opinion by Scott Shackelford
Scott Shackelford is a former editorial page editor for a Northwest Arkansas newspaper. He lives in Fayetteville.
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Is it possible to practice hypocrisy without being a hypocrite?
Answer: Certainly, yes.
For instance, I don’t think U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, is a hypocrite. But I do think it is very possible for honest people to practice rank hypocrisy in broad daylight. It must be something in the Tidal Basin water that makes the percentages go up.
First, let’s set the stage. Mr. Cotton, you see, is a bit of a rock star in Republican circles.
Not only did the Dardanelle native serve on active duty for several years, he came home from Iraq with the medals to prove his heroism. Toss in a U.S. Court of Appeals clerkship here and a little management consulting there, and you begin to see why the GOP was thrilled to see Cotton return to Arkansas to claim the Fourth District seat vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Mike Ross – a Democrat – last year.
Backed by wealthy conservative donors sensing a winner in Cotton’s background and personality, it was no surprise to see the Harvard Law School graduate wipe the floor with the competition. Maybe those same donors already sense Cotton has what it takes to eventually (soon, perhaps) graduate to the U.S. Senate. Or the governor’s office.
And who knows: Maybe Cotton agrees with that line of thinking.
So, in an effort to expand his fast-expanding fan base, Cotton appeared opposite Wolf Blitzer on CNN to discuss President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel to lead the Department of Defense.
Cotton isn’t a fan, to put it lightly. He said U.S. troops deserve better than Hagel’s leadership. He accused the former Nebraska senator of giving up on U.S. efforts in Iraq, of holding dangerous views about Iran and supporting (possibly drastic) cuts to future DOD budgets.
Cotton’s opposition to Hagel is not news. On Dec. 21, he wrote in The Wall Street Journal that Hagel doesn’t deserve the promotion for a host of reasons, from siding against the 2006 “surge” strategy that temporarily stabilized an Iraqi populace on the brink of civil war to supporting an accelerated withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
None of those complaints are much different than anything Senate Republicans (who, unlike Cotton, actually get to vote on Hagel’s nomination) have been stammering about for weeks. But the other thing Cotton did say the other day that so got my attention was this: “I admire Chuck Hagel’s service. I admire the service of all of our veterans. But Vietnam veteran service alone cannot be the sole qualification for serving as Secretary of Defense.”
And that’s when it struck me: Cotton, for all his confidence and enthusiasm, is deaf to the hypocrisy coursing past his own lips.
Although Mr. Cotton strikes me as a nice person with an impressive resume and a genuine wish to serve his country, the stark reality is this: The only thing on his resume that made Cotton such an attractive candidate for voters in 2012 was his impressive military service. As well it should have.
And yet the reality is that Cotton is in Congress today specifically because of his solider service, and of all those campaign commercials that made sure to remind voters of this. So it seems strange for a fellow veteran to say Chuck Hagel has no business serving as Defense Secretary because of his honorable (and highly decorated) service during the Vietnam War. Does Cotton really not get that if military service alone were somehow a disqualifier to holding office, he wouldn’t be in Congress today?
Incidentally, during that same CNN interview, Cotton showed viewers that he really ought to be talking less and listening more at the outset of life as a politician. Cotton said that he believes going to war against Iraq was the right decision, and called the whole Saddam Hussein, al-Qaeda, 9/11 connection inconclusive – even though most of the thinking world now believes there was no connection.
Is Young Man Cotton going to learn during his time in Washington that viewing international affairs through an absolutist palate of black-and-white hues is fraught with danger for one and all?
I hope so. I also hope someone who honestly believes that going to war in Iraq was the right call never has the opportunity to lead the Department of Defense. Surely Chuck Hagel would agree.