Cotton's foe: Obama 

Tom Cotton

Brian Chilson

Tom Cotton

Tell your Mama

Tell your Paw,

I'm gonna send you back to Arkansas

—Ray Charles          

The remarkable thing is that an aloof, bookish fellow like Tom Cotton is running for the U.S. Senate anywhere, much less in darkest Arkansas.

It's a place Cotton left behind ASAP — first for Harvard, ultimately for Washington right-wing "think tanks" — a place of small cities, country towns, and friendly, talkative people given to down home retail politics. A people historically resentful of condescending outsiders and arguably less easily bamboozled by tycoon-funded TV commercials than Americans who've never had a politician like Bill Clinton or Gov. Mike Beebe ask about their Mama by name.

Cotton either can't do that, or he won't. Although his campaign skills have reportedly improved, he's often struck observers as an outsider at his own campaign events — standing on the sidelines, making scant eye contact and smiling infrequently. Cotton's speeches list ideological talking points in a monotone. People have told reporters he's introduced himself to the same persons twice at one event.

By ordinary Arkansas standards, Cotton would appear to have committed several fatal political blunders: He questioned his Democratic opponent's Sen. Mark Pryor's religious faith in a broadcast interview. Famously pious to the point of dullness, Pryor asked for an apology he never got.

With every other statewide political candidate attending the annual Bradley "Pink Tomato Festival," Cotton was a no show. Instead, he graced a Koch Brothers-financed event at a luxury hotel in California — receiving applause for his "courage" in voting against the 2014 Farm Bill.

After a tornado devastated Mayflower and Vilonia last spring, President Obama visited the disaster site to commiserate and promise help. Mark Pryor too. Possibly wary of questions about his votes against Hurricane Sandy relief, Cotton stayed away.

"I don't think Arkansas needs to bail out the Northeast," he'd explained. Cotton also voted against funding FEMA — the Federal Emergency Management Administration. He said the nation couldn't afford it.  

Today, there's a big Tom Cotton billboard standing amid the rubble along Interstate 40 in Mayflower midway between Little Rock and Conway.

Cotton voted against funding for Arkansas Children's Hospital, the nationally-known pediatric teaching wing of the University of Arkansas Medical School. Stung by criticism, he alibied that his vote hadn't cost the hospital a dime. Because his side lost, the candidate neglected to mention.

Normally, any two of these blunders — and there are more — would doom even a personable candidate. But Cotton isn't running against Sen. Mark Pryor, a cautiously moderate Democrat and the son of the universally popular former governor and U.S. Sen. David Pryor. (Disclaimer: my wife worked on Pryor's gubernatorial staff.)

Instead Cotton is running against Barack Obama. Not the real President Obama so much as the Kenyan Usurper of Tea Party and Club for Growth fame, an alien presence whose wild overspending threatens fiscal ruin. If, as polls show, 54 percent of Americans incorrectly believe that the yearly federal budget deficit has mushroomed since Obama took office in 2009, the proportion of misinformed Arkansans is doubtless higher.

In reality, contrary to Cotton's warnings of fiscal apocalypse, the Obama administration has cut the yearly deficit by more than half. But perishingly few Arkansans understand that. It's become a Fox News demographic.

Dislike of President Obama has grown almost cultlike among white Arkansas voters. Although everybody's heartily sick of the unending barrage of outside-funded TV ads for both candidates, Cotton's relentlessly push one theme: a vote for Mark Pryor is a vote for Barack Obama.

And yet the race remains extremely close.

Now comes Atlantic Monthly's Molly Ball with a profile centered upon the 37 year-old Cotton's senior thesis at Harvard, which the proud candidate can evidently still recite word for word. Declaiming upon the Federalist Papers, Cotton expressed a young man's egocentric contempt for the yokels back home:

"Inflammatory passion and selfish interest characterizes [sic] most men," Cotton wrote "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."

Quite so. For example, the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate in Arkansas currently stars in a TV ad explaining away an inconvenient vote. "President Obama," Cotton alibis "hijacked the farm bill (and) turned it into a food stamp bill." He also claims the bill added "billions in spending."

Both claims are categorically false. The Farm Bill and food stamp budget have been linked since 1973, before Tom Cotton was born. Furthermore, the 2014 Farm Bill that passed despite his no vote cut $8.7 billion from projected spending.

It's as brazen a political falsehood as one can imagine.

Meanwhile, back home in Yell County, one of the poorest in Arkansas, 13 percent of the population receives food stamp assistance, including 25 percent of the children. (Yell County is roughly one percent African-American.)

Politics can be a dirty business, all right.


From the ArkTimes store

Speaking of Tom Cotton, Mark Pryor

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

More by Gene Lyons

  • Turn to baseball

    When the world threatens to get you down, there is always baseball — an absorbing refuge, an alternate reality entirely unto itself.
    • Jul 20, 2017
  • Blaming Obama

    A couple of months ago, on May 10, President Trump invited two Russian diplomats into the White House to celebrate his firing of FBI Director James Comey.
    • Jun 29, 2017
  • Megyn vs. Alex

    As vigorously hyped broadcast events go, Megyn Kelly's televised confrontation with internet conspiracy cultist Alex Jones proved something of a dud.
    • Jun 22, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Not again

    This just in: Nothing boosts circulation or enhances ratings like a sex scandal.
    • Jan 14, 2016
  • Never wrong

    Quite a few people make noises about leaving the country if the wrong person gets elected president. I've been making discreet inquiries in the vicinity of Kinsale, County Cork, myself — from whence my people emigrated after 1880.
    • Apr 21, 2016
  • Hillary hit jobs

    It's always been my conviction that if Hillary Clinton could be appointed president, she'd do a bang-up job. Getting elected, however, might prove more difficult.
    • Jul 28, 2016

Most Shared

  • So much for a school settlement in Pulaski County

    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Cynthia Howell got the scoop on what appears to be coming upheaval in the Pulaski County School District along with the likely end of any chance of a speedy resolution of school desegregation issues in Pulaski County.
  • Riverfest calls it quits

    The board of directors of Riverfest, Arkansas's largest and longest running music festival, announced today that the festival will no longer be held. Riverfest celebrated its 40th anniversary in June. A press release blamed competition from other festivals and the rising cost of performers fees for the decision.
  • Football for UA Little Rock

    Andrew Rogerson, the new chancellor at UA Little Rock, has decided to study the cost of starting a major college football team on campus (plus a marching band). Technically, it would be a revival of football, dropped more than 60 years ago when the school was a junior college.
  • Turn to baseball

    When the world threatens to get you down, there is always baseball — an absorbing refuge, an alternate reality entirely unto itself.

Latest in Gene Lyons

  • Turn to baseball

    When the world threatens to get you down, there is always baseball — an absorbing refuge, an alternate reality entirely unto itself.
    • Jul 20, 2017
  • No one in charge

    The American president has long been described with the honorific "Leader of the Free World." No more.
    • Jul 13, 2017
  • Blaming Obama

    A couple of months ago, on May 10, President Trump invited two Russian diplomats into the White House to celebrate his firing of FBI Director James Comey.
    • Jun 29, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »


2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Another Jesus

    If you follow the logic of Jason Rapert and his supporters, God is very pleased so many have donated money to rebuild a giant stone slab with some rules on it. A few minutes on Rapert's Facebook page (if he hasn't blocked you yet) also shows his supporters believe that Jesus wants us to lock up more people in prison, close our borders to those in need and let poor Americans fend for themselves for food and health care.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Another Jesus

    • If God felt it necessary to replace the ten commandments, he could do it like…

    • on July 23, 2017
  • Re: Football for UA Little Rock

    • He's BSC. Students and tuition-paying parents should be VERY vocal that a football program won't…

    • on July 23, 2017
  • Re: Pay attention

    • I have attended community meetings about the recent spike in violence in LR, and police…

    • on July 22, 2017

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation