Tea Party nut's fact-check fiasco: Tom Cotton's hilarious "farming" defense

Tom Cotton embarrassed himself with a farm bill ad. Even more embarrassing is his response to its critics

By Jim Newell

Published September 26, 2014 4:14PM (EDT)

  (AP/Danny Johnston)
(AP/Danny Johnston)

Harvard-educated neocon national savior Rep. Tom Cotton, the GOP's Senate candidate in Arkansas, is maintaining a modest lead against Sen. Mark Pryor but can't quite seem to put the incumbent Democratic away for good. Some of that has to do with his vote against the farm bill earlier this year. He was the only member of the Arkansas delegation to vote against it, and Pryor and the outside groups supporting him have been hammering Cotton over both the vote and his pathetic attempts to explain it away.

Last week, Cotton released a comical, lie-drenched ad in which, after appealing to his salt-of-the-earth credentials as the son of an Arkansas farmer, he claimed that "President Obama hijacked the farm bill [and] turned it into a food stamp bill with billions more in spending." Every prominent fact-checker, from the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler to PolitiFact to FactCheck.org to the Internet's most authoritative source of factual accountability, Salon.com, cried foul.

It was not President Obama who "hijacked" the farm bill to "turn it into a food stamp bill." Farm subsidies and food stamps have been log-rolled into one measure, the farm bill, for decades, in order to secure a majority of votes from rural and urban lawmakers. Were they separated into two bills, neither would pass. If you want to argue that the federal government shouldn't be in the business of granting either subsidies for farmers or basic nutritional assistance for the poor, then go right ahead. But Cotton says he supports the farming components of the bill. In that case, he should've voted for the bundle.

And as for the "billions more in spending" assertion, the farm bill that passed earlier this year cut $8.7 billion in SNAP funding, over a 10-year horizon, relative to the previous farm bill. It was not a very factual ad, because Tom Cotton doesn't have a whole lot of convenient facts to work with.

Cotton was asked to respond to the nosy fact-checkers' claims earlier this week on a local news show. Would he recant, or go into further detail to explain, the whole "hijacking" thing? Not so much. What he would do is deliver one of the funniest lines in recent memory: What the hell do you liberal ninnies know about farming?

"I don't think liberal reporters who call themselves fact-checkers spent much time growing up on a farm in Yell County, growing up with Len Cotton, so I think I know a little bit more about farming than they do."

We'll grant him that those outlets that call themselves "fact-checkers" are really just reporters and commentators who are as susceptible to human error as anyone else. But in this case the "fact-checkers" and everyone familiar with basic congressional process all made the same criticisms because Cotton was making disingenuous or "wrong" arguments in an attempt to dismiss an uncomfortable voting record. That the best Cotton could come up with to defend the ad was "I grew up on a farm" demonstrates further that he has absolutely nothing to work with.

To point out the obvious, the problem with Cotton's ad had little to do with knowledge about farming. If Cotton had presented a disquisition on proper crop rotation techniques or calf-birthing protocol, the fact-checkers would have deferred. The problem was with his description of legislation, and Tom Cotton's job -- whether in the House or the Senate -- is to draft and vote on legislation. And it's the job of annoying political commentators to point out when people like Tom Cotton are lying about legislation to cover their asses.

Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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