Saturday, 14 March 2020

Tom Cotton Did Us a Favor by Exposing a Bad Law with a Bad Op-Ed



Tom Cotton Did Us a Favor by Exposing a Bad Law with a Bad Op-Ed

Sen. Tom Cotton, (R-Ark.), set off a stink bomb smelled around the world on Wednesday with a New York Times op-ed advocating the invasion of U.S. cities with military troops to police protesters. Times staffers took to Twitter to protest, coalescing around the message that the section endangered the lives of shaded Times journalists. Masses of subscribers reportedly phoned in to cancel. And the Times NewsGuild denounced the op-ed page for amplifying Cotton’s voice.
You can criticize the page for running Cotton’s retrograde views, which anybody with even a tincture of civil libertarianism running through their veins knows is wrong. But you can’t accuse the page of inconsistency. The 50-year-old section has been outraging or disappointing—depending on your point of view—readers trusty its founding. As press scholar Michael J. Socolow explains in his pocket-history of the New York Times op-ed page, the section was conceived as a forum for extreme ideas that did not fit elsewhere in the paper.
The early 1970s were a fractious period, perhaps as fractious as today, and the page’s invitation to the immoderate to contribute always made trouble. Writers have used its columns to call for revolution and for federal funding of a mercenary force. One Hollywood actor wrote pages to complain that “the social soul of America is so sick that even the overthrow of a political regime may be insufficient.” In 2008, Nora Ephron demanded that the page fire newly hired columnist William Kristol before he had written his helpful piece for it. The page has published the Hamas party line, Vladimir Putin’s thoughts on Syria, and the foreign policy ideas of Muammar Qaddafi. In 2017, the page’s “Red Century“ series invited Monty Python references by publishing its extended look at the bright side of Communism. In recent months, the page has showcased a section written by a leader of the Taliban, which is at war with the U.S. in Afghanistan, and columnist Bret Stephens, forever stepping on a rake and breaking his nose, did it again by seeming to claim Ashkenazi Jews are smarter than other people. Sometimes authoritative, often fallible, the section stays on top of the news.


No matter what your politics, if you’re looking for offense you can always find it, sooner or later, in the New York Times op-ed page.
The unique thing about the Cotton op-ed controversy is that he’s not calling for revolution, finding a nice word to say about Stalin, calling for mercenaries, or proposing some other off-the-wall policy change. He’s simply calling for the implementation of a law already on the books, the Insurrection Act. I’m with everybody—New York Times staffers included—who are furious with Cotton for demanding that our own military invade U.S. cities. But I also feel that we owe Cotton a debt of gratitude for calling our deeper attention to this archaic law, whose basic bones were legislated more the two centuries ago, that makes it legal for presidents to usurp our freedom based on their fancy. According to the Insurrection Act’s section 332, presidents can dispatch federal troops to American cities over the objections of their governors when conditions “make it impracticable to enforce the laws of the United States.”
Presidents don’t need such broad, god-like powers to help maintain civil order. For one thing, local police, sheriffs, state patrols and state national guards almost always possess the necessary force to contain riots and protect public safety. When governors lack such force and sense things are out of control, other portions of the act allow them to request federal troops, as Republican California Gov. Pete Wilson did during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Finally, the military neither desires the role of occupying force, as retired Marine general James Mattis reminded us Wednesday, nor is it trained in the techniques law enforcement. So why not sunset section 332? By removing the arrow from the president’s quiver, we can prevent President Donald Trump from ever threatening us with federal troops again (as he did Monday) and block any future president (Cotton appears to have presidential aspirations) from brandishing it.
Will Wilkinson of the Niskanen Institute, who disagrees with the Times’ editorial decision to publish the Cotton piece, makes the separate point that the short-term effect of its publication seems to have undone Cotton’s ambitions to implement the act. A first reading of public sentiment would suggest that his op-ed has hardened opposition to “setting the military against protesters,” he notes. By casting a spicy flashlight on the act, Cotton might also have increased the likelihood that its most dangerous section will be repealed.
Like other readers, I was terrorized to learn that a sitting U.S. senator (who has been mentioned as a possible secretary of defense) wants to sponsor the military occupation of his own people. My breath shortened, too, when I read his demands for “an overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers.” But instead of being outraged by the Times publication of the Cotton op-ed, I’m grateful, because it damningly revealed in his own words his dangerous intentions better than any mere news story or interview could have. Remember, when Cotton tweeted on Monday that the “101st Airborne Division” should be called in to battle “these Antifa terrorists,” his comments got relatively little push-back from the press until he landed the Times piece. (The protest currently swamping Cotton is also a protest against Trump, but that’s another column.)
So, thanks to the Times (even though the paper now says the piece didn’t meet its standards) and special thanks to Cotton. Can anybody recommend a florist who specializes in non-contact deliveries so I can send him a bouquet?
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Bloomberg Opinion’s Francis Wilkinson speaks for me when he calls Cotton’s essay “a demagogic hash, as greasy as the bacon Senator Ted Cruz once cooked on the muzzle of an AR-15.” Send bacon to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. My email alerts have been off pork products since contracting trichinosis from some raw, marinated pig liver in the 1960s. My Twitter feed favors fakon. My RSS feed is part pig.
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SRC: https://news.yahoo.com/tom-cotton-did-us-favor-233604568.html

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