I have a certain fondness for political extremists. We have far too much middle-of-the-road thinking with few people willing to stand up for anything. This is especially true of the nominal left of the political spectrum. On the right, there are a lot more of what we might call true believers. The problem is that, in general, these people are every bit as spineless as the middle-of-the-road caucus. A great example came my way via Jonathan Chait, Tom Cotton Is Now the Perfect Republican.
Tom Cotton is currently a Republican Representative from Arkansas who is now running for Senate against Mark Pryor. But earlier this year, he voted against the Farm Bill. This did not go over very well. The president of the Arkansas Farm Bureau said that he was “disappointed” by the vote. Now, Cotton is fighting back. In the following commercial, he claims, “When President Obama hijacked the farm bill, turned it into a food stamp bill, with billions more in spending, I voted no. Career politicians love attaching bad ideas to good ones. Then the bad ideas become law, and you pay for it.” I’ll get to everything that’s wrong with this in a moment, but watch it. It’s a highly effective ad:
As everyone should know, the Farm Bill and food stamps have been bundled for decades. There was a political reason for this: it created a coalition of Representatives from rural and urban areas. But there is an ethical reason as well: much of the Farm Bill consists of price floors, which makes food cost more. As a result, it is just a matter of fairness to help the poor pay for food made expensive by government regulation. So it is a baldfaced lie to say that Obama hijacked the farm bill and turned it into a food stamp bill. Cotton and his extremist colleagues hijacked the Farm Bill and tried to make it only apply to wealthy farmers.
But here’s the thing: if that’s what you believe in, own it. I believe we should get rid of the Farm Bill and just have an independent food stamp program. The poor need help. Farmers are not poor. It is no longer the Great Depression. The Farm Bill is one of the most egregious examples of corporate welfare in the country. Cotton is like the vast majority of Republicans: he wants to shovel ever more money to the already rich and screw the poor as much as possible. If that’s what he believes — and he does — then he should own it.
But the Daily Kos polling has Cotton ahead of Mark Pryor by 4.5 percentage points. Cotton doesn’t need to stand for anything or do anything for his constituencies. All he has to do is promise that he’s going to get “those” people and he will be swept into office. For almost fifty years, the Republicans have won election after election and pushed the country far to the right by appealing to the white majority’s latent racism.
And I really don’t know what Americans think they get for all this. Reagan rode into the White House in 1981 promising to get that mythical welfare queen. And now we’ve had five consecutive presidents who have done almost nothing for average Americans even while the economy has growth quite well. Reagan and Clinton have managed to make the poor poorer, so I guess they were true to their word. But is this what the American middle class will accept? Is it good enough to see themselves go further into debt and not see their living standards rise, as long as they can have the thrill of watching the poor writhe ever more in pain?
I guess this is how great empires fall now. But I think ritual sacrifices to the gods was actually less cruel.