Columns » Max Brantley

Tom Cotton: too extreme for Arkansas?

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The shadow race for U.S. Senate continues.

U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, so far officially unchallenged, has drawn a high-dollar TV campaign from Michael Bloomberg's gun control lobby for siding with the NRA.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, a former Arkansan who came back to the state two years ago to rent a house and run for 4th District Congress to represent the Club for Growth, is widely expected to be Pryor's likely Republican opponent. He's been grabbing the spotlight, in sometimes wacky ways.

PAIN IS GOOD: Soon after taking office, Cotton was sanguine about a debt default — and the resulting market crash and pain. He figured it might be a good thing if it led to massive reductions in federal benefit spending.

SELECTIVE MEMORY: Cotton politicized the Boston terror bombings by asserting that there'd been several terror attacks on Obama's watch, but none (he formed a big theatrical zero with his hand) on the watch of George W. Bush. He overlooked several incidents during the Bush reign and said you couldn't count that little incident when planes flew into a couple of New York skyscrapers.

HEARTLESS IN THE HEARTLAND: Cotton joined a rump minority of teabaggers in opposing storm relief legislation for Hurricane Sandy victims unless someone else paid. Will he exhibit such budget rigor on the next Arkansas tornado?

PRESUMPTION OF GUILT: Last week, Cotton drew objections even from the Republican committee chair for his idea to automatically expand financial penalties against Iranians who violate U.S. sanctions to anyone related to those Iranians in the third-degree. This would include great-grandchildren, nephews and nieces.

Cotton caught so much grief that his office endeavored to alibi. He had not proposed "legislation," the office said, merely an "amendment." It was aimed only at Iranians, not American citizens. The language of the amendment was not clear on the citizenship point, but was un-American all the same. We have a Constitution that presumes innocence. Courts have ruled that the Fifth Amendment's due process applies to non-citizens. The Constitution also explicitly rejects "corruption of blood," or guilt based on kinship.

Cotton's mindset — that citizens of other countries are children of lesser gods — is precisely the sort of thinking that brings U.S. military prison scandals, torture and a decline in worldwide respect.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee pounced on Cotton's latest.

"To call Tom Cotton an extreme ideologue is not overstating anything," said a spokesman for the committee.

No, it is plain fact. Add to his bill of particulars support for prosecution of reporters who write stories about U.S. foreign intrigue as well as extremism on guns, abortion and Obamacare (which many of his Republican legislative supporters in Arkansas just voted to implement).

Is being an extremist bad? Republicans are running hard against Pryor's mushiness, as exhibited by occasional wobbles — at least by comparison with Republican rigidity — on guns, abortion, organized labor, taxes and more.

I think the average Arkansan wobbles a bit, too. The polls indicate Arkansans don't like abortion much, for example. But no poll yet has said the state is ready to make it illegal. The polls also indicate that Arkansans join the rest of the country in accepting some regulation of guns, despite the gun inerrancy of most politicians.

So the apparent choice for 2014: An extreme D.C. carpetbagger who abandoned Arkansas until opportunity presented itself? Or a mushy centrist, but a known quantity with a warm and fuzzy name?

I'm not yet convinced extremism is a winning theme for Democrats. But we DO have three defeated legislative stooges — Mauch, Fuqua and Hubbard — to lend at least a little support to the theory that Tom Cotton could be made the Shemp of 2014.

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