Oklahoma’s two U.S. Senators Jim Inhofe and James Lankford, along with U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, are providing information to state citizens about federal disaster assistance ahead of expected flooding caused by what’s left of Tropical Storm Bill.
The heavy rain was expected to begin today here in Oklahoma. Previous heavy rainfall, combined with the new rain, could cause widespread flood damage. Oklahoma has suffered severe infrastructure damage to roads and bridges because of recent flooding caused by record-breaking rainfall some scientists connect to global warming.
It's interesting to note that all three of the Republican politicians have been elected on platforms that pretty much claim the federal government has, to use conservative parlance, “overreached,” whatever that might mean to them or to any conservative. We do know conservatives use this word disparagingly. Overreach to them is something extremely bad. We must end it immediately.
Of course, we don’t hear much about federal overreach when it comes to all the assistance provided to the state by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) when the tornadoes hit or the floods wash away bridges and damage homes. In fact, Oklahoma is consistently a state with a high number of federal disaster declarations. Without the extra federal help, what would Oklahoma even be like right now? Would it even be viable?
I’ve made this point for years. Texas, another conservative state, presents us the same contradiction. It, too, relies on massive federal assistance while sending anti-federal government politicians to Washington. Pointing this out doesn’t matter, however. What would matter is if the federal government WASN’T there to bail out Oklahoma and Texas.
Then there’s the issue of global warming. Inhofe is widely known, if not exclusively known, as the major politician who essentially calls the science underlying global warming a “hoax” and a giant conspiracy among leftists plotting the demise of the oil and gas industry. Scientists argue the recent record rainfall was exacerbated by global warming and have predicted such weather events for years.
So let’s see if we can sort through this. Here are three Oklahoma conservative politicians urging their constituents to turn to the federal government for help even as they, in general, bash the federal government and President Barack Obama for that dreaded “overreach.” The constituents may need the assistance at least partially because of global warming, but one of their elected officials has led a tenacious, years-long campaign to refute scientific evidence on the issue.
That’s how the hypocrisy and contradictions roll these days in Oklahoma. It has even become the primary political campaign strategy here.
Ken Burns’ new PBS documentary The Roosevelts, among many things, should remind us just how radical and extremist the Republican Party has become since the turn of the century.
It’s not difficult to imagine how the progressive politics of Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican president from 1901 to 1909, would be greeted today by conservative politicians, who advance the cause of states’ rights and corporate greed over the welfare of their country.
Roosevelt eventually wanted his “Square Deal” for people, arguing, “The effective fight against adequate government control and supervision of individual, and especially of corporate, wealth engaged in interstate business is chiefly done under cover; and especially under cover of an appeal to States' rights . . . “ That’s simply the antithesis of the Republican Party today.
Burns’ documentary is a fascinating study of Theodore, Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt. Republicans must hate it because it exposes the contemporary paltry platform of this country’s right-wing reactionaries, who in their paranoia always see sinister motives in their country’s government. Theodore Roosevelt’s political philosophy was much larger than that.
Oklahoma’s Republicans, who dominate state government right now, are especially anti-federal government as evidenced by Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s legal actions against the Affordable Care Act and any number of recent legislative actions based on supposed intrusion.
The war here on the federal government always has its negative consequences. When the legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin recently scrapped some Common Core standards for schools because of supposed intrusion, for example, the federal government announced the state would lose its “No Child Left Behind Waiver” and may have to reassign some $29 million federal funding.
The most recent mess to come to light because of paranoia over the federal government involves state driver's licenses. In 2007, lawmakers passed a law banning the state from participating in a federal program called the REAL ID Act, which was implemented as an anti-terrorism measure. Now, we’re finding out that Oklahomans starting in 2015 won’t be able to use their state licenses to get through a federal government security checkpoint. Starting in 2016, Oklahomans also won’t be able to board an airplane by showing their state license. Instead, a federally approved document, such as a passport, will have to be used.
Obviously, the paranoia and resulting hassle and contradiction are not limited to Oklahoma. An article this week in The New York Times points out that despite the success of the Affordable Care Act in Kentucky, some residents there—even those who have benefited from so-called Obamacare—are supporting Republican politicians who want to do away with the new health care law.
It’s tempting to file all this anti-federal government sentiment here and elsewhere under “stupidity” or just argue that it’s Republican and corporate manipulation of low-information voters, but Burns' documentary reminds me that something more fundamental has changed among a major segment of the electorate.
More than ever, it seems impossible to me that we can bridge through words or arguments the great partisan divide or educate voters in some meaningful and large-scale sense. Perhaps, only incremental demographical developments—an increase in minority voters, for example, who reject racist politics—will make a difference and advance progressivism in the twenty-first century.
Theodore Roosevelt’s Republican politics at the turn of the twentieth century started this country on an enlightened course and his cousin, Franklin Roosevelt, a Democrat, showed us how government can be a humane force in our lives. They were two significant politicians from the country’s two largest political parties in agreement with the pressing issues of their time. They were united under the philosophical idea of progressivism.
It bears repeating that Oklahomans continue to elect Republican politicians that work against their economic and health care interests.
Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican who is expected to win reelection in a landslide this November, recently signed a bill into law that would ban cities from raising the minimum wage and requiring specific vacation and sick leave time. That, of course, impacts virtually everyone who is paid on a per hour basis in the state because any boost in the minimum wage would have a trickle up effect on paychecks.
Meanwhile, some Republicans here—Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt comes to mind—have pretty much devoted their entire political careers to bashing President Barack Obama over his Affordable Care Act, which is fast becoming one of the great worldwide economic success stories in the last few decades while providing health care to millions of people.
Higher wages and better health care? That’s not what a majority of Oklahoma voters seem to want, the reason for which defies logic. Sure, some low-information voters here are swayed by cultural wedge issues over guns and abortion, and that’s their right, but wouldn’t it be better to fight under the right-wing flag with more money in the wallet and in better health?
Fallin’s decision to sign the new bill into law, which has drawn national criticism, seems to be a direct retaliation against an ongoing initiative petition drive that is trying to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour in Oklahoma City. I’ve written about that here. But, more importantly, it symbolizes the state GOP’s utter disregard for the working poor in a state that has a high number of minimum wage workers.
New York Times columnist Charles Blow calls Fallin’s decision “callous.” He writes:
. . . it should be noted that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “In 2012, Oklahoma’s proportion of hourly paid workers earning at or below the prevailing federal minimum wage ranked third highest among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.”
Meanwhile, Paul Waldman, writing in The Washington Post argues, “She [Fallin] isn’t just saying No to a minimum wage hike. She’s saying No with a sneer — adopting an unusually mean-spirited and overtly ideological stance.” Again, this is a governor that is expected to easily win reelection.
According to Waldman, polls are now showing 65 to 75 percent support for raising the minimum wage across the country. But here in Oklahoma, we elect politicians like Fallin that actually “sneer” at the working poor and other low-income workers.
Meanwhile, virtually every Republican candidate for office in this state is running on an anti-Obama platform, using the supposed failure of the ACA as the number one reason for their sanctimonious discontent.
Yet despite the problems with ACA rollout, the numbers are beginning to show its success. According to an article in the New Republic, “Eight million people have signed up for private insurance plans through the new federal and state marketplaces. And within the federal marketplaces, 28 percent of enrollees are ages 18 to 34. This is good news—very, very good news.”
So as the good news about Obamacare pours in, Oklahomans continue to elect politicians such as Pruitt, who has literally made his entire political career about suing the federal government over the ACA. Pruitt is so popular here he didn’t even draw an opponent in his reelection bid.
Progressives like me have long lamented the growing income inequality between the wealthiest 1 percent or so and everyone else in this country and around the world. Surely there is a breaking point and just as surely the extremely rich and their surrogates will take it to the breaking point. It’s an unfolding drama that might take another generation or two to resolve.
What is clear is that far too many Oklahomans have been tricked into voting against their interests by GOP political rhetoric and the right-wing media here. Decent wages and health care access are pretty basic to living a life with some sense of security and happiness.