Tom Cotton at Harvard: Hated libertarians, praised Bill Clinton

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Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton, who announced this week that he will challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, attacked alcohol vendors, called for mandatory financial disclosures of campaign donations, favored banning cigarettes, and attacked libertarianism while he was a Harvard student.

In a twice-weekly column for the Harvard Crimson, Cotton — who has been called a “Republican’s dream” by National Review and an “extraordinary figure” by the Weekly Standard — criticized politicians for not doing enough to oppose tobacco and wrote a laudatory 1996 piece praising Bill and Hillary Clinton.

In 1997, Cotton wrote a scolding op-ed on alcohol and underage drinking in which he called for more laws restricting the sale of alcohol, specifically zoning laws lest vendors “pray on the most vulnerable elements of society, the poor and the young.”

“[T]he problem is not with existing laws or their enforcement, but with the lack of laws,” Cotton wrote. “Very few cities have zoning laws that specifically affect liquor stores. Most zoning laws simply define an area as commercial, thereby allowing any type of commercial store to open in the area.”

As long as zoning wasn’t done, Cotton argued, “vendors will turn their profits by selling their wares to those who are least likely to understand the consequences of drinking and therefore to moderate their drinking.”

Cotton rejected appeals to lower the drinking age. “If we changed the age limit, we would not get a libertarian paradise,” he wrote. “We would only get countless teenage alcoholics, even more than we have now.”

Cotton was even more reproachful in an article calling for a ban on smoking at Harvard’s campus. “The Freshman Dean’s Office knows it, the staff knows it and you know it: smoking is addictive, harmful and annoying,” he wrote. “Quit equivocating on our smoking policy and take the hard line. Harvard should not allow smoking anywhere on its property.”

“[Harvard’s staff is] simply afraid to take the next step and say smoking is wrong because it enslaves and destroys the body,” Cotton wrote. Harvard “should forbid smoking by all individuals on Harvard property, for their own sake and for the sake of those around them. If students or employees want to smoke, they can go to public property. If this is too inconvenient, maybe they will break a destructive habit.” (Related: Tom Cotton demanded Harvard ban cigarettes in 1997)

Cotton also turned his sights on libertarianism, which he dismissed as frivolous.

“There are many reasons to be a libertarian. One is vanity. It is nice to think that you are responsible for all the good fortune and success you achieve,” he wrote. “Another is naivete, for you are surely naive if you believe the immediately preceding proposition. Still another reason is selfishness: since you are fortunate and successful, you are likely to want to hoard that fortune and success. Each of these reason, and others, point to the central fact of libertarianism, which is that practically all of its adherents belong to a self-regarding and sanctimonious elite.”

Cotton continued: “Libertarianism, by its very definition, is not a political philosophy, for political philosophy entails questions about the nature and role of the public realm. Libertarianism denies legitimacy to the public realm. Thus, it cannot develop a coherent and thematic system dealing with the appropriate and tolerable mixture of law, liberty and personal responsibility.”

While Cotton disliked libertarianism, he had kind words for fellow Arkie Bill Clinton:

“Bill Clinton is the most successful campaigner of our time because he is the most sincere campaigner of our time,” Cotton wrote. He was especially taken with Hillary. “There could not be a more apposite instance for the phrase ‘Behind every good man lies a better woman.'” Hillary is “more organized, more disciplined, more thoughtful, and more faithful than he is.”

Cotton soured on Clinton’s “degeneracy” two years later, calling the president a “compulsive womanizer and a liar.” But he viewed the Monica Lewinsky affair less as a scandal limited to Clinton himself than as an object lesson for the American electorate. “This lesson speaks to the fundamental presumption of democratic self-government, that the people have wisdom and virtue enough to elect politicians wise and virtuous enough to rule,” he wrote.

He appears not to have changed his positive view of Hillary Clinton.

Cotton called for deregulating campaign finance laws but he also called for forcing donors to disclose their financial contributions, something favored by the campaign finance enthusiasts.

“We should either sharply increase contribution limits or eliminate them altogether and couple this move with more extensive disclosure requirements,” Cotton wrote. “When politicians do not feel pressured to maneuver around the law to raise money, they will not turn to their party or like-minded groups for stealth support.”

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