Sunday, September 21, 2014

Normal People Have No Choice In The Ugly Arkansas Senate Race


Right-wing extremist Tom Cotton (r) with his lovely, blushing beard, Anna

Mark Pryor is way too conservative for my tastes. According to ProgressivePunch his 62.82 crucial vote score for the 2013-14 session marks him as the 2nd most conservative Senate Democrat, slightly better than Joe Manchin (D-WV) and slightly worse than Kay Hagan (D-NC), Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN). That's why you haven't been reading much about him and his see-saw reelection race in Arkansas here at DWT. He's sure not on the Blue America ActBlue Senate page-- and never will be. But that doesn't mean he has a much worse Republican opponent. He does. Tom Cotton is more than just a garden variety right-wing extremist, although he would certainly be a member of a fanatic extremist triumvirate with Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) were he to win in November. There are a lot of particularly atrocious Republican candidates for the Senate this cycle-- Cory Gardner (CO), Mike Rounds (SD), Joni Ernst (IA), Thom Tillis (NC), Terri Lynn Land (MI), Steve Daines (MT)-- but none come close to Cotton, the most anti-democracy royalist to run anywhere in America for years.

Writing for The Atlantic last week, Molly Ball rang the alarm bell… loudly, reminding her readers that Cotton "is the ultimate product of today's hard-edged, ideologically driven Republican Party." She reveals the content-- for the first time-- of his 92-page Harvard senior thesis, calling it "A cogent and tightly argued document" revealing "a contrarian devotion to some ideals that seem out of date today. Cotton insists that the Founders were wise not to put too much faith in democracy, because people are inherently selfish, narrow-minded, and impulsive. He defends the idea that the country must be led by a class of intellectually superior officeholders whose ambition sets them above other men. Though Cotton acknowledges that this might seem elitist, he derides the Federalists’ modern critics as mushy-headed and naive." I wonder if Pryor will have the good sense to make sure Arkansas voters understand that Cotton was talking about them. If Pryor doesn't, polls indicate he is likely to lose his seat.
“Ambition characterizes and distinguishes national officeholders from other kinds of human beings,” Cotton wrote. “Inflammatory passion and selfish interest characterizes most men, whereas ambition characterizes men who pursue and hold national office. Such men rise from the people through a process of self-selection since politics is a dirty business that discourages all but the most ambitious.”

Cotton was only summarizing the views of Publius, the collective pseudonym used by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay in the Papers. His reading is neither outré nor revisionist. Yet it seems significant that, out of all the ideas outlined in the Papers, these were the concepts Cotton chose to focus on and to defend forcefully against what he saw as more modish, inclusive ideas. To be sure, these words were written when Cotton was a mere undergraduate. But when I spoke to him in Arkansas recently—sitting in his campaign RV, which is decorated with a camouflage motif and a large red, white, and blue combat-boot print, as he prepared to give a speech in Hot Springs—he was eager to defend his views of a decade and a half before. He recited many of the thesis’s contentions nearly word for word, including the quotation from Abraham Lincoln that appears on page 70: “I have no [ambition] so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow-men,” Lincoln said, “by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.”

Men who seek national office, Cotton wrote in his thesis, are the most ambitious men, seeking the headiest sort of power over a nation’s commerce, finance, and affairs of state. Self-selection ensures that they have “a superior intelligence compared to the unambitious and to the lesser ambitious.” This does not necessarily mean that they are wise, he notes, but “it does imply some amount of sheer, raw brainpower. National officeholders will all possess something akin to shrewdness, cleverness, or perhaps even cunning.”

From the time he was a teenager, Cotton has been nurtured and groomed by conservative institutions-- scholars, think tanks, media, and advocacy groups-- to be the face of their political crusade. Pure, upright, and ideologically correct, he is their seemingly flawless mascot. (Conservatives would surely argue that a potent network consisting of regular academia and the mainstream media nurtures left-wing candidates.) And now he is finally on the cusp of achieving the platform consummate to his talents, a seat in the U.S. Senate.
The upright part doesn't include the widespread rumors in DC that Cotton is another Republican closet case, a gay hypocrite like Aaron Schock, Patrick McHenry and Lindsay Graham, who votes against LGBT equality while sneaking around in dark places looking for quick sexual thrills with other men. Remember Idaho's hysterically anti-gay stalwart Larry Craig? Cotton is a lot like him, although no one has caught him with another man in a public toilet yet. Republican-style, he suddenly got married to a GOP hack attorney (female) from Nebraska a few months ago to cover up his sexual preference for males. Cotton has no personality and no ability to connect with other human beings on any basis other than his obsession with right-wing ideology. He's probably clinically insane-- and Arkansas voters who come in contact with him are starting to notice it.

At this appearance and others, many voters asked Cotton about his vote against $300 million in federal funding for the Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock. The vote had been featured in a dramatic recent Democratic commercial (above) that said his priorities were “not with Arkansas children.” Cotton laughed it off and told them not to believe those nasty negative ads. “The legislation had no specific funding” for Arkansas, he said, and “I don’t support giving the president more leeway.” He added, “I ultimately did support later versions of the legislation, and I fully support Children’s Hospital, of course. Next week, when you hear I don’t support puppies, don’t believe that either.” But as John Brummett, the left-leaning columnist for The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has pointed out, Cotton’s “yes” votes were on meaningless, doomed budget bills; the one time the hospital appropriation was specifically at stake, Cotton voted against it. Every other Republican in the Arkansas congressional delegation voted in favor of the funding. “He voted against money for the hospital but won’t admit it,” Brummett wrote, in a column that was pressed into my hand by an 89-year-old Conway Lions Club member who urged me to read it. “Thus he obfuscates in the style of any other politician."

It is not the only time Cotton has outdone even other Republicans with his conservative absolutism. He was the only Arkansas Republican to vote twice against the farm bill and five times against disaster-aid funding-- two initiatives that national conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation see as symptoms of big government, but that many rural Southerners rely on heavily. Cotton also was the only Arkansan to vote for a budget drafted by the Republican Study Committee that would slash spending, voucherize Medicare, and raise the eligibility age for Social Security to 70.

The day after his speech in Conway, I spoke to Cotton in Hot Springs. I asked him whether it was important to stand on principle even when doing so might be unpopular. “I’ll tell you the truth, even in an election year, and that’s what people are ready for,” he said. “They don’t want traditional politicians like Mark Pryor, who’ve been hanging around for 24 years, who trim and hedge and won’t level with you.” If that was the case, I asked, why not own the unpopular votes-- against the hospital funding, or the farm bill, or disaster relief-- as necessary medicine for an out-of-control federal budget?

“Look at what I’ve said about disaster relief,” Cotton replied. “I support the traditional disaster-relief program FEMA administers. It is done by neutral, transparent criteria, and when communities like Vilonia or Mayflower are hit by a tornado, they can apply and receive that assistance.” Sixteen people were killed and the two towns were nearly destroyed by a tornado in April of this year. Mayflower’s mayor subsequently criticized Cotton for his disaster-aid votes. But, Cotton continued, “What I don’t support is a bill like Hurricane Sandy [relief] that is rushed through, that has $60 billion in new spending, much of which is not related to the disaster at all.” Cotton’s explanation sounded sensible enough; many House Republicans opposed the Sandy bill for similar reasons. Yet Cotton also voted against one bill that contained nothing but funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. (Cotton's campaign said he opposed that bill because the spending in it was not offset by budget cuts elsewhere.)… His is a harsh, unyielding, judgmental political philosophy. “I don’t think Arkansas needs to bail out the Northeast,” Cotton said of his vote against the Hurricane Sandy relief bill.

…Today Cotton, in his 19 months in office, has earned a 92 percent on the Club [For Growth]’s scorecard. The votes that marked him an outlier in the Arkansas Republican delegation-- the farm bill, disaster aid, the Children’s Hospital--were all in keeping with the Club’s austere philosophy. “If every member of Congress was like Tom Cotton, the world would be a better place,” Chocola told me approvingly. Some D.C. Republicans wish Cotton weren’t quite so pure. One GOP strategist involved in the midterm elections complained about Cotton’s failure to leap decisively ahead of Pryor, telling me, “His problem is, his voting record was scripted by the Heritage Foundation."

Scorecards like the Club’s frustrate House Speaker John Boehner, who believes that it and other pressure groups-- the Heritage Foundation keeps a similar tally--encourage Republicans against constructiveness and compromise. But the groups’ tough-minded ideology has found willing acolytes in the House’s most staunchly ideological crop of members, many of them elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010 that handed Republicans the House majority, and more, like Cotton, elected since. Politico last year dubbed Cotton the face of the “hell no caucus” that was making Boehner’s life difficult by refusing to entertain any inkling of gun control or immigration reform. Abigail Thernstrom worries that Cotton’s votes have hurt his popularity. “For political reasons, I would have been less principled than he has been on the farm bill,” she told me. “But he seems willing to vote his principles even when it’s not politically wise.”
I can't image ever voting for someone like Mark Pryor. And I can't imagine ever doing anything that would allow a dangerous psychopath like Tom Cotton to get a foothold on power greater than his rural, backward R+15 west Arkansas congressional district based in Pine Bluff and Arkadelphia.

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At 6:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm. What's the evidence that Cotton is a closet case? That seems like something that really should be blown out in the open if true.

At 3:32 PM, Blogger DownWithTyranny said...

Yes, it should be blown out in the open, which is why I included it in the post. But let me warn you, I had been rioting about Mark Foley and Larry Craig being gay for years before the mainstream media got around to exposing them. And, according to the media, Lindsay Graham is just a "confirmed bachelor" and Aaron Schock hasn't found the right gal yet.


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