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Readying the rhetoric

by John Brummett | August 7, 2013 at 5:00 a.m.

Word spreads that right-wing zealots in the Republican Party want to let the federal government shut down Sept. 30 unless spending for a law of the land—the Affordable Care Act—is excised from a continuing budget resolution.

We in Arkansas have now foisted on the nation one of those Republican zealots, a real doozy going by the name of U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton. So I endeavored Tuesday to determine if Our Zealot Tom was in lock-step on this shutdown scenario with Tea Party loons such as U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

I determined that he seemed to be in lock-step, although his slippery and combative press secretary, Caroline Rabbitt, said I merely was inferring.

I think, quite to the contrary, that she was implying.

Why don’t I just share with you our full digital exchange?

Me, after opening pleasantries: “I am endeavoring to write about this business of certain Republican threats to shut down the government after Sept. 30 if the Affordable Care Act is funded therein. In that regard, I see on a CNN post this sentence: ‘And a bloc of about 71 House Republicans say they will refuse to vote for a measure that funds the government if it continues to fund the Affordable Care Act.’ What I need to know is whether Tom Cotton is among those 71, or, beyond that, what his position is on the shutdown/Obamacare matter.”

Rabbitt: “Well, since you didn’t send me to the story you’re referencing, it’s a bit difficult to comment on it. I would assume you mean 71 signers of a letter to leadership about defunding Obamacare. If I am correct then your answer is that he generally prefers consulting with colleagues in person, rather than joining letters. But he strongly supports all efforts to defund, delay and ultimately repeal Obamacare, regardless the legislative approach.”

Me: “I will take the final sentence to mean he strongly supports even the government shutdown approach advocated by Ted Cruz and warned against by Paul Ryan. Allowing perhaps for some nuance.”

Rabbitt: “I am not sure how you can make that claim based on my answer. I think you are inferring something based on what you want to be true, not what I actually said.”

Me: “I don’t want to argue. I want to get it right. My reading is that ‘strongly supports all efforts…Regardless the legislative approach' covers shutdown. Key words 'strongly' and 'all' and 'regardless.' But I will say you stopped short of specifically committing Cotton to shutdown. Barely. Maybe.”

Rabbitt: “Congressman Cotton doesn’t want a government shutdown, nor does anyone in his party. Only Barack Obama is threatening a shutdown. They’ve talked about not voting for a [continuing resolution] that funds Obamacare. The shutdown is just inferred, like you did to me earlier.”

That’s it. So allow me to infer to the extent that I will presume to break through this slippery-speak and produce for you the simplest essence: Our Zealot Tom looks to be warming up to vote to shut down the government merely because the Affordable Care Act, which he opposes, is legitimately enacted and a beneficiary of spending in the resolution.

He and the other zealots also are clearly warming up to argue implausibly—indeed absurdly—that they didn’t shut down the government, but only tried to end Obamacare, and that it was Obama who shut down the government.

For the record, in case you’ve missed it: Cotton wants you to promote him, after seven months in the House, to the U.S. Senate to replace Mark Pryor so that he can transform the Senate’s right-wing fringe from a mere duo, Cruz and Paul, to a full trio.

If we do that, Arkansas would devolve from the state of Sens. McClellan and Fulbright, then Bumpers and Pryor, to the state of an invisible man, John Boozman, and an all-too-visible man, Cotton.

Our choice in contemporary Arkansas politics, as I phrased it the other day, is between basic Republicanism and nutty Republicanism.

There are still basic Republicans, even including the aforementioned U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan. He said on a Sunday talk show that it would be foolhardy to shut down the government over Obamacare because we’d end up with no discretionary government spending, but still with Obamacare.

And there was U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia. He said on another Sunday talk show that it would be “playing into Obama’s hands” to shut down the government. As to Cruz’s charge that some Republicans were afraid to go the mat, Chambliss said the only thing that scared him lately was reading classified information about terrorist threats.

Then on Monday a group of Republican governors, including even Scott Walker of Wisconsin, issued a statement opposing a shutdown as a tactic to try to stop Obamacare. The governors said a shutdown would hurt their states and fail in public opinion and as a tactic.

How irrational is Ted Cruz, this Tea Party renegade the politically unstable state of Texas has dispatched to the U.S. Senate? He said the other day that the government shutdown in 1995 worked to the eventual benefit of Republicans, not Democrats.

Why, yes, you remember the altered course of history. We saw the demise of Bill Clinton as he lost his second term to Bob Dole, after which Newt Gingrich became president and led America into the new century.

John Brummett’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at Read his blog at, or his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.


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