Omission Accomplished: Douthat Distorts Coburn Record

Image of Tom Coburn

Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist for The New York Times, published a glowing profile of U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn Monday that incredibly failed to mention the defining element of the Oklahoma senator’s career: obstructionism.

Douthat, we can only speculate, agrees with every one of Coburn’s numerous and legendary holds on legislation, but the writer’s failure to focus on the senator’s political theatrics in his sycophantic article makes his commentary seem disingenuous.

The truth of the matter is that Coburn, who represents a state with 3.6 million people, has shown how one senator from a relatively small state can have a disproportionate influence on the political process. The rules of the Senate allow one member to place holds on specific legislation, making it difficult for some bills to received consideration. Coburn, known as “Dr. No,” has abused this privilege.

Coburn has become so associated with the hold practice his name is mentioned in the Wikipedia entry on the topic.

According to Wikipedia:

During the 110th Congress, Senator Tom Coburn put holds on a significant number of bills, raising the ire of the leadership and forcing them to package many of the bills with holds into one Omnibus Act (the so-called "Tom-nibus") at the beginning of the 111th Congress. Some Senators have complained that the hold system makes it too easy to block legislation, that the leadership should not honor holds on the floor unless the Senator is personally there to object.

For some reason, Douthat apparently doesn’t see this issue as important. Here’s a 2008 Think Progress post on Coburn’s holds. At one point in 2008, Coburn had holds on 80 bills, some of which dealt with medical research and initiatives. Coburn, of course, is a medical doctor.

Coburn has continued to place holds on bills since his 2008 stunts. He recently tried to block the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. I wrote about that stunt here.

In Oklahoma, Coburn is also well known for his hateful anti-gay positions that smack of ignorance and fear mongering. In a bizarre statement taped during his 2004 senate campaign, for example, Coburn said he was told that lesbianism was “so rampant in some of the schools in southeast Oklahoma that they’ll only let one girl go to the bathroom.” His remark was strongly refuted by at least one school official, and, really, on its own merits it’s preposterous and offensive.

But Douthat finds Coburn “intellectually honest.” Douthat, on some level, represents conservative intellectualism—he writes for The New York Times after all—but there’s nothing intellectual about his glaring omissions in his Coburn profile. The commentary reads more like a deceptive whitewash from a faux conservative playing the current media milieu.