Politics & Policy

Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Part IV

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.

‐President Obama rarely talks about Afghanistan, Cotton says. And “it’s little wonder the country is war-weary when the president seems weariest of all.”

Obama talks about “ending” the war in Afghanistan, as he “ended” the war in Iraq, while Cotton and others still talk about “winning.” What would winning in Afghanistan look like? First and foremost, says Cotton, “the Afghan government and its partners should have more or less a monopoly on violence in the country, as any state should have, so no part of the country reverts to being a safe haven for international terrorists.”

Cotton also points out that, “on the campaign trail, in my little corner of America, people like victory strategies instead of exit strategies.”

One more thought: Cotton insists that when you speak of the Afghan War and the Iraq War, you should bear in mind the larger war — the War on Terror. Iraq and Afghanistan have simply been fronts in that larger war.

We may “end” a particular war, we may withdraw troops, according to a timeline — but no one should be lulled into thinking that the larger war is over.

‐About his commander-in-chief, George W. Bush, Cotton says, “He’s a good man who made great and successful efforts to keep America safe. He obviously made some mistakes, but his finest hour was [the surge]. That’s what he’ll be remembered for, 50 years from now. At the lowest point of his political standing, when all the established wisdom said he was wrong, he redoubled our commitment to a war we had been fighting that everyone else wanted to give up on.”

Also, “he was a man of incredibly good cheer and generosity and charity, in the face of absolutely vicious attacks on him.”

Cotton continues, “I have some disappointments in his domestic policies. But I suspect that, more often than not, he was acceding to the wishes of congressional Republicans as a way to hold together his war coalition. These were compromises of statecraft that wartime conditions sometimes make seem prudent.”

‐As we drive to Hot Springs, we see signs at gas stations pledging that their product is ethanol-free. Sort of like “No MSG” at Chinese places. What gives? People don’t like ethanol, Cotton explains, especially for gas in small engines — boats, chainsaws, lawn mowers. That sort of thing.

I think, “Don’t tell the Iowans.”

‐Once in Hot Springs, we go to Phil’s Restaurant, where the Garland County Tea Party is meeting. This town is the seat of Garland County (in addition to the home of “Billy J.,” William Jefferson Clinton). It’s at Phil’s that a lady says to me what I quoted in Part I of this series: “He’s perfect,” referring to Cotton. Later, as you know, the candidate’s mother, Avis Cotton, will dispute this: “No, he’s not.”

I figure, the two of them can fight it out.

‐One speaker at Phil’s celebrates the end of “135 years of one-party rule in Arkansas.” I think, “Hear, hear.”

‐Within sight of the Cotton-family farm outside Dardanelle, Yell County, is Mount Nebo — named, surely, for Mount Nebo in present-day Jordan. This is the peak from which Moses beheld the Promised Land. (Also where he is buried, some think.)

‐Len Cotton, the candidate’s dad, has a “Tom Cotton for Congress” sign on the farm. A big bull likes to rest near it. Len Cotton has never had politicians’ yard signs before. He doesn’t want to offend anyone, doesn’t want to impose his political views on his neighbors.

That sounds great to me. But he’ll make an exception for his son.

‐After he makes it to the U.S. House, a lot of people want Tom Cotton to run for the Senate. Or governor. Finally, president. “People have a lot of plans for me,” Cotton says, “but sometimes they forget to tell me about them.”

‐Last year, Mother Jones, the leftist magazine, published an attack on Cotton. The writer’s beef was that Cotton had called for the prosecution of those New York Times journalists, who exposed one of the government’s anti-terror programs.

In the course of the article, the writer referred to a “fawning” profile of Cotton in The Weekly Standard (written by Kenneth Y. Tomlinson). You know, you can call it fawning. It must seem that way to the Left. But to others of us — it just seems like truth-telling. Reporting.


To order Jay Nordlinger’s new book, Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.


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