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May 24, 2013 11:41 AM Tom Cotton and Guilt By Blood

By Ed Kilgore

If, like me, you’ve been watching the meteoric rise of Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR), who has been lavishly touted as the Next Big Thing (or at an absolute minimum, the next U.S. Senator from Arkansas) by many conservative opinion-leaders, this item from HuffPost’s Zach Carter earlier this week was an eye-opener:

Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) on Wednesday offered legislative language that would “automatically” punish family members of people who violate U.S. sanctions against Iran, levying sentences of up to 20 years in prison.
The provision was introduced as an amendment to the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013, which lays out strong penalties for people who violate human rights, engage in censorship, or commit other abuses associated with the Iranian government.
Cotton also seeks to punish any family member of those people, “to include a spouse and any relative to the third degree,” including, “parents, children, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, grandparents, great grandparents, grandkids, great grandkids,” Cotton said.
“There would be no investigation,” Cotton said during Wednesday’s markup hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “If the prime malefactor of the family is identified as on the list for sanctions, then everyone within their family would automatically come within the sanctions regime as well. It’d be very hard to demonstrate and investigate to conclusive proof.”

After other Committee members pointed out this sort of “blood guilt” was inimical to a least two major constitutional doctrines and was a practice associated with figures like Stalin and Kim Jong Il, the ramrod-straight Iraq/Afghanistan vet and alumnus of Harvard Law School and McKinsey & Company withdrew his amendment, but not before pointing out that Iranians aren’t Americans and a little collective guilt might be necessary to keep sanction-violaters from transferring assets to family members.

This incident doesn’t particularly surprise me, since Cotton isn’t just some “hawk,” as he is often described (thanks to his background, his constant sponsorship by neocon leaders, and his proud and apologetic defense of the foreign policies of George W. Bush), but a fellow who clearly thinks extremism in the defense of liberty—or at least his idea of liberty—is no vice. And his extremism isn’t confined to issues of national security, as I noted in a January post examining Cotton’s argument that a national debt default might be just what the doctor ordered.

If Cotton represents the future of the Republican Party, or the kind of politician who can “rebrand” it, then we better all get used to long-term polarization and vicious partisan conflict. Speaking just for myself, I have zero interest in compromising with this dude, and I’m quite certain he would reciprocate the sentiment.

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.

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