When Atlantic political reporter Molly Ball called me a couple of weeks ago to ask me about Rep. Tom Cotton, now opposing Democratic incumbent Senator Mark Pryor in the election for the Arkansas seat that is on the ballot this November, my guard was up. I think Tom is a man of great courage and conviction. I support his election. I wanted not to say anything that could be used against Tom, which is what I was quite sure Ball wanted. I may be slow, but I’m not stupid. I asked Ball to let me sleep on her question overnight and email her my response, which I posted in “A personal note on Tom Cotton.”
Ball’s article on Tom is now up at the Atlantic under the heading “The making of a conservative superstar.” It seems to me a work of almost self-parodic liberal hostility seeking to transform an admirable man into a fearful monster.
Ball leads off with her big bombshell: a look at Tom’s 92-page senior thesis on the Federalist Papers. Ball labors mightily to make something of “[t]he thesis, whose contents are revealed here for the first time[.]” She reports:
A cogent and tightly argued document, it reveals the depth and intellectual roots of his reverence for American traditions. It also reveals a contrarian devotion to some ideals that seem out of date today. Cotton insists that the Founders were wise not to put too much faith in democracy, because people are inherently selfish, narrow-minded, and impulsive. He defends the idea that the country must be led by a class of intellectually superior officeholders whose ambition sets them above other men. Though Cotton acknowledges that this might seem elitist, he derides the Federalists’ modern critics as mushy-headed and naive.
“Ambition characterizes and distinguishes national officeholders from other kinds of human beings,” Cotton wrote. “Inflammatory passion and selfish interest characterizes most men, whereas ambition characterizes men who pursue and hold national office. Such men rise from the people through a process of self-selection since politics is a dirty business that discourages all but the most ambitious.”
Cotton was only summarizing the views of Publius, the collective pseudonym used by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay in the Papers. His reading is neither outré nor revisionist. Yet it seems significant that, out of all the ideas outlined in the Papers, these were the concepts Cotton chose to focus on and to defend forcefully against what he saw as more modish, inclusive ideas.
Ball’s bombshell: Tom concurs with Publius’s defense of the Constitution as set forth in the Federalist Papers. What next? He also loves his mother? Ball and her article roll downhill from here.
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, so I trust he will withstand Ball’s unremitting hostility. As for the barrage of lies directed at Tom, they are of no interest to Ball. There are limits to the depth of her curiosity. Fred Barnes took a look at them in the Weekly Standard article “Democrats take the low road.”
You can support Tom and annoy Ball by contributing to Tom’s campaign here.