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June 22nd, 2017

Insight

Tom Cotton, a Republican to watch

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published July 25, 2016

After his address at the Republican national convention in Cleveland on Monday, it would be inaccurate to declare that a star is born, because it's been clear for some time that Tom Cotton's performance has been stellar all along. Whether he was at Harvard, with the military, or in the U.S. Senate, he's taken stands no one else might dare -- and backed them up with a courage that springs from conviction.

This boy from Dardanelle, Ark., in Yell County -- Mattie Ross country -- has grown into a man his family, his state and now his country can be proud of. Because in just nine minutes before the television cameras Monday night, he summed up not just what this less than illuminating presidential campaign has been about, but what America is about. Not heated divisions and cold calculations but unity, justice and confidence. It's time for America to be great again, the current head of his party declares. But she's always been great. And as long as this country continues to produce Tom Cottons, she will grow greater still.

Monday night, the junior senator from Arkansas put it better than any jaded commentator on the news could: "We don't fight because we hate our enemies but because we love our country. We love its freedom and we love that we as Americans are born equal and live free, and that no one can boss us around or rule us without our consent. We know these things are worth fighting for and dying for because they make life worth living for."

Like Abraham Lincoln, another long, tall Republican in another era of confusion and division, this speaker was going to appeal to the better angels of our nature, not the most partisan impulses of a deeply divided nation.

How prepare for such a major address? Answer: not overly. Or as Tom Cotton put it before the show: "It'll be the biggest audience, I'm sure, since it'll be a national televised audience, but I have been in some few other pressure-packed situations, so I think I can handle the convention hall tonight. I've spent several hours working on my speech, a few more hours with my wife working on the delivery, a few prayers, a good dinner." And to judge by the result, it all worked. Concisely, informally, effectively. To borrow a term from a great speaker named Franklin Roosevelt, it was a Fireside Chat -- even if there was no fireside:

"We'd like a commander-in-chief who speaks of winning wars and not merely ending wars. We'd like a commander-in-chief who calls the enemy by its name. A commander-in-chief who draws red lines cautiously but enforces them ruthlessly. And it would be nice to have a commander-in-chief who can be trusted to handle classified information."

No wonder the speech was punctuated by regular bursts of applause from the convention. In homes across America, regardless of any party affiliation or none, heads must have nodded in agreement. As if the country, so long without guidance, was getting some.

To quote CNN's Chris Cuomo speaking of this remarkable senator, soldier and ever growing statesman: "He's the future of your party. He's 39 years old. He's a family man, he's a veteran ... and he's speaking to a lot of the issues that resonate with the American people. Age matters, generation matters, energy matters. He has all of those things."

Whatever his eyesight, Tom Cotton has got to have 20-20 vision, which is a reference not to an optical chart but to a prospective presidential campaign. After his nine minutes before the convention and the country, Tom Cotton was due to meet with Republican delegates from Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida. ... If that sounds suspiciously like a presidential candidate's itinerary four years from now, it is.

His schedule, as he says, is "pretty busy. I came to Cleveland to work, not to party." Just as he has come to every challenge in his young life.

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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