The Corner

Cotton: Rhetoric of a Statesman

Tom Cotton gave a splendid victory speech on Tuesday, better than and unlike any I have heard before. He makes the distinction that was fundamental to Winston Churchill and fundamental to the Founding Fathers of America: between “governments that belong to peoples, and peoples who belong to governments.”

On Tuesday he said: “We have again chosen constitutional self-government, which allows each of us to flourish according to his abilities and industry, to live with the blessings of civil and religious liberty, to live as free men and women under law, and to control our government rather than be controlled by it.”

Tom Cotton rejects the “centralizing and bureaucratic rule of presumed elites” who destroy fundamental rights of the people:

Every community, every business, every school, every person gets unwanted instruction from on high, from unaccountable and unelected elites. This other form of government always wants to help but is always hindering, constantly seeks to aid but constantly ends up constraining. We may gain some material security by choosing this other form of government, but under it there’s no true security for anyone. Because a government big enough to grant everything is big enough to take away anything.

Statesmanship is hard. It demands something high, above the difficulties of regular life. It also demands a commitment to principle and adaptability to circumstance. Only people who have strong characters and high intellects can do this at the level of the statesman.

Cotton has lived an urgent life. He grew up in a little town in Arkansas, and then he went to Harvard. Then he went to Harvard Law School. He had never had two nickels to rub together, and just when he was about to become partner at a firm in D.C. and make a lot of money, he approached a few of his friends asking whether or not he should join the Army. I told him he should. He asked, Why? I said, Because you want to establish that you mean it when you say you wish to serve your country. He asked, Will you help me press the Army to give me infantry instead of the Judge Advocate General specialty? I said, of course. And he did his tour in Iraq and then one in Afghanistan, at risk of his life.

Tom is always thinking and always learning. He brings up books that he is reading or has read, and they are so often the great ones. He has detailed questions to ask about fundamental things, not things going on just today. This is the mark of a man who can be a statesman in the full sense. I expect that he will.

— Larry P. Arnn is the president of Hillsdale College.


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