxury resort in California may not like it, Arkansas farmers do. Cotton being so applauded for voting against the farm bill may not go over so well back home.
Here’s the other thing: Cotton missed the most important political event of the summer in Arkansas, the tomato festival that every statewide candidate for decades has been going to, in order to hang out with his billionaire friends in CA. The campaign refused to admit that he had gone, saying they wouldn’t comment on what he had been doing instead of the tomato festival. Now there is not only confirmation that he went to the Koch event, but the people of Arkansas can hear his hosts applauding excitedly about his voting against the farm bill.
There’s your man of capital “P” principle, Arkansas.
But, any politician worth his salt could counter all of that with “you just don’t understand politics.” Fair enough. Rep Alan Grayson (D-FL) has actually had the opportunity to work with Cotton, who serves with Grayson on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The news from that quarter isn’t a whole lot more inspiring . . .
Grayson shared this anecdote:
Last year the House Foreign Affairs Committee “marked up” an Iran Sanctions bill, taking amendments from committee members before sending the bill to the “Floor” for a House vote.
I offered five amendments. They all passed.
It’s hard to believe, I know, but there actually is a spirit of bipartisanship on the Foreign Affairs Committee, so things went smoothly — until it was Tom Cotton’s turn.
So anyway, there we were, trying to pass a bill that would keep Iran from getting nukes, and Cotton thought that he had come up with the perfect idea: imprison all of the Ayatollah’s relatives. Not the Ayatollah himself, just his relatives.
Cotton offered an amendment that would extend sanctions under the bill not only to the high government officials of Iran, but also to their relatives “to the third degree of consanguinity.” In case you missed the quiz on consanguinity, that’s children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, parents, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts, grandparents and great-grandparents.
But somehow, not second cousins twice removed. It must have been an oversight.
The enforcement mechanism for our sanctions is a criminal penalty. Specifically, five years in a federal prison. So if the Ayatollah violated our sanctions law, and his entirely innocent niece visited the United States, she’d get five years in the slammer under the Cotton Amendment. Just for being the Ayatollah’s niece.
By the way, the Cotton Amendment is a constitutional threefer: it violates three different provisions of the U.S. Constitution at the same time. They are the Fifth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment, and the very rarely heard of “Corruption of Blood” clause. It’s rarely heard of because almost no one is so stupid as even to contemplate punishing the relatives of wrongdoers. [My emphasis]
Except for Tom Cotton.
Grayson went on to say:
To their credit, the Republican Members of Congress have some regard for the oath that they took to preserve the Constitution (as they see it), so there were certain murmurings on the other side of the aisle. The GOP Chairman asked Cotton to withdraw his amendment, and he reluctantly did so.
I thought that that would be the end of it. But no. Cotton came to me afterward, and offered to “work with me” to put his amendment back in the bill before the House voted on it. As one Harvard Law School graduate to another, I asked Cotton how he thought that imprisoning nieces for the acts of their uncles was constitutional. He told me, “they’re just foreigners; they have no rights.”
Tom Cotton: A great reason for Arkansans to get out and vote—save yourselves further embarrassment.