Paul Greenberg

Yes, there are good reasons, or at least good rationalizations, for Congress's finally passing a farm bill this year, the best being to remove farmers' uncertainty about just what role the feds will play on their farms before spring planting is here.

But there were also crass, self-serving political reasons to pass this squealer, as there always are. Having learned their lesson (Politics Before Principle 101) after the Great Government Shutdown of 2013, the slow but politically educable Republicans in the House have decided not to repeat that political blunder in time for the midterm elections this year, when they might actually make gains this time out rather than embarrass themselves election night.

There are always good reasons to compromise principle. That's how it disappears in politics -- except among those profiles in courage like Tom Cotton, who put his finger on the principal problem with this farm bill. It still links farm subsidies to the food-stamp program in a textbook example of log-rolling. ("You show me yours, I'll show you mine, and we'll vote for both.") That's a continuing pity and shame because the unfairly maligned food-stamp program should be able to stand on its own. For its benefits go directly to the poor who need them, not millionaire "farmers."

Yes, the food-stamp rolls have grown since 2008 -- in tandem with the Great Recession and the greater number of poor, even hungry folks. But it remains one of the better administered and just plain decent government programs in existence. It should never have been yoked with a gigantic vat of pork like the farm bill. But that's how Washington has become accustomed to working, and what the American people have become accustomed to accepting in our public "servants," even when they're serving private greed.

Passing a farm bill is a great triumph -- but only for the farm lobby, not the rest of us.

It takes a clear-eyed Tom Cotton to tell us what's happening right before our eyes -- and have the courage to vote against it. No wonder he's become a rising star in his party. This year he's taking on one of the Democrats' old seatwarmers in the Senate -- Mark Pryor, who's never met a principle he couldn't compromise and call the result "moderation."

What a nice change, and great senator, Tom Cotton might make. Talk about shaking things up. Nothing might do that in Washington like just telling the simple truth.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.