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Tom Cotton Deserves No Credit for Getting the Coronavirus Right

The only thing vindicated by his early warnings are stopped clocks.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., arrives in the Capitol for the Senate Republicans lunch on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Tom Cotton is the Senate’s anti-Cassandra. Whereas Cassandra’s apocalyptic visions were never believed and always come true, Cotton’s are seized upon despite usually being ludicrous fantasies.

Thus did Cotton once claim that ISIS was teaming up with Mexican drug cartels to infiltrate the southern border and launch attacks in Arkansas. In 2013, he warned a constituent that she shouldn’t sign up for the Obamacare exchanges because Russian mobsters might steal her identity and sell it on the black market. In 2015, he suggested that ratifying President Obama’s arms deal with Iran could lead to nuclear war. Two years earlier, he’d contended that the threat from Iran was so grave that the family members of those who violated sanctions should be thrown in prison.

Now he’s being hailed as a prophet. Over at National Review, John McCormack calls Cotton “the senator who saw the coronavirus coming.” It’s true that Cotton did warn all the way back in January that the illness could become a serious domestic threat. But that’s only convincing if, first, you excuse his suggestion that the virus might have come out of a lab in Wuhan, which, though hardly a debunked conspiracy theory, still remains mere speculation. And second, you remove Cotton’s doomsmongering over COVID from its greater context of his doomsmongering over absolutely everything else.

The point is that, in the midst of a crisis, we don’t want to follow people like Cotton, spooking ourselves over every worst-case scenario and using it as an opportunity to launch another airstrike or abrogate another civil liberty. Yes, Cotton warned about the coronavirus earlier than most. That vindicates nothing except the law of stopped clocks.

about the author

Matt Purple is a senior editor at The American Conservative.

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