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January 10, 2013 11:31 AM Shine On Brightly

By Ed Kilgore

I’m not a big fan of the journalism of Politico’s Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen. You could look it up.

But now and then, they offer something their fellow Beltway chroniclers of movers-and-shakers ought to take to heart. That is definitely true of their profile of freshman U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) as exemplar of what they call the “hell no caucus” of the House GOP.

They explain how Cotton won an open seat in Arkansas in no small part because of a sizable unsolicited Club for Growth contribution that gave him the resources to win one of the many “more-conservative-than-thou” GOP primaries. Thus he owes absolutely nothing to the NRCC or the House leadership. And Cotton does not appear to be a man interested in learning the mores and folkways of Washington, or how to “get things done.”

In an interview in his still-bare office a few hours before being sworn in, Cotton told us he would have voted against both Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” tax on millionaires, and the final tax hike that got the country off the fiscal cliff. He vowed to vote against raising the debt limit in two months, absent the sort of massive cuts the president opposes. He said he is more concerned about the “cataclysmic” consequences of inaction than the “short-term market corrections” of default. “I’d like to take the medicine now,” he said.

If the greater meaning of Cotton’s statement isn’t clear enough, he’s calling a potential return to national and global recession a “short-term market correction,” and “medicine,” the latter reference suggesting that phenomena like millions of people losing their livelihoods is good for the country if it ultimately leads to millions of people losing government benefits.

VandeHei and Allen do not mention the controversy Cotton aroused back in 2006 when he was serving as an infantry officer in Iraq. Having read a New York Times article on a covert Bush administration operation to gain access to the financial records of American citizens without warrant or subpoena in an effort to find possible links to terrorist networks, Cotton penned a letter to the Times suggesting that reporters and editors responsible for the story be prosecuted for espionage.

This is clearly not a man of nuanced views. But as VandeHei and Allen point out:

To much of the country, Cotton is nothing more than a straight, Southern, white, male, “radical” conservative — a befuddling relic of a fading slice of politics. But in Washington, he is the Republican Congress. Only through understanding lawmakers like him can you understand why the grand bargain collapsed, why raising the debt limit is not a given and why Boehner has vowed to quit for good his private chats with President Barack Obama, and instead invest more power in the Tom Cottons of the world.

Aside from confusing “much of the country” with “most of the people we talk to,” VandeHei and Allen are spot on here. And they also point out that Cotton is no ignorant yahoo from Dogpatch: he’s a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard and Harvard Law school who clerked for a circuit court judge and then volunteered for combat in Iraq and Afghanistan before joining McKinsey & Company.

Cotton is emblematic of a brand of movement conservatism that has slowly taken over the Republican Party after decades of struggle; saw its ultimate validation in the 2010 midterm elections; and isn’t about to loosen its grip on its trophy of ideological war. Its shock troops believe in a rigid, permanent model of governance that is impervious not only to Washington power games and deal-making, but to the social and economic consequences of its preferred policies and indeed to all contrary empirical evidence. Most of them believe the destruction of the Welfare State is the only path consistent with patriotism and constitutional government; many (I don’t know enough about Cotton to know if he shares this particular motivation) believe their ideology reflects obedience to the eternal laws of Almighty God.

So yeah, it kind of matters that so many people like Cotton carry so much weight in the House Republican Caucus. Asking them to be “realistic” is like staring into the eyes of a goat and expecting to find a glimmer of comprehension. It just ain’t happening, and the punditocracy had best remember that next time it is surprised by right wing intransigence, which will shine on brightly through all the haze of conventional politics.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • Ron Byers on January 10, 2013 12:05 PM:

    Harvard and Harvard Law? I guess neither school is what it used to be. :)

    God save us from mindless ideologues who have more in common with Fidel Castro than Teddy Roosevelt.

  • Josef K on January 10, 2013 12:08 PM:

    he’s a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard and Harvard Law school who clerked for a circuit court judge and then volunteered for combat in Iraq and Afghanistan before joining McKinsey & Company

    And he thinks an default-initiated economic collapse is an acceptable option? Amazing.

    Are we sure this guy is even human? Its hard to believe someone could hold such views and remain a functioning member of society.

  • Gaandalf on January 10, 2013 12:09 PM:

    I bow down to your prowess with the turn of phrase ED.

    Asking them to be "realistic" is like staring into the eyes of a goat and expecting to find a glimmer of comprehension.

    The sad thing is you would find more comprehension in the eyes of a goat.

  • ET on January 10, 2013 12:10 PM:

    if a democratic president had tried to "gain access to the financial records of American citizens without warrant or subpoena in an effort to find possible links to terrorist networks" this dude would have raised the biggest stink.

    Sure the fact that a Republican (someone he blindly trusts) was doing that makes the action OK. He isn't principled - he is just as political as any of the Washington insiders he doesn't like.

  • c u n d gulag on January 10, 2013 12:18 PM:

    Politico’s Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen wrote that?

    Wow!

    Now, how many years do we have to wait until the stopped clock that is the two of them, are right again?

  • boatboy_srq on January 10, 2013 12:23 PM:

    [H]e's calling a potential return to national and global recession a “short-term market correction,” and “medicine,” the latter reference suggesting that phenomena like millions of people losing their livelihoods is good for the country if it ultimately leads to millions of people losing government benefits.

    By these definitions, the Black Death was an "inconvenient illness" and all the deaths and misery it caused (for, what, 200 years?) were necessary "medicine" to breed a healthier Europe.

    These volk really are on a path to the bad old days of four-humour medicine, four-element physics, geocentric cosmology, mercantilist economic theory and the ownership of labor.

  • T2 on January 10, 2013 12:37 PM:

    you see a guy with an above average college education, a guy who served his country in wartime and has for some reason decided that a very narrow view of, well, anything, is his destiny in life. And people elect this guy to represent them. So he figures his way is what everyone believes and proceeds to act accordingly. Democracy. What I never cease to be amused by is why these people, who profess to hate everything about Government excepting their interpretation of the Constitution, want to become part of the hated Government? It's like Rick Perry talking about secession and then running for US president.

  • danimal on January 10, 2013 1:10 PM:

    I'm simply amazed at how thoroughly the conservative idealogues have lost the script. For decades, the right railed about deficits, because the catastrophic consequences of debt would lead to the U.S. being unable to pay its' bills, leading to default and a collapse of the international economy. I am in no way misrepresenting the argument.

    Now, these same conservatives consider a default and collapse of the international economy a "short term market correction." They have forgotten what their policies are supposed to accomplish, or they were lying all along.

  • jim filyaw on January 10, 2013 1:18 PM:

    so he "wants to take the medicine now" i.e. abolish the social safety net. from what i've heard (i live in his district), he comes of a fairly well off agri-business family (not willard wealthy, but neither has he ever had to worry about where his next meal is coming from). i daresay the medicine he and his would have to endure would be vastly more tasteful than what the great majority of his constituents would have to swallow. cotton may well be smart, but that's not the word i'd use for those who elected him.

  • Honeyboy Wilson on January 10, 2013 1:26 PM:

    It's becoming clear that the Republicans have a Southern problem today just as the Democrats did in the previous century.

    The Democrats eventually bit the bullet and dealt with their problem. It will be interesting to see what the Republicans eventually do.

  • DRF on January 10, 2013 1:37 PM:

    A major flaw in Cotton's argument is that hitting the debt ceiling isn't a solution to whatever problem he perceives (excess spending, presumably), since even he acknowledges that the consequences of not increasing the ceiling are bad. Instead, it's merely a device in a blackmail scheme--reduce spending or we'll inflict this bad thing. Cotton is either confused in his thinking or intellectually dishonest in characterizing this as some sort of "medicine".

    Hard to know what to make of him. His Harvard/Harvard academic credentials suggest that he's no Louis Gohmert and must be pretty intelligent. He's either an incredibly rigid ideologue (which would be unusual for someone with his academic ability) or he's a totally cynically careerist. If the former, I would think that there must be some personality issues which make his so rigid. If the latter, well...he wouldn't be the only one in Congress. Certain aspects of his bio-the letter accusing the NYT of espionage, the mid-career joining the infantry--could be evidence of a carefully planned resume as a predicate to entering politics. Of course, these could also be the result of genuine conviction.

  • boatboy_srq on January 10, 2013 2:19 PM:

    @danimal: insanity is a progressive condition.

  • boatboy_srq on January 10, 2013 2:21 PM:

    @danimal: ... using the medical definition of the term. In other words, worsening over time.

  • Will on February 11, 2013 11:34 AM:

    I always find it ironic when someone who served in the military (and now Congress) speaks about welfare (ie., Gov't funded services).

  • Robert K on February 11, 2013 6:47 PM:

    We have the 2nd lowest spending as a % of GDP of any free world nation behind only Taiwan, which doesn't support military bases in over 150 nations. Our problem is not overspending and never has been. Our problem was begun with Reagan slashing the top minimum rate from 74% to 28% and was finished off with the Bush tax cuts.

    In addition, failing to raise the debt ceiling would fly in the face of the 14th amendment which requires us to pay ALL our debts.east