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ATLANTIC: The Making of a Conservative Superstar

ATLANTIC: The Making of a Conservative Superstar

This article was written by Molly Ball and originally appeared in The Atlantic

Tom Cotton was born in 1977 in Dardanelle, Arkansas, population less than 4,000, where his family had lived for seven generations and his parents tended a cattle farm. His father also worked for the local health department, and his mother was a schoolteacher. From an early age, it was clear that Tom was an unusual boy.

Focused, intense, and serious, Tom impressed adults with his discipline and maturity. He worked hard, studied diligently, and seemed to have little appetite for frivolity. Tall and gangly by his sophomore year, he played on the small school’s basketball team as well as a regional team, where he compensated for a lack of innate ability with a ferocious dedication to practice and became the Sand Lizards’ starting center. Early in his high-school career, friends say, he decided he would go to Harvard. He pursued the goal with single-minded passion. When he arrived in Cambridge in 1995, he was one of two rural Arkansans in his class.

Harvard opened the eyes of the idealistic young man to a new world of intellectual possibility. “At Harvard College, I discovered political philosophy as a way of life,” Cotton wrote, a few years later, on the dedication page that preceded his 92-page senior thesis on the Federalist Papers.

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