A personal note on Tom Cotton

Our friend Rep. Tom Cotton is in a tight race against incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Pryor in Arkansas. Pryor offers a good name and a reliable vote for the full Obama/Reid playlist when needed, but is otherwise something of a cipher. The two of them present a stark contrast. At the Weekly Standard, Michael Warren quotes a pointed editorial from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that eloquently draws out the the contrast:

Ordinarily, a senator like Mark Pryor is so moderate it’s hard to name or even imagine a principle he would stand by if it proved unpopular. The way a stand for the law of the land and the brotherhood of man might have cost a politician re-election in the Furious Fifties, when the electorate was in the grip of its basest passions. See the Crisis of 1957 in Arkansas, when one leading political figure after another caved in to the wave of panic that was sweeping the South at the time.

It wasn’t just those leaders whose words encouraged the mob–like Orval Faubus–who set the stage for that dark period of Arkansas history. They were joined by respectables like the sainted J. William Fulbright who dodged their moral responsibility. Senator Fulbright’s indelible signature on the Southern Manifesto still speaks sad volumes. So does his almost career-long opposition to civil-rights legislation.

It’s not just politicians who put career above conscience at the moment of truth who are weighed in the balance and found wanting, but those observers who try to rationalize their actions. (“Hey, he was just seeking a reasonable compromise, and if he hadn’t sold out, he would just have lost the election to somebody much worse.”)

One of the most appealing things about Tom Cotton is his character–it’s easy to imagine his sticking with principle even if the whole state went crazy again. It’s what explains his sometimes lonely votes in the House, the ones that stand out from the herd. It’s also what gives him the potential of becoming not just a good senator but a great one.

But it’s nigh-impossible to imagine Mark Pryor’s ever taking a stand he knew might prove unpopular with the voters–for no better reason than it was the principled thing to do. Senator Pryor is an all too familiar type: the go-along-to-get-along politician, a faithful backbencher who’d follow the party line right out the window, and has–the way he voted for Obamacare.

Coincidentally, I was contacted earlier this week by Atlantic staff reporter Molly Ball and asked for my impressions of Tom. I asked her for time to collect my thoughts overnight and email her, but that evening I dug out part II of Jay Nordlinger’s National Review profile of Tom. I wrote Ms. Ball:

Molly: I will send you a longer message responding to your questions by tomorrow morning. In the meantime I wanted to dig this [URL per the link to part II above] out and send it to you. I first “met” Tom via email when he was serving in Iraq. I had been writing on Power Line about Risen and Lichtblau’s stories blowing terrorist intelligence in the Times, complaining that the reporters were in violation of the Espionage Act along with their unnamed sources and should be prosecuted. I wrote a column for the Weekly Standard at the time to the same effect.

Combing through our Power Line email one morning, I found Tom’s letter to the editor of the Times copied to us (quoted [in Jay Nordlinger’s profile linked above]). I posted it on Power Line, confident that it would never see the light of day in the Times. Tom’s very existence was challenged on the left-wing side of the blogospohere, as Jay relates in the piece, and I heard from several of Tom’s and my mutual friends as his attention turned back to his duties in Baghdad.

I just wanted to give this [URL] to you while it’s on my mind….

Yesterday morning I followed up with this message:

Molly: I first “met” Tom via email in 2006, while he was serving in Iraq. It turned out that he was a regular reader of Power Line, the site to which I contribute. Jay Nordlinger tells the story in the NR profile of Tom that I sent you. Jay’s account was the first time I heard “the rest of the story,” to borrow Paul Harvey’s phrase.

I met Tom in person in New York at a Power Line event a couple of years later when he was still serving. I think he told me at the time he had duty at Arlington Cemetery. (I’m vague on that.) Whenever he comes to Minneapolis I try to make sure to take advantage of opportunities to meet with him. I have gotten together with him here several times.

My first exposure to congressmen came in the summer of 1969, when I graduated from high school and went to work as an intern in the DC office of then Senator Mondale on the fourth floor of the old Senate Office Building, I think. Barry Goldwater had the office across the hall (I interviewed him for an hour in his office). Teddy Kennedy’s office was down the hall and around the corner. I’ve met a lot of congressmen and governors over the years since then. I’ve never met anyone in the world of politics whom I like and admire more than Tom.

He’s a natural leader. He is a man of conservative principle and conviction. He is brilliant and exceedingly articulate. I hope he will be president one day.

After graduating from college or law school (I’m not sure which), Tom studied American politics as a Claremont Institute Publius Fellow. He is conversant with the philosophic strains of American politics. He is a serious man.
Having had the opportunity to ask him the questions that are on my mind in small group settings, I have been impressed with his modesty and his thoughtfulness. I think he is a very special guy.

I have asked Tom questions about his military service. It is exceedingly difficult to get him to speak up about the details of his service because they make his courage evident. They belie his modesty. But I have asked him enough questions to get the sense that he is a man with the courage of his convictions and an old fashioned patriot. I can’t think of anyone who has more to offer our country in a time of great need.

I am not close with Tom personally and don’t know him well. I have probably gotten together with him in person fewer than 10 times. I have followed his career closely and corresponded with him since 2006. These are my impressions based on that experience. I have thought that the current generation of veterans who have served on the front lines have a special contribution to make as political leaders. I have offered my own encouragement to Tom to make his.

I hope this is helpful to you….

Tom has so far withstood a barrage of lies thrown at him by Harry Reid et al. in advertisements whose falsity would shame average Americans. Fred Barnes took the trouble to document the nature of the campaign in “Democrats take the low road.” I want to put my own personal notes about Tom out there for readers who might be interested.

You can support Tom by contributing to his campaign here. As Paul Mirengoff always says in this context, I just did.

NOTE: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial via Michael Warren/Weekly Standard.

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