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The demagogues must be crazy 

As Election Day in Arkansas gets closer, the demagoguery is going into high gear. A few lowlights from those seeking votes by playing to the worst in us.

click to enlarge FIRE, BRIMSTONE: State Sen. Rapert called for end of parole image
  • Brian Chilson
  • FIRE, BRIMSTONE: State Sen. Rapert called for end of parole.

When it comes to rank demagoguery and fear-mongering, this one is hard to top: U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton told a tele-townhall that ISIS was going to join forces with Mexican drug cartels, "infiltrate our defenseless border," and attack Arkansas. Terrorism! Illegal immigration! Obama! The claim, which Cotton's camp later said was based on blog posts from various right-wing websites, is completely without merit (and leads one to wonder if ISIS could even find the landlocked, sparsely populated state of Arkansas on a map). When called on it, Cotton's rapid response team didn't even bother trying to defend the original claim — they had already done their work in sewing panic for political profit. Cotton talks a lot about being a statesman, and has written about the special role of the elite representatives in a republic providing calm and sober leadership without being inflamed by the passions of the populace. He talks a lot about being senatorial. He can do better than this. 

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No one has a better instinct for appealing to people's ugliest instincts than Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway), the camera-loving lawmaker being challenged by a surprisingly frisky young upstart, Tyler Pearson. Rapert's immediate response to the tragic murder of real estate agent Beverly Carter was to call for parole to be abolished entirely. When Pearson pointed out that Rapert's proposal "would likely bankrupt our state," Rapert responded only as demagogues can: "I'd like you to ask Mrs. Carter's family today if she wished that that man who should have been in prison was there when he killed her."

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Oppo research this cycle has shown an ugly disdain for due process. Witness Republican House candidate Stacy Hurst campaign's attempt to slime her Democratic opponent, Clarke Tucker, for the only criminal case he ever handled in his legal career, a pro-bono case he took as a favor to his mother. The case involved a man accused of shoplifting a $9.99 piece of merchandise at Kmart, a guy the Hurst team sought to turn into Willie Horton. Rep. David Meeks went the same route against his Democratic opponent, Conway lawyer Frank Shaw. Because Shaw asked for probation for a client, Meeks' mailer said he was "soft on crime." The notion that a lawyer is soft on crime for providing legal counsel to the accused, something guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, is frankly un-American. The same reprehensible smear was used by dark money groups against Tim Cullen in his unsuccessful bid for the Arkansas Supreme Court. Gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross even mixed in some McCarthyism, attacking Asa Hutchinson for having represented a Pentagon employee convicted of espionage. "You know, attorneys can pick their clients," said Ross, who said he didn't know any other lawyers "who would represent a spy for communist China." Shameful stuff.

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Those seeking to stoke fear in the American public had the perfect outlet this election season: Ebola panic. A handful of cases on American soil was enough to send the media into a frenzy and politicians predictably tried to up the fear factor rather than, you know, think through the best policy response. For simplicity of messaging, pretend politician Donald Trump took the cake: “Obama’s fault,” he tweeted. Here in Arkansas, Rep. Tom Cotton and the rest of the GOP congressional delegation predictably called for a travel ban from West African countries. Just as predictably, Sen. Mark Pryor -- who had previously used Ebola in an attack ad against Cotton -- followed suit straightaway with his own call for a (somewhat modified) travel ban. Never mind that most public health experts believe that travel bans are not just ineffective, but tend to make problems worse. In a state where a junior high football game got cancelled because of an unfounded Ebola rumor, panic rules.

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The ghosts of Orval Faubus: In a perfect marriage of the modern Republican Party's fetish for eff-you federalism and Obamacaranoia, 18 Republican legislative candidates said in response to a survey from the Campaign for Liberty that they would "support legislation to nullify ObamaCare and authorize state and local law enforcement to arrest federal officials attempting to implement the health care scheme, known as ObamaCare." Again, that's arresting federal officials for enacting federal law in Arkansas. Among those who said yes: three sitting GOP legislators — Sen. Missy Irvin of Mountain View and Reps. Richard Womack of Arkadelphia and John Payton of Wilburn (Irvin later said she didn't remember filling out the survey and that the notion of arresting federal officials for implementing Obamacare was "ridiculous"). A number of Republican lawmakers and candidates declined to respond to that question. None said no.

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Finally, if there's going to be populist rabble-rousing, you know old friend Mike Huckabee (not running for anything at the moment, but eyeing the 2016 Iowa presidential caucus) will be in the mix. Perhaps imagining himself as Faubus staring down National Guardsmen handing out marriage certificates, Huckabee said that states should simply ignore court rulings invalidating same-sex marriage bans, which he dismissed as merely "the court's opinion." Said Huck, "It is NOT the 'law of the land' as is often heralded." When other GOP leaders began slowly bowing to the inevitable, Huckabee said that if Republicans didn't go back to full-throated discrimination against gay people, he'd leave the party. "If the Republicans want to lose guys like me and a bunch of still God-fearing, Bible-believing people, then go ahead and abdicate on this issue," Huckabee said.

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