An undergrad who knew, &c.

Rep. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.)


This is sort of interesting. Tom Cotton wasn’t a dolt in college — like everybody else — so a Democratic campaign is trying to punish him for it. Cotton is familiar to readers of this column: I did a series on him a year ago, before he was elected to Congress. (For the four parts of that series, go here, here, here, and here.) Now he represents the Fourth District of Arkansas. Cotton is a Republican, and he’s gearing up to challenge a Democratic senator, Mark Pryor, next year.

While an undergrad at Harvard, Cotton did a lot of writing for publication. That included a book review for The Harvard Salient — a review of that magnum opus America in Black and White, by the Thernstroms. They came out with the book in 1997. (By the way, I like referring to Steve and Abby as “the Thernstroms,” because it’s parallel to “the Myrdals.”)

In the course of his review, young Cotton noted that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were “race-hustling charlatans.” No change there. He also said, “If race relations are better now than at any time in our history and would almost certainly improve if we stopped emphasizing race in our public life, what would the self-appointed ‘civil rights leaders’ have to do with themselves?” Spot on.

Anyway, the Mark Pryor campaign has been sending this review around to friendly media — the campaign has a lot to choose from — in order to indict Cotton. He’s supposed to be a racist or something (natch). In my estimation, Cotton was wiser and more capable as an undergrad than most Democratic senators are ever.

Has Barack Obama ever stopped being an undergrad? Has he progressed beyond collegiate, or grad-school, leftism? Just when I think he has, he goes and says something like, “We discussed the fact that Ho Chi Minh was actually inspired by the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the words of Thomas Jefferson.” The “fact,” huh? He said this after meeting the Vietnamese “president,” a party leader named Sang.

A certain kind of American has always claimed that Ho was really a Jeffersonian at heart. In truth, his heart belonged to Marx, Lenin, Mao, and the rest of the destroyers. He was in their image. Sure, there were little nods to Jefferson — for Western consumption, Western fools.

I think of a point I have often made, since Barack Obama began his national career: He thinks like someone rather older than he is — like someone who went to college in the ’60s or ’70s, rather than the ’80s. He’s got New Left beliefs that someone his age really shouldn’t be saddled with (and the New Left is getting rather long in the tooth — they’re in their 70s now).

Consider this: Jefferson enslaved a relative handful; Ho Chi Minh and his comrades got their hands on a lot more.

Consider this, too: Ho called the half of Vietnam he got his hands on the “Democratic Republic of Vietnam.” Since he called it that, how could he have been anything other than Jeffersonian? Maybe that’s what our dimmer undergrads and grad students thought.

Back to the Thernstroms and the Myrdals for a second — parallels between the two couples. The Myrdals were Swedish, of course, and so is Steve — a Swedish American. And the two couples chose to concentrate on some of the same subjects, most prominently race. But our couple, needless to say, is much wiser than Gunnar and Alva.

Incidentally, I learned a lot about the Myrdals when I was preparing my history of the Nobel Peace Prize. Alva shared that prize, in 1982. Gunnar had won the econ prize in 1974 — sharing it with his opposite economic number, Friedrich Hayek. Gunnar Myrdal would later say he regretted accepting the prize. The prize should never have been established, he said, if it was going to be awarded to the likes of Hayek and Milton Friedman.

When Shakespeare gave his girl Miranda the words “brave new world,” I wonder whether he knew we would be repeating them for centuries. See what you think of this headline in the Telegraph: “Gay chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s best creation? A baby boy.” The subhead is “Yotam Ottolenghi, perhaps the most fashionable and modern of cookery writers, has had the most modern of babies.” And here are the first few paragraphs:

Ottolenghi, who is openly gay, has described having a second coming out. This time as a father.

He and his partner Karl Allen paid at least £65,000 to a surrogacy clinic in California for their sperm to be used to fertilise the eggs of a donor. Six months ago — and five years after first embarking on a plan to have a child — their son Max was born in a hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ottolenghi and his partner are now raising the boy at their home in London.

(The article as a whole is found here.) I realize I am not “progressive,” as those who do political defining define that word. But I wonder whether even “progressives” are comfortable with this new world, which strikes me as not so much brave as reckless.