Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Part IV

Tom Cotton, May 2012


Editor’s Note: Today concludes a series by Jay Nordlinger on Tom Cotton, the Republican running for Congress in the fourth district of Arkansas. For the preceding three parts, go here, here, and here.

In Texarkana, I meet a backer of Cotton’s — John C. Goodson, known as “Johnny.” He is a big-time lawyer, and a longtime political player. A pillar of the Arkansas establishment.

“I’m not a very good lawyer,” he protests — like a good lawyer, I suppose. His career belies his statement.

A Democrat, Goodson is supporting the Republican Cotton because he’s impressed by him. Here was a guy, Cotton, a graduate of Harvard Law, sitting in private practice — and he could have been a fat rich lawyer like the rest of us (says Goodson). But instead, he went to Iraq and Afghanistan to get his butt shot at.

Goodson is colorful, shrewd, and interesting in almost everything he says. He reminds me of a character in a Dan Jenkins novel. Jenkins is from Fort Worth, and writes about Fort Worth, but we’re close enough here.

Before dawn, Cotton goes to Cooper Tire, to work the shift change. Cooper is one of the biggest employers around.

By the way, people don’t say “Cooper” like “Cooper.” The “oo” in the first syllable is more like the “u” in “push.” (Go ahead, sound it out, internally.)

In the union hall, there are pictures of Bill and Hillary Clinton, and letters from Bill, on White House stationery. The man who seems to be in charge says, if I’ve heard him correctly, that there are 1,500 members of the union — and 40 “scabs.”

At the factory gate, Cotton shakes most every hand. He gets them coming and going. He calls them all “sir” — all the men, that is — and asks for their vote. A few of them pause to ask what party he’s from. “Republican,” he says, forthrightly. They all react positively.

This would not have been the case short years ago.

Breakfast is at the Old Tyme Burger Shoppe in Texarkana. I have a grilled-cheese sandwich, with pimento cheese. (For the record.) Cotton has a bowl of wholesome, healthful oatmeal.

On the road to Hot Springs, Cotton tells me about family vacations, when he was growing up: For the Cottons, a vacation always meant a trip down from Dardanelle to Hot Springs — the great resort, the big, or biggish, city. They could not be gone long. There were cattle to take care of at home.

We are in the territory of the Ouachita Mountains — the only American mountain range that runs from east to west. At least I think that’s what Cotton says. Maybe he says “one of the few” that do.

During the months of the campaign, Cotton has been all over the fourth district, of course. “I go to a lot of fish fries.” I wonder how he, a free-marketeer, can appeal to people who are modestly off. Easily, he seems to say.

“Big government is unpopular everywhere you go, and the Constitution is always popular. We need political leaders who will defend free markets for a free people. We need to explain how freedom leads to true prosperity.”

Cotton mentions a string of values: not just making money, but “saving souls, educating children,” etc. Big government “invariably infringes on all of our dreams, because it gets bossy and intrusive.”

Furthermore, people here are “very patriotic.” They send their sons and daughters to the military in “disproportionate” numbers. Cotton, campaigning around the district, meets a lot of fellow veterans.

I ask about abortion. He has always been pro-life. Growing up, “I didn’t know many people who were pro-choice. This is a matter of religious faith, for so many people.” When he got older, he thought further about the issue, and one thing he concluded was, “It’s not healthy for a society to treat its most vulnerable in the worst fashion.” That goes for both the unborn and the elderly, Cotton says.

A word about Iraq: He was surprised and pleased when President Bush, at the end of 2006, decided on a “surge.” He did this, notes Cotton, in the teeth of ferocious opposition, mainly from Democrats, but from Republicans too.

“The people who were out on patrol every day knew we were not pursuing the right strategy, and to pursue the right strategy, you needed more troops, and a change in leadership.”

Cotton worries that our gains in Iraq could be reversed, with no American stabilizing force there.


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