Approaching metaphysical nullity

In the category of Pryor Analytics created by our own Steve Hayward, the Washington Post’s David Farenthold enters with a friendly Washington Post profile of Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor as he campaigns for reelection against our friend Tom Cotton. Farenthold’s profile is headlined “Mark Pryor’s challenge: Will Arkansas keep a Democratic senator with no big crusades.”

Pryor holds himself out as the kind of politician who doesn’t believe in very much and doesn’t believe in it very passionately, so that’s okay. Here is the heart of Farenthold’s profile:

[I]n general, Pryor has tried to portray himself as a figure apart from the everyday political battles. He has helped broker compromises, including a deal that defused a 2005 fight over judicial nominees, and another that allowed for a 2008 overhaul of consumer-product safety regulation.

In his own legislation, how­ever, Pryor usually does not crusade as much as tinker; his efforts most often focus on resolving complaints from Arkansas residents. He changed a Federal Emergency Management Agency rule after the agency surprised families in the state by demanding that they pay back federal disaster aid. He wrote an amendment that changed a Pentagon rule, which had deprived an Arkansas National Guardsman’s family of a payout at his death.

Most senators do this kind of local work and also push for national goals, big changes in what the government spends or who it helps. But Pryor tries to stay away from that kind of big-picture activism.

In an interview, Pryor was asked: What if you suddenly had the power to make Congress do exactly what you want? What’s the first big thing would you want to change?

He said he would use his infinite power to fix . . . the Senate. The process of governing, in other words. Not its outcomes.

“What I would probably change first is just the behavior of senators,” Pryor said. He would make them show more respect for one another, and more respect for the Senate’s time-honored processes.

“You’re not hearing me single out like, this bill, that bill, some other bill, some agenda I have. I mean, I do have bills I want to work on,” he said. “But, even more important, we have to get the process working again.”

Farenthold doesn’t provide any help for someone trying to get a handle on Pryor despite Pryor’s self-presentation — nothing like an evaluation of his voting record from a conservative group like the ACU or from a liberal group like the ADA. One can infer that Pryor to the contrary notwithstanding, he is a reliable Democratic vote when needed. Yet Farenthold essentially cooperates with Pryor’s desire to portray himself as a friendly nullity.

Even within the scope of this limited analysis, Farenthold doesn’t bother to ask Pryor how his support of Harry Reid as Majority Leader squares with his professed goal restoring of “respect for the Senate’s time-honored processes.” Pryor presents a good impression of nullity, but he’s faking it for the folks back home.

There is no one running for high office whom I respect more than Tom Cotton — for his intelligence, his service, his patriotism, and his professed goals. As a man of character and substance, Tom presents quite a contrast with Pryor. Despite the closeness of the current polls, I’m guessing that in this race as in life character is destiny.


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