Arkansas Senate candidate Rep. Tom Cotton (R), who is challenging Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), defended his vote against an agriculture and nutrition assistance bill by characterizing food stamp recipients as addicts. Cotton made his comments about food stamps during a July 8 tele-town hall, in audio sent to The Huffington Post.
I had assumed the Most Tone-Deaf Elitism of the Week Award was all locked up by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. After all, the Kentucky Republican's "Not everybody needs to go to Yale" comments effectively argued that the nation's elite institutions of higher ed would be for students from rich families -- and no one else.
But then Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) came along. The far-right Senate candidate snatched the award for Most Tone-Deaf Elitism of the Week right out from under McConnell yesterday with this jaw-dropper.
"I don't think that we should be using farmers as a way to pack more welfare spending into Barack Obama's government," Cotton said. according to the Huffington report "Nor should we have a food stamp program that isn't reformed, that doesn't have job training and work requirements, that doesn't have drug testing requirements, so we can get people who are addicted the help they need. Or make sure that long-term addicts or recidivists are not abusing taxpayer dollars."
There are a few striking elements to this. The first is the rather twisted political philosophy behind Cotton's argument: if your family is struggling and needs food stamps to get by, you may very well be a drug addict. Note, the far-right congressman isn't speaking metaphorically about recipients being addicted to government assistance; he's being more literal -- those who need help buying food may well be addicted to drugs.
It's part of a vision of America that says the poor are to blame for being poor. Maybe if you weren't taking drugs, you wouldn't need help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The second angle to keep in mind is that every state that has experimented with mandatory drug testing for welfare benefits has discovered the same thing: these programs are a legal, logistical, and financial mess, intended to root out a tiny number of actual drug abusers.
Finally, there's the political context: Cotton made this argument because he's scrambling to explain why he opposed a farm bill that's important to Arkansas and its economy. The state sends four U.S. House members to Capitol Hill -- all four are Republicans -- and Cotton was the only one from the delegation to oppose this agricultural legislation.
In other words, Cotton isn't just right-wing on the issue; he's right-wing when compared to other House Republicans from red states in the Deep South.
He needs an explanation. Apparently, the one he's come up with is accusing food-stamp recipients of being drug addicts.
Update: In case it's not obvious, Cotton makes no similar assumptions about others on the public dole. For example, executives at oil companies that receive taxpayer subsidies, under his approach, would not be suspected of drug abuse, just poor people who struggle to put food on the table.