The Smear Cotton project

Posted: August 4, 2014 at 3:25 a.m.

Liberals are clearly rattled by Tom Cotton. Not because of his allegedly extremist views, but because of what his election in November could do to what's left of Barack Obama's presidency.

As everyone by now knows, the outcome of Cotton's race against Mark Pryor might determine whether Republicans gain control of the Senate. GOP majorities in both chambers of Congress would essentially halt Obama's efforts to "transform" America in the direction which left-wingers so fervently desire; hence the need to save Pryor's seat with what appears to be a well-coordinated, three-prong strategy.

The first and most obvious prong is to paint Cotton as a fanatic and ideologue, such that orders have apparently been issued to all liberal mouthpieces that the word "extremist" must precede any mention of his name. Cotton is therefore being depicted as too far right even for Arkansas, which leans further right than most states in a supposedly center-right nation.

What is so scary about Cotton's views--which seem fairly stock-issue conservative on matters economic, cultural and international--isn't all that clear, but the hope is that if you say "extremist" over and over again, and distort, caricature, and take enough out of context it might stick anyway. Campaign strategy 101: If you're stuck defending a dud, make an issue of the other guy.

Closely related to this is prong two, which is to try to repackage Pryor as a pragmatic "moderate" rather than the rote liberal his voting record suggests.

Prongs one and two, taken together, thereby reveal some interesting liberal assumptions, including that all conservatives are extremists and all extremists must be conservatives. Liberals like Pryor, on the other hand, are only "pragmatic moderates" occupying the middle of the ideological playing field and whose efforts at compromise are being persistently obstructed by the conservative extremists (like Cotton).

Thus, crucial to the repackaging of Pryor is the idea that someone who has sided with Obama and Harry Reid on just about everything and who has a dismal lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union of 19.8 percent isn't really a liberal at all because Obama and Reid really aren't liberals either, all appearances to the contrary.

Again, only conservatism can be ideological, liberalism is just plain common sense. If you rig the game at the outset by equating conservative with extremism and liberal with reasonable moderation, you get Cotton the extremist and Pryor and Obama the reasonable moderates. Neat how that comes out, isn't it?

The third and final prong embedded in liberal talking points is to pretend that the race is only about us simple country folk here in Arkansas rather than who ends up controlling the Senate in Washington, that it is who shows up at tomato festivals and opossum dinners rather than actual Senate votes that matters.

In other words, the liberal spin machine doesn't want to talk about how Pryor has faithfully served the Obama administration for the past six years, and is eager to continue serving if given the opportunity. They bemoan the "nationalization" of the race despite its national implications because they know that Pryor loses on that basis. In time-honored Democratic fashion, they want to sharply, if illogically, delink Arkansas Democrats like Pryor from the national Democrats like Obama, Reid, and Nancy Pelosi from whom they get their daily marching orders.

After all, voting liberal in Washington and then coming home at election time and pretending to be a moderate (or even a conservative of some sort!) is the standard survival technique for Arkansas Democrats. It will, accordingly, be amusing to count the times Pryor mentions his boss in his stump speeches or even allows a glimpse of him in his television commercials, even though it will be Obama's agenda that Pryor will be supporting if re-elected.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and liberals know that Pryor is an unusually vulnerable incumbent (that Obamacare vote!!) and that Arkansas went for John McCain by 19 percentage points in 2008 and for Mitt Romney by 24 percentage points in 2012.

In the end, then, the Pryor strategy involves a bet on the gullibility and ignorance of Arkansas voters, because it seeks to fool them regarding the consequences of their votes. More precisely, they seek to somehow convince lots of Arkansans who otherwise abhor everything Obama stands for to send back to the Senate someone who will faithfully do his bidding.

They also wish us to ignore the possibility that a Cotton victory might allow the Republican Party and its conservative values to take the Senate away from the Democrats and their liberal values, with all that that entails for the Obama administration's liberal agenda.

Arkansas liberals know that all of this is true, which is precisely why they don't want most Arkansas voters to know it, too. They know that the issue ultimately isn't Cotton or Pryor, but Obama, because a vote for Pryor is essentially the same as a vote for Obama. No more, no less.

So it all comes down to sending to Washington someone who will either oppose or support Obama; doesn't it? And how many Arkansans at this point support Obama? And are willing to vote for Pryor to prove it?


Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.

Editorial on 08/04/2014