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Coburn Uses Mock Hispanic Accent Questioning Sotomayor

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U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn strikes again, embarrassing himself and the state of Oklahoma.

At today’s confirmation hearing for Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic person ever nominated for the U.S. Supreme Court, Coburn used a slight variation of a well-known phrase used by the character Ricky Ricardo on the old I Love Lucy show.

In a brief exchange of humor between Coburn and Sotomayor, the senator apparently said, “You’ll have a lot of splaining to do.” In the show, as most people know, Ricky, a Cuban musician, used the phrase “Lucy, you have some splaining to do” when his wife did some bizarre thing he didn’t like.

Here’s the Associated Press story about it.

It’s almost always inappropriate for people to use mock, stereotypical language and the accent of an ethnic group as a point of humor, especially with someone who is the particular ethnicity they are mocking. (Obviously, some comedians mock their own ethnicity to make larger, sociopolitical and cultural points.) What’s worse, the remark could be construed as sexist as well because it conjures up the image of Lucy, a character without much rational brainpower. Also, it is inappropriate, if not unbelievable, for a white U.S. Senator in a confirmation hearing for a future U.S. Supreme Court Justice of Hispanic descent to just launch into a Hispanic-voice parody, even if the intention was to be humorous.

Coburn, along with U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who is known for his own outrageous comments about global warming, continue to draw strong support from the local corporate media here. This is tragic. Both Senators consistently damage the state’s image, but the local media barely pays attention. Instead, it consistently cheers them on.

(Here is the link to the Facebook group Embarrassing Oklahoma Elected Officials.)

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Questions Linger For Coburn In Ensign Affair

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U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn needs to explain more thoroughly if or how much he was involved in paying money to the former mistress of his friend and roommate U.S. Sen. John Ensign.

So far no one has accused Coburn of doing anything legally inappropriate, but his refusal to clearly delineate his role in the matter continues to cast doubts on his overall integrity. Ironically, just as Coburn expresses his opposition against Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic person ever nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, his own decision making is causing a stir outside the state.

Ensign, a married Republican from Nevada, has admitted he had an affair with his former campaign treasurer, Cynthia Hampton, who was also married. Apparently Coburn was aware of the affair, confronted Ensign about it in February 2008, and counseled him about it. The two shared a Washington, D.C. home. Later, Ensign said his parents paid Hampton and her family $96,000 in gifts, according to media reports.

The issue here is hardly that a prominent politician had an extramarital affair. That seems like business as usual in Washington these days. The issue is also not about the hypocrisy of the Republican “family values” crowd either, though that’s a legitimate point to make.

The issue as it concerns Coburn is whether any taxpayers’ or Ensign campaign money went to Hampton or her husband in an attempt to buy their silence or to make some type of restitution. If so, then a crime was probably committed. Did Coburn suggest that Ensign pay the woman and her family money? Hampton’s husband, Doug, also a former Ensign staffer, claims Coburn did just that. Coburn has denied Hampton’s claim.

For now, Coburn has claimed “privilege” as a physician and Southern Baptist Church deacon and says he won’t discuss the matter even if there is an official investigation. This is what he said about the matter:

I was counseling him as a physician and as an ordained deacon. ... That is privileged communication that I will never reveal to anybody. Not to the Ethics Committee, not to a court of law, not to anybody.

But it’s disingenuous for Coburn to claim he was treating Ensign as a patient—Coburn is an obstetrician—and does a church deacon really have privilege rights like an ordained pastor, especially when it involves a roommate and a friend? Many people would consider that an obvious conflict of interest. Under Coburn’s wide definition, anything anyone ever says to him can be considered privileged unless, say, he didn’t want to claim privilege.

Earlier, Coburn’s office issued this statement:

Dr. Coburn did everything he could to encourage Sen. Ensign to end his affair and to persuade Sen. Ensign to repair the damage he had caused to his own marriage and the Hampton's marriage. Had Sen. Ensign followed Dr. Coburn's advice, this episode would have ended, and been made public, long ago.

Was Coburn just trying to help a friend? Maybe so. Most people can relate to that. But once money became involved in the issue, it raised ethical and legal questions. Coburn needs to address those questions in a straightforward manner for his Oklahoma constituents.

Meanwhile, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics has asked the Department of Justice to investigate the matter. It has also asked the Senate Ethics Committee to look into the issue. It specifically wants the DOJ to look into Cynthia Hampton’s severance payment of $25,000.

(Here is the link to the Facebook group Embarrassing Oklahoma Elected Officials.)

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No, I Will Not, No

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"We were cut off from the comprehension of our surroundings; we glided past like phantoms, wondering and secretly appalled, as sane men would be before an enthusiastic outbreak in a madhouse. We could not understand because we were too far and could not remember because we were travelling in the night of first ages, of those ages that are gone, leaving hardly a sign -- and no memories."—from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

U.S. Sens. Tom Coburn's and Jim Inhofe's expected public opposition to Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court and to real healthcare reform reflects the “culture of no” Republicans have adopted in response to President Barack Obama’s presidency and the Democratic Party’s national ascendency.

No, Republicans say, to the first Hispanic nominee to the country’s highest court.

No, Republicans say, to any healthcare reform that doesn’t benefit big insurance companies.

While the culture of no might be an easy political sell for Coburn, pictured right, and Inhofe in ultra-conservative Oklahoma these days, it seems destined to fail on the national level. Coburn and Inhofe obviously reflect the party’s fear of change, and it is likely Republicans have only just begun their time in the political wilderness before they undergo a paradigm change.

Can the controversial quitter Sarah Palin help the Republicans in 2012? It seems unlikely at this point. Consequently, Coburn as “Dr. No” and Inhofe, the global warming contrarian, become stark symbols of a failed ideology and worldview. Outside this region of the country, they are often reviled for what is seen as calculated political obstinacy.

On the state level, the Republicans continue to be defined by state Rep. Sally Kern, whose silly anti-gay and “morality” proclamations make the state a laughingstock across the country. Unfortunately, the religious right in Oklahoma remains a powerful political force, and many elected Democrats attempt to appease this force rather than challenge it.

What this means to Oklahoma is continued isolation from the national political scene and from the cultural framework of a diverse, emerging America in the twenty-first century. This could obviously affect economic development here in larger structural terms. The question becomes this: Will the state corporate power structure—particularly the big media and energy companies—continue to support this isolation?

At least one Oklahoma media outlet, The Journal Record, recognizes the problem of this isolation, at least when it comes to Kern. In a recent editorial, the newspaper argued:

More importantly, we ask Kern to stop providing fodder for late-night talk show hosts, comedians and bloggers to publicly humiliate our state from a national platform. Since Kern first distributed a press release describing the proclamation, our state Legislature has been called “a petri dish for wingnuttery” and worse.

Our Department of Commerce and Tourism and our local chambers of commerce and convention and visitors bureaus struggle daily to attract and retain the nation’s most prestigious employers, to fill convention halls and hotel rooms and to retain our most talented college graduates. They already are competing against 49 other states and it is a much tougher sale when the prospect starts out with a perception of our state as a haven for those who force their personal beliefs on all. The inherent ignorance of such a position not only makes our state undesirable, it makes us, as the talk show hosts have demonstrated, a laughingstock.

Coburn, Inhofe and Kern represent the most extreme right-wing element of the Republican Party, and this makes the state a mausoleum of dead, narrow-minded ideologies. This can’t be good for business or the overall quality of life as some of the state’s brightest residents move to more diverse and tolerant states.

It’s time for far-sighted leadership here in Oklahoma. State leaders need to steer the state away from right-wing extremism. It’s one thing for many of our state’s politicians to hold old-school, pre-Bush, conservative ideas about fiscal and social policies; it’s quite another for them to alienate a majority of Americans with senseless obstructionism, polarizing political statements and religious extremism.

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