An Okie Contradiction

Image of Picasso work

It might be an exercise in futility to point out the numerous contradictions in commentary published by The Oklahoman editorial board, but it probably doesn’t hurt to maintain a historical record of the newspaper’s shoddy argumentation skills.

Take last Wednesday, for example. Two rather innocuous editorials published on the newspaper’s site NewsOK.com—one lauding the retiring U.S Sen. Tom Coburn and the other calling for corrections reform—seem fairly straightforward and disconnected from each other. A closer review, however, shows in one respect they collectively present a major contradiction.

The editorial lauding Coburn, “Town hall helps show why Tom Coburn is so popular in Oklahoma,” (Aug, 6, 2014) is simple enough. The newspaper has long presented Coburn as a wise sage that knows how to tell it like it is. The editorial points out that at a recent town hall Coburn “offered a template for what a good politician should be.” I have long argued against this clichéd interpretation of Coburn, who I believe used partisan political stunts in his Washington career to simply draw attention to himself, but the overall tone of the editorial doesn’t bother me that much.

But there IS one thing in the editorial that stands out. The editorial notes that at the town hall Coburn “didn’t do any two-stepping,” whatever that means. It then quotes Coburn on the issue of marijuana legalization. Coburn apparently said, “I don’t believe marijuana should be legalized for anything. … People in Oklahoma who really want marijuana legalized, Colorado is open. Go there.” That’s some good politicking there, right?

Leave aside the fact, for a moment, how inane Coburn sounds here. In the immortal words of Merle Haggard, “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee.” Coburn’s just singing his own version of “Okie From Muskogee.” But consider that the newspaper has presented Coburn for years as a great statesman with a wide-ranging intellect. Coburn’s get-out-of-town admonishment, by almost any standard, would be considered at the very least a throwaway line or just plain juvenile. But that itself isn’t the major contradiction.

Another editorial, “Reason to believe corrections reform bill may live again in Oklahoma,” (Aug. 6, 2014), published on the very same day, essentially supports the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a bill passed two years ago that aims to lower incarceration rates in Oklahoma. The bill promotes the idea that people on “probation can get treatment for addictions or mental health issues,” according to the editorial.

So let’s get this straight. On one hand, we’re supposed to love the retiring Tom Coburn, who we might rightly assume might dismiss any type of reform of drug laws here with flippant, right-wing rhetoric. Just get out of here already with the legalization stuff. On the other hand, we’re supposed to get behind an initiative that, in essence, works towards reducing penalties for or, shall I say, “decriminalizing” at least some forms of drug use. This is sensible policy, of course, while Coburn’s remark represents on a symbolic level the type of philosophy that has led to the state’s high incarceration rates in the first place.

Does any of this matter? Well, I do think it’s fair to say that these types of contradictions in the state’s largest newspaper at the very least haven’t helped to enlighten Oklahoma voters. Arguing for sensible governmental policies while extolling the virtues of a right-wing politician who uses reductionist rhetoric instead of seriously discussing such policies cancel each other out.