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—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.



Image of Tom Coburn

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s decision to leave the Senate before his second term is finished should have progressives here in Oklahoma at least a tad worried.

Could Oklahoma elect someone even more conservative to fill his seat? That’s absolutely possible. Unless a big-name politician, such as former Gov. Brad Henry, steps into the race, Democrats have little chance to replace Coburn. Some of the Republicans who have been mentioned as possible candidates include ultra-conservative politicians that pander to the most extreme elements of their party.

Coburn, widely known as a fiscal conservative, announced last week that he was retiring from the Senate, where he has served since his 2004 election. Coburn has been dealing with a reccurence of prostate cancer, and he said he wanted to spend more time with his family. He had earlier pledged not to serve more than two terms in the Senate. I respect his decision to step down. There have even been times when I’ve actually agreed with Coburn on issues. For example, I agreed with Coburn recently that the National Football League should not be exempted from taxes.

I was quoted Friday on the site about Coburn’s retirement. As I argued, I found some of Coburn’s Senate actions through the years--his numerous holds on legislation that earned him the nickname “Dr. No”--as political theater and simple constituent pandering. Yet Coburn has to be considered the lesser of the two evils when compared to U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who remains reviled in major pockets of this country and world for his radical views disavowing climate-change science and his antiquated position on gay rights. Inhofe will be up for reelection this year as well and has drawn a Democratic opponent, which means both the state’s U.S. Senate seats are up for grabs.

Gov. Mary Fallin set the dates for the special election for Coburn’s seat on the regular election schedule, which means some of the politicians mentioned as candidates would have to give up their current positions in order to run. This could make the election extremely intriguing and could open up opportunities for Democrats and progressives if a bevy of Republicans decided to run.

Some media outlets locally and nationally, however, have already opined that Democrats have no chance for either Senate seat, and that Inhofe will easily coast to reelection. Anti-Obama hysteria or the “Obama effect,” fueled by the corporate media here, especially The Oklahoman, is the major reason Democrats have been sidelined over the last several years in the Oklahoma political scene.

Republicans have super majorities in the state House and Senate, hold all the major statewide offices and make up the state’s entire Congressional delegation.

So could the state’s political scene get even more radically conservative? Yes. Some of those Republicans mentioned as possible candidates for Coburn’s seat include U.S. Reps. James Lankford and Jim Bridenstine. (Lankford, in particular, is expected to run.) Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon has also been mentioned. What about Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, who once ran for a Congressional seat on an ultra-conservative, anti-gay rights platform? He certainly knows how to dish out the shallow, right-wing rhetoric and work the corporate power structure here.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt have issued statements stating that they would not run for the seat. Of all the possible Republican candidates mentioned in the media, Cole would have been the most palpable for progressives.

It’s my perception that Lankford, Bridenstine, and Shannon have all identified in one way or another with right-wing extremism in ways deeper than even Coburn and would probably be even more ideological. Cornett is involved in a highly contested mayoral election, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he ran for the position or ran for Lankford’s Congressional seat.

So it goes in Oklahoma these days. Progressives can probably only hope for less radical Republicans to win elections. This will change one day, but, for now, that’s the reality.


Coburn’s Vote Contradicts Earlier Statements

Image of Tom Coburn

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s vote against opening the government and raising the country debt limit is yet another example of his crass, bifurcated political style.

In an extremely bipartisan vote, the U.S. Senate voted 81-18 Wednesday to fund the government through Jan. 15 and raise the debt ceiling through Feb. 7. This came after a 16-day government shutdown.

Coburn was one of the 18 who voted against it, which might not seem unusual, unless you consider all his previous public statements railing against the Republican strategy to hold the government hostage in order to defund the Affordable Care Act. Coburn called that GOP strategy “intellectually dishonest.”

“But to create the impression that we can defund ObamaCare when the only thing we control — and barely — is the U.S. House of Representatives is not intellectually honest,” Coburn said on MSNBC days before the vote.

That statement seems reasonable enough coming from a politician who recently said, in perhaps a less lucid moment, that President Barack Obama was “getting perilously close” to impeachment, which was a bizarre, untruthful claim.

But when the time came to vote on the funding bill, Coburn chose to keep the government closed and destroy the nation’s economy. Fortunately, there were more than enough Senators who actually agreed with Coburn’s statements about the awful, senseless Republican strategy in the first place.

So, in other words, Coburn tries to have it both ways. On one hand, he seems like a rational moderate by opposing fringe elements in his party. On the other hand, he votes in unison with that fringe element. He gets away with it because the corporate media here won’t hold him accountable to his obvious contradiction.

Here was Coburn’s statement after his vote:

Washington doesn’t need short-term budget and debt limit extensions as much as we need a long-term spending addiction recovery plan. The American people should do what any responsible parent would do if their adolescent child couldn't handle the responsibility of a credit card. We should cut up the credit card and live within our means. With this agreement, the hard decisions we have to make have only been put off for another day, when our fiscal problems will be bigger and more painful to solve. It’s time to make tough choices now.

These are standard, hollow GOP talking points. Coburn, who claims for now that he’s not going to run for reelection in 2016, is simply appeasing his ill-informed base of supporters, which he purposely enrages with misinformation and presidential impeachment suggestions. It should make people wonder if he actually IS going to run for reelection.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe was unable to vote on Wednesday because he’s recovering from major heart surgery, but it’s a good bet he would have voted along with Coburn to keep the government closed and ruin the country’s credit by not raising the debt ceiling.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole was the only politician in Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation that had the decency and common sense to stand up to the Tea Party radicals and vote in favor of the bill. Cole also stayed consistent with his earlier remarks criticizing the GOP strategy, which ultimately cost the country’s economy an estimated $24 billion.

But let’s get back to Coburn. As I’ve written again and again, Coburn likes to present himself as a dignified statesman championing government fiscal responsibility, but his actions often expose him as a Republican extremist and political opportunist. His vote to inflict further damage on the nation’s economy for what seems to be obvious personal political gain is yet another example of that.