Tom Cotton and The Deserving Rich

It’s always been a bit of a quandary for conservatives that their constituents often refuse to take a consistent position on government assistance programs, but differ based on their perceptions of which beneficiaries are most “deserving.” Naturally enough, “deserving” tends to translate into “me” or “people like me,” while those people are presumed undeserving. Thus, you have the old folks living on Social Security and Medicare who are enraged at “The Welfare” and Obamacare.

There’s a special problem facing conservatives in farm states where agricultural subsidies are popular–and especially in the South, where family farms are rare and the big commodity programs have a very wealthy (and powerful) constituency. With food stamps now being the most regularly demonized “welfare” program, what is a good wingnut Member of Congress to do when a farm bill comes up–not just as a matter of logic, but of procedure, since food stamp authorizations have been part of farm bills forever?

Well, for Arkansas’ Tom Cotton, the answer is to lie about it:

So the virtuous farm subsidies are being “hijacked” by the Kenyan socialist to give food stamps to those people, and Cotton thinks “you’ve paid enough already.” That those “good” farm programs would have died out years ago if not for the votes of food stamp-supporting urban congressmen is not mentioned, of course. As Greg Sargent puts it, it’s “socialism for me, but not for thee.”

As Jonathan Chait observes, in taking this tack Cotton is once again proving himself to be the “perfect Republican:”

He is running not quite as a principled foe of government, but instead as a committed opponent of redistribution. Government is bad insofar as it gives money to the poor and vulnerable. Tom Cotton is going places in the Republican Party.

Yep. Add in the ideal resume, the special buy-in of both Tea Folk and neocons, and the whiff of self-righteousness that infuses everything the man says, and Cotton’s Senate campaign really is the beginning–or just possibly the end–of something big.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.