Tak­ing the thrash­ing

Critics and tar­gets de­serve some credit

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE - Doug Thompson Doug Thompson is a po­lit­i­cal re­porter and colum­nist for the North­west Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette. He can be reached by email at dthomp­son@nwadg.com. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @NWADoug.

At least Sen. Tom Cot­ton and Rep. Steve Wo­mack showed up.

There are 290 Repub­li­cans in Congress. Rep. Jim Sensen­bren­ner, R-Wis., sched­uled 35 in-per­son town halls dur­ing the first two months of the new ses­sion. Only 53 such meet­ings were sched­uled in Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary by all the other mem­bers of his party in Congress com­bined. That av­er­ages out to two town halls for ev­ery 11 non-Sensen­bren­ner GOP mem­bers of Congress. It is also barely more than one town hall per state out­side Wis­con­sin.

Yet North­west Arkansas had two town hall meet­ings this week. Cot­ton faced the music in Spring­dale and Wo­mack in West Fork. They knew go­ing in they would be the sur­ro­gate tar­gets for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and his record-break­ing un­pop­u­lar­ity as a new pres­i­dent. That should be noted even though Cot­ton and Wo­mack hold two of the safest GOP seats in the coun­try.

Look­ing Kati Mc­Far­land of Spring­dale in the eye and say­ing that, no, he does not have a re­place­ment health care plan worked out that would keep her alive and also get the needed votes from his hard-to-find peers is a harsh thing. We should grant that to Cot­ton. We should not for­get, though, that the much harder thing is be­ing in Mc­Far­land’s shoes.

With so many of their peers lay­ing low, hid­ing from other McFar­lands in other places, Wo­mack and Cot­ton were among the few vis­i­ble tar­gets. I doubt na­tional press would have paid ei­ther of the con­gress­men’s public ap­pear­ances as much at­ten­tion if more meet­ings like these were hap­pen­ing else­where.

Of course of­fice­hold­ers should face the music from the peo­ple they rep­re­sent. So one could say Cot­ton and Wo­mack just did their jobs. Yes, they did. If Congress as an in­sti­tu­tion proves any­thing, though, it’s this: Any mem­ber who shows up and does his job de­serves some credit. This is a sad and sorry state of af­fairs, but it is the way things are.

Credit should also go to the folks who played that music. Some of them were or­ga­nized by the anti-Trump group In­di­vis­i­ble, but many were not. And a few were brave enough to voice their sup­port for the con­gress­men un­der fire and say, in ef­fect, that elec­tions have con­se­quences.

“The so-called an­gry crowds in home districts of some Repub­li­cans are ac­tu­ally, in nu­mer­ous cases, planned out by lib­eral ac­tivists. Sad!” Pres­i­dent Trump tweeted that out on Tues­day in a typ­i­cally child­ish pout. My wife and I can­not have a fam­ily Thanks­giv­ing din­ner at home with­out plan­ning. Hav­ing your act to­gether is not cheat­ing.

The big ques­tion now is whether the sound and fury that greeted these mem­bers of Congress sig­nify any­thing. Stir­ring peo­ple up can­not even guar­an­tee a win in a Demo­cratic pri­mary. Sen. Bernie San­ders proved that last year. Stir­ring is not what counts. What counts is find­ing some­thing worth­while for peo­ple to do once stirred.

And no, giv­ing a cou­ple of law­mak­ers bad days does not count as get­ting some­thing done. For in­stance, get­ting pum­meled in West Fork prob­a­bly solved the clos­est thing Wo­mack has to a re-elec­tion prob­lem.

Wo­mack has not had a Demo­cratic op­po­nent who made it all the way to the Novem­ber bal­lot since 2010. He has al­ways had more to fear from a pos­si­ble pri­mary chal­lenge from his right. Those who at­tended public meet­ings of his for years know that, in­cred­i­bly, there re­ally are peo­ple to the right of Wo­mack.

But af­ter these two meet­ings, you can al­most see the Repub­li­cans cir­cling their wag­ons. Even a squab­bling fam­ily or tribe unites it­self against out­siders.

No­tably, Cot­ton said dur­ing his fo­rum that the U.S. Se­nate Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence is se­ri­ously look­ing at the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia — ties so close that Trump’s first Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser had to re­sign over pro­vid­ing the Rus­sian am­bas­sador with in­for­ma­tion, then ly­ing about it. Cot­ton is a mem­ber of that com­mit­tee.

The au­di­ence was skep­ti­cal. They chal­lenged the se­na­tor, push­ing for open hear­ings. Cot­ton’s re­ply was re­veal­ing. He said the re­cent ex­pe­ri­ence with the so-called Beng­hazi panel, which looked into the at­tack on a U.S. Em­bassy in Libya, helped con­vince him that such an open probe was not the best way to look into na­tional se­cu­rity mat­ters.

He is right, but newly re­dis­cov­er­ing dis­cre­tion only af­ter a Repub­li­can pres­i­dent got elected is un­for­tu­nate tim­ing. Even so, hav­ing a hawk like Cot­ton crit­i­cize what hap­pened with a Repub­li­can-dom­i­nated House com­mit­tee in­ves­ti­ga­tion is sur­pris­ing.

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