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“A Complete Crackpot”: For Tom Cotton, Letter To Iran Is Anything But A ‘Fiasco’

There are a lot of people, including some Republicans, who by now have concluded that Tom Cotton’s Iran gambit was a truly terrible idea. I’d hazard a guess that at least some of the 46 other Republican senators who signed on to Cotton’s letter to the government of Iran essentially trying to sabotage negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program didn’t think through all the ramifications, and now wish they had. The move has been lambasted not only by the White House and liberals like me, but by centrist analysts, foreign policy experts who say that it helps Iranian hardliners, and even some conservatives who worry that, as Greg observed yesterday, it makes it easier for hawkish Democrats to side with President Obama on the underlying issue.

All told, it looks like quite the fiasco. But Tom Cotton himself is probably saying, “That worked out great!”

That’s partly because the name “Tom Cotton” is now on so many lips, and he surely has more requests for television interviews than he could ever wish for. More than that, he’s shown what even a Senator who’s been in office just a few months can accomplish with a little initiative and creativity. It may be a black eye for his party, but to the tea party base from which Cotton sprang, he’s now a hero. The more criticism he gets, the more convinced they become of his heroism.

Indeed, a legislator in his home state of Arkansas has just introduced a bill that would allow Cotton to run for both re-election to his Senate seat and for president in 2020.

On paper, Cotton looks like a dream politician with nowhere to go but up — Iraq veteran, Harvard Law School graduate, the youngest senator at 37. It’s only when you listen to him talk and hear what he believes that you come to realize he’s a complete crackpot. During the 2014 campaign he told voters that the Islamic State was working with Mexican drug cartels and would soon be coming to attack Arkansas. When he was still in the Army he wrote a letter to the New York Times saying that its editors should be “behind bars” because the paper published stories on the Bush administration’s program to disrupt terrorist groups’ finances (which George W. Bush himself had bragged about, but that’s another story).

While in the House in 2013, Cotton introduced an amendment to prosecute the relatives of those who violated sanctions on Iran, saying that his proposed penalties of up to 20 years in prison would “include a spouse and any relative to the third degree,” including “parents, children, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, grandparents, great grandparents, grandkids, great grandkids.” Forget about the fact that the Constitution expressly prohibits “corruption of blood” penalties — just consider that Cotton wanted to take someone who had violated sanctions and imprison their grandchildren. Needless to say, this deranged piece of legislation was too much even for Republicans to stomach, and it went nowhere.

And now, Tom Cotton stands ready to become the next Jim DeMint. You may remember that the South Carolina senator used his time on Capitol Hill to become the leader of the GOP’s right flank, which often meant undermining or even directly opposing his party’s leadership, including endorsing tea partiers trying to unseat his Republican colleagues in primary races. When he left Congress, DeMint became the head of the Heritage Foundation, quickly turning the think tank into an outpost of undisguised far-right hackishness.

If Cotton is to emulate DeMint and not, say, Michele Bachmann, he’s off to a good start. There’s always a market for a politician willing to express the nuttiest beliefs, but if you have real ambition you need to make a real impact. Cotton’s letter managed to pull most of his colleagues along on his misguided mission, and for him it was a victory, whatever the fallout to Republicans more generally and the headaches it generates for the party. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s already planning his next move. And there may be other Republican senators thinking of doing something similar.

Mitch McConnell must be thrilled.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, March 11, 2015

March 13, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Tea Party, Tom Cotton | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Cheap Psychodrama Thrives”: Personality Politics And The Decline Of Political Journalism

Upon first venturing to write about politics 20 years ago, I held naïve views about political journalism. Specifically, I imagined that factual accuracy mattered as it did in the kinds of books and magazine pieces I’d written on non-political topics: opinionated, yes, but grounded in careful reporting.

Otherwise, why bother?

After 10 years, I became persuaded that the honor system supposedly governing journalists had broken down. “Claiming the moral authority of a code of professional ethics it idealizes in the abstract but repudiates in practice,” I wrote in Harper’s magazine, “today’s Washington press corps has grown as decadent and self-protective as any politician or interest group whose behavior it purports to monitor.”

And that was before Fox News.

Driven partly by cable TV celebrity, personality-based narratives rule. Politicians are depicted as heroes or villains in group melodramas as simplistic as any TV soap opera. Facts are fitted to the storyline. Cheap psychodrama thrives. The whole world’s a Maureen Dowd column.

Which brings us back to Harper’s and author Doug Henwood.  Because he finds her too close to Wall Street and too hawkish on foreign policy, Henwood evidently feels it his moral duty to blacken Hillary Clinton’s character. It’s not enough to say she voted for the Iraq War and favored bombing Syria. Henwood had to dig up “Whitewater” to prove her a liar and a cheat.

Then after I wrote a column pointing out that almost everything he’d written about that phony scandal was nonsense, Henwood began calling me bad names on social media. “Clinton towel boy,” was one.

So I posted the following on his Facebook page:

“I find it interesting that when confronted with several quite basic factual errors in his description of the great Whitewater scandal of legend and song, Doug Henwood’s response is name calling. That tells me pretty much all I need to know about him.

“However, it’s false to say that the late Jim McDougal’s savings and loan financed the Clintons’ Whitewater investment. He didn’t buy it until five years later. Another bank made the loan, for which both Clintons were jointly and severally responsible–meaning they’d have to pay it off regardless of what happened to McDougal or his other investments. Which they did. Whitewater cost the S&L nothing.

“It’s doubly false that ‘the Clintons, of course, were also investors in McDougal’s schemes.’ They had no other financial relationship whatsoever. That was the whole point of quoting the prosecutor’s closing argument in McDougal’s bank fraud trial: Convicting him depended upon convincing the jury that [he’d]…misled the Clintons about their investment and resorted to desperate measures to try to keep the bank afloat. In a word, they got conned.

“Regardless of one’s opinion about Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy ideas, those are the facts, available for about 18 years now. Henwood simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Now if somebody took something of mine apart like that, I’d do my best to make them regret it. But Henwood can’t, because he was blowing smoke to begin with.

“What I don’t get,” he answered, “is why you’re so invested in doing PR for these [bleeps].”

Sorry, dude… not playing. Facts are facts.

Everybody makes mistakes. Professionals own them.

That wouldn’t be our Mr. Henwood. So let me add that almost everything he wrote about the Clintons in Arkansas reflects sheer incomprehension. Mostly, it’s what Joe Conason and I call “naïve cynicism,” in which a reporter innocent of basic political realities presumes corruption.

For example, he accuses Bill Clinton of a cynical ploy “aimed at distancing himself from traditional liberal politics” by not calling for a repeal of Arkansas’s right-to-work law. Shockingly, Clinton also failed to call for abolishing Razorback football and duck-hunting season.

Would it help to know that no Arkansas gubernatorial candidate has ever campaigned for union shops?

Henwood alleges that Clinton “went light on environmental enforcement,” covering the state in “chicken feces.” (Never mind that properly applied chicken litter is the best organic fertilizer on Earth, as my happy cows will attest.) Would it help to know that until Clinton wrestled the timber industry and Farm Bureau to the ground in 1985, Arkansas environmental agencies had virtually no enforcement powers?

Elsewhere, Henwood alleges that the Clintons schemed to earn the enmity of teacher unions. In vain, alas. But he left out town hall meetings Hillary held with educators and parents in all 75 Arkansas counties back in 1983 in support of her husband’s educational reforms.

No matter. Her efforts were pointless anyway, Henwood thinks, because real advances “would require a wholesale overhaul of the political economy…and the Clintons weren’t about to take that on.”

Ah, yes. Wholesale overhaul. If only Hillary had been willing to wave her magic wand, wiping away 200 years of history, abolishing the legislature and converting Arkansas into Connecticut.

But, you know, the witch is too selfish for that.


By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, October 29, 2014

October 30, 2014 Posted by | Journalism, Journalists, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Tom Cotton’s Whopper”: A Circular Right-Wing-Bloggers-To-Fox-News-To-Republican-Pols Collective Delusion

I’ve generally operated under the assumption that we’re living in an age where lies, even the most obvious and outrageous of them, need to be challenged or they become tomorrow’s “facts.” So I’m glad TNR’s Danny Vinik went to the Department of Homeland Security and asked about Rep. Duncan Hunter’s claim that Islamic State operatives have been found crossing the U.S.-Mexican border. Hunter says he was told that by unnamed border control agents. DHS says it’s “categorically false, and not supported by any credible intelligence or the facts on the ground.” That’s bureaucratese for “Hunter either made this stuff up or relied on uninformed Border Patrol gossip.”

But sometimes this stuff seems to just sponteneously spring up because it’s politically convenient. Greg Sargent went to some trouble to track down the sources for Tom Cotton’s rather audacious claim that IS is working with Mexican drug cartels to pose an imminent threat to Arkansas (yes, Arkansas), and found it was all sort of a circular right-wing-bloggers-to-Fox-News-to-Republican-pols collective delusion. But every time it’s repeated there’s a new “source.”

Now you can say this is just politics as usual. But let’s remember Tom Cotton is the subject of massive national GOP adulatory hype. If he wins in November, he’ll immediately be the subject of presidential speculation, if not for 2016 then soon down the road. As Charlie Pierce says, we have an obligation to “nip the career of young Tom Cotton in the bud before he does real damage to the country.” He’s already doing real damage to the truth when it comes to understanding actual terrorist threats.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 8, 2014

October 9, 2014 Posted by | Republicans, Right Wing, Tom Cotton | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Bad Week For The NRA”: Every Time The NRA Has A Week As Bad As This One, The American Public Wins

The NRA wants people to believe that its agenda — guns for anyone, anywhere, anytime — is as American as apple pie.

Only, the American public isn’t buying it.

This week, gun lobby extremism went down to defeat in a number of venues, in a number of states.

Guns for anyone? Not in California.

Guns anywhere? Not in Arkansas.

Guns anytime? Not in Florida.

It’s been a bad week for the NRA.

Consider what happened in California. You’d think we could all agree that someone who poses a significant danger to himself or herself or others shouldn’t have a gun. At the same time, that person is entitled to due process.

That’s why the particulars of California’s new gun violence restraining order law are important. Lawmakers — following the lead of states as diverse as Connecticut, Indiana, and Texas — got it right.

California’s law, which the governor signed on Tuesday, allows law enforcement or immediate family members to present evidence to a judge, who can order the police to take temporary custody of a person’s guns for an emergency period. Unless there’s a petition to hold the guns longer, the person will have his or her guns back after 21 days.

Now, both the police and family members can intervene in dangerous situations. More gun deaths — both homicides and suicides — can be prevented.

Of course, the NRA opposed the bill.

In California, no one was talking about banning guns — just temporarily keeping guns away from people who have given police and/or loved ones cause for significant concern.

But according to the NRA, letting everyone — felons, domestic abusers, the seriously mentally ill — have guns is just the price we pay for our Second Amendment rights. According to the NRA, life-saving restrictions on gun ownership — even court-ordered, temporary restrictions — are unacceptable.

While the NRA has had success pushing its agenda in state legislatures over the years, it’s met resistance on college campuses, where law enforcement and administrators agree that guns don’t belong.

You can understand the reasons college officials don’t want guns on campus. Think of those college ratings that magazines publish — and parents consult –every year. Colleges don’t want to be known as party schools, let alone places where people are carrying guns in classrooms and cafeterias.

The Arkansas legislature, in the NRA’s infinite wisdom, last year passed a law permitting university faculty and staff to carry guns on campus. Schools in the state do have the right to opt out of campus carry. But if only to make opting out more onerous, Arkansas requires schools to take that step and opt out every year.

For the second straight year, the vote on campus was unanimous. Once again, the governing boards of every Arkansas college, university, and technical institute chose to prohibit guns.

And that’s part of a pattern we’re seeing across the country. The gun lobby makes a dedicated push in state legislatures to pass campus carry laws. Then, when schools can opt out of allowing guns on their property, they almost uniformly do so.

Guns for anyone, anywhere, anytime might sound good to the NRA and gun manufacturers — but for the rest of us, it’s not a sound or an appealing public policy.

An argument over loud music, for example, isn’t the time to shoot someone. Justice was done in Florida this week, when a jury rejected Michael Dunn’s “Stand Your Ground” defense and found him guilty of first-degree murder — another high-profile blow to the “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality that NRA-backed Stand Your Ground laws help create.

With its losses adding up, the NRA’s political arm is getting desperate. On Wednesday, PolitiFact gave a “Pants on Fire” rating to the ad the NRA is running against Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. The Washington Post‘sFact Checker gave it “Four Pinocchios” — a perfect score for a perfectly misleading ad.

When you see or hear an NRA ad talking about someone trying to take away your gun rights, it’s not true. As PolitiFact put it, it’s fear mongering, plain and simple.

The truth is that the NRA’s agenda is more guns, in more places, all the time. It’s dangerous and deeply irresponsible — and an ideology that elected officials, school administrators, and concerned citizens alike are increasingly rejecting.

And every time the NRA has a week as bad as this one, the American public wins.


By: John Feinblatt, The Huffington Post Blog, October 3, 2014

October 4, 2014 Posted by | Gun Lobby, Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“No Meaningful Consequences”: Tom Cotton And The Era Of Post-Truth Politics

A couple of years ago, Mitt Romney developed a bad habit. As part of his national campaign, the Republican nominee would attack President Obama over some perceived failing. Then the attack would be fact-checked and be proven wrong. Romney, confronted with proof that he was lying, would repeat the claim anyway, convinced that it didn’t matter whether he told the truth or not. It happened over and over and over again.

It underscored a dangerous development: the era of post-truth politics.

Two years later, the phenomenon hasn’t gone away. In Arkansas last week, Rep. Tom Cotton (R), his party’s U.S. Senate nominee, was caught in one of the most brazen lies of the 2014 campaign season. The right-wing congressman claimed he voted against this year’s Farm Bill because President Obama “hijacked” it, “turned it into a food-stamp bill,” and added “billions more in spending.”

As a factual matter, literally none of this is even remotely true, and fact-checkers came down hard on such shameless dishonesty – all of which might matter if Cotton gave a darn. But as Peter Urban reported yesterday, the congressman just doesn’t care about getting caught.

Rejecting criticism of its latest TV ad, Republican Senate hopeful Tom Cotton plans to keep running the “Farm Bill” message beyond its current ad buy.

“We’ve gotten such great feedback from farmers, taxpayers, and supporters that we’re actually going to increase the size of the ad buy,” said David Ray, a spokesman for the Cotton campaign.

In a local interview this week, Cotton said he’s “proud” of his demonstrably dishonest commercial, adding that the fact-checkers didn’t spend time “growing up on a farm,” so he knows “a little bit more about farming than they do.”

As defenses go, Cotton’s argument is gibberish. One need not grow up on a farm to recognize the basic tenets of reality. The congressman told a lie, he knew it was a lie, he got caught telling a lie, and instead of doing the honorable thing, Cotton has decided he likes this lie.

The public discourse isn’t supposed to work this way. Under traditional American norms, politicians could be expected to spin, dodge, and slice the truth awfully thin, but there was an expectation that a candidate who got caught telling a bald-faced lie to the public was likely to end up in real trouble.

Cotton seems to believe those norms no longer apply – he can get caught lying and pay no real price at all.

In other words, Tom Cotton sees American politics in a post-truth era. He can say what he pleases, without regard for honesty, because there won’t be any meaningful consequences for deceiving the public on purpose.

Is he right? This didn’t work out too well for Romney, but Cotton’s in a much better position to prevail in Arkansas.

Once the standard is set that lying will be rewarded, what incentive will politicians have to be honest?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 26, 2014

September 27, 2014 Posted by | Farm Bill, Senate, Tom Cotton | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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