Notes From London: Oklahoma Election Madness

Image of Kurt Hochenauer at the Darwin Centre in London

I’m in London noting the primary election results in Oklahoma Tuesday, and from my current European perspective there is specific reported material from two particular races that reeks plain madness.

England has its own political issues and problems, true, and I viewed part of a House of Commons session Wednesday that seemed no more participatory than a session of the U.S. House of Representatives. Most MPs, for example, didn’t even attend what seemed to me as a crucial debate over a housing bill, but the vote went on anyway. There was some lively shouting and satirical witty exchanges among the twenty or so members who did attend, a jolly good show, but the emptiness of the chamber struck me as the real story, a story of the perfunctory and apathetic. It’s the same in the U.S. Congress. The conservatives, in the end, won a vote that favors landlords over those who have subsidized housing.

So the class warfare goes on in England without a whimper as it does in the states and around the planet. There will be a turning point. Maybe not in this lost generation, but certainly in the next if there is no correction. Infinite growing wealth inequality is a distinct impossibility.

But I regress. My first declaration of what I perceive as Oklahoma election madness surely will be acknowledged by both Democrats and Republicans alike. It must be some form of madness—constructed upon hubris, stubbornness, intellectual conceit or the unknowable—that drives someone to loan their own campaign more than $1.2 million dollars to retain the position of Schools Superintendent in the state of Oklahoma.

Republicans and Democrats agreed on this crucial issue of ousting Janet Barresi from office, an issue that has now been accomplished. It was, by the way, representational politics at a pragmatic level. It also was an exquisite repudiation of Barresi diehard supporters Gov. Mary Fallin and the editorial board of The Oklahoman, who seem to despise public education. Barresi actually came in third in a Republican primary race won by Joy Hofmeister. In fact, Barresi, who I perceive as an advocate for the privatization of education, was soundly trounced in a message vote that couldn’t be clearer. If Hofmeister goes on to win, her mandate is simple: Do and act just the opposite of what Barresi did and acted. That goes, too, for the Democratic candidates, Freda Deskin and John Cox, who ended up in a runoff.

But this issue of “loaning” so much money to one’s own campaign for such a mundane and, really, provincial position in a minor state like Oklahoma seems the most remarkable in its sheer madness. Did Barresi think of her position as a launching pad for further political aspirations? On what basis? What specifically were those aspirations? Did she really believe in the right-wing message about the so-called failure of public education—this message has to include for its own logical argumentation the demeaning of teachers and the test performances of inner-city school children—that passionately, obsessively and why? Is she just so extremely rich—and why is she so rich?—that a million dollars means nothing to her? Why not simply retire and live in Paris? The Bricktown canal or the Seine?

A million dollars could also go a long way to help one particular school, or a particular group of students in Oklahoma.

Here’s a recorded Barresi quote now making its sensational rounds in The Media today in which she’s telling teachers the way they must enact the education of students:

Anybody that has any question what we’re doing, read Nehemiah. Open up your Bibles and read Nehemiah. I want you to put on your breast plate and I want you to fight off the enemy at the same time you’re rebuilding the wall. Because there’s a lot of people, a lot of enemies are going to try to creep up the back of your neck and say you can’t do it, it can’t be done. Do me a favor and tell ‘em to go to hell. We’ve got a wall to build. ‘Cause I’m gonna be in there with you, too. I’m going to take the hits. I don’t care, I don’t care. And then we will be, we will be an example to the rest of the country about how you produce a wonderful child that is educated and ready to take control of their life. Are there any questions?

I’m looking at the window occasionally in an apartment in the Bayswater area as I write this, and I’m noting the symmetry and beauty of the old buildings around me and the skyline on a beautiful sunny summer day. I’m just an easy tube ride away from the famous landmarks, such as Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, which I’ve seen before and now once again. The diversity of people on the streets here—all the different nationalities, languages, accents—is incredibly comforting to me and gives me a sense of belonging to something larger than my own self-absorptions and retread reflections. I don’t ever get that connection in Oklahoma.

What’s also not so comforting to me here in London and what also seems like madness to me as I write this is the political canonization in Oklahoma of James Lankford, another right-wing religious extremist. U.S. Rep. Lankford easily won his primary race for U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s seat. Coburn is retiring. Lankford is sure to win the general election unless there’s a scandal or some major political shift in Oklahoma between now and November. That’s probably not happening.

Let’s be clear: Lankford, as we can obviously conclude through his sanctimonious television advertisements and his former job indoctrinating young people with Christian dogma at the Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center in Davis, Oklahoma, is a radical Religious Extremist. He’s a living embodiment of someone who would not hesitate to end the separation of church and state in this country or force his narrow religious views on us all.

Yet the state’s largest newspaper, which supported Lankford for the position, in response to his predictable victory, proclaims Lankford “would be an outstanding member of the U.S. Senate” and speaks of his “phenomenal rise.”

I wrote about the interchangeable relationship between The Right-Wing Church and The Corporation in Oklahoma in my last post. It’s the partnership of immorality upon which all the state’s social problems and oppression is constructed and disseminated. Lankford is its personification. His laudatory status now made manifest by The Media’s pulpit goes beyond simple red-state religious oppression. It’s a madness that infects bodies with sickness and minds with its falsehoods that sanctify greed and human suffering. From London, away from its direct influence that breeds its own imprisoned complacency, this seems incredibly obvious.

On the tube in London yesterday after I watched part of a the House of Commons session I described earlier, the diversity of people scrunched together in my subway car delighted the senses, formed its own relaxing, inclusive philosophy of existence and depicted a reality rejected by so many people in Oklahoma where madness reaps its peculiar oppressive rewards.