Any resemblance to yesterday’s post is entirely intentional. First we singled out the season’s most repugnant Senate campaign ad. Today, we will highlight the most brazen Senate campaign lie.
Granted, the ad we examined yesterday featured quite a falsehood – the Georgia GOP’s claim that Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn had financed terrorism – but at least, in that case, there was a teensy weensy thread that Republican hopeful David Perdue could yank and twist. Nunn heads the nonpartisan Points of Light Foundation, which once had a subsidiary that worked a deal with eBay to funnel donations to 20,000 charities, and one of those 20,000 charities had the word Islamic in the title, and that charity sometimes partnered with another charity that had Islamic in the title, and the Israelis dfon’t like the latter charity…OK, so there is a thread. Even though it’s thinner than dental floss.
But Tom Cotton, national tea-party hero and Republican senatorial candidate in Arkansas, doesn’t even have floss. Which is why, as we bid farewell to September, he is our brazen liar of the month.
First you need to know the back story:
Last winter, freshman House member Cotton was the sole Arkansan to oppose the federal farm bill. That’s a big deal in rural red-states; voting No infuriates the farmers. The farmers love the federal subsidies that have come their way ever since the New Deal. Indeed, Congress has reauthorized the farm bill every few years, typically with bipartisan support, signed by presidents of both parties. But Cotton, being a tea party guy, doesn’t like those federal subsidies; so last winter, true to his convictions, he voted No.
That vote has hurt him politically back home. Mark Pryor, the imperiled Democratic incumbent, has used it against him. Clearly, Cotton needed to make nice to the rural voters he needs in November. But instead of defending his convictions, he has done what right-wingers so often do when they’re in a pickle.
He just made something up, and blamed it on Obama. Natch.
At the 14-second mark of his make-nice-to-farmers TV ad, Cotton says he voted No because “President Obama hijacked the farm bill, turned it into a food stamp bill.” In translation, this was his dog whistle message for rural whites: “Obama took this bill that was supposed to help hardworking farmers, and he made it a food stamp bill to help lazy blacks – and I just couldn’t accept that!”
What Cotton says in his ad is actually worse than a lie. It’s fantasy history, on a par with Sarah Palin’s ’11 insistence that Paul Revere rode at night in order to warn the British.
Obama “hijacked” nothing. Farm subsidies and the food stamp program have been paired in the same bill since 1973, when it was signed by the Republican president, Richard Nixon. Repeat, 1973. The year when Barack Obama was 11.
Hard as it may be to believe, the two programs were merged in the spirit in bipartisan compromise: Republicans could vote Yes because the bill subsidized the farmers; Democrats could vote Yes because the bill gave food aid to poor folks. With the programs enjoined, everyone got something they wanted. As New York University professor John Ferejohn has written in a reality-based history, the farm bill was repeatedly reauthorized (and signed by Ronald Reagan, among other presidents) because “Republicans as well as Democrats worked to keep the programs consolidated.”
So why did Cotton concoct the Obama straw man? Because he knows that the ill-informed, credulous TV viewer has no clue that farm subsidies and food stamps have been merged for 40 years; because the ill-informed have no clue what goes on in Washington, and are likely to believe the worst about Obama; because the ill-informed are likely to believe that food stamps equals black people. Even though, according to the latest stats, 49. 5 percent of food stamp recipients are white, and only 26.3 percent are black.
Lying is bad enough; doubling down on the lie is even more craven. When Cotton was reminded that food stamps and farm subsidies have been intertwined since before he was born, he shrugged. He said that he plans to air the lying TV ad more often. Hey, the guy wants to win, control of the U.S. Senate is at stake, and he thinks the ad is a winner in the communities he needs to win. Besides, he actually said, “I don’t think liberal reporters who call themselves fact-checkers spent much time growing up on a farm.”
Well. I don’t consider factual historical accuracy to be a “liberal” concept, and I don’t believe you have to grow up on a farm shoveling manure to recognize when a politician is shoveling manure.
But who knows, maybe there’s documented evidence somewhere that an 11-year-old kid commanded Congress to hijack the ’73 farm bill and stuff it with food stamps for poor people. Maybe Cotton should put Donald Trump on the case.
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