The ‘Real’ Oklahoma Spirit

Image of Mary Fallin

On Tuesday night at the Republican National Convention, Gov. Mary Fallin will speak about the “spirit of Oklahoma” and how it apparently manifests itself in energy executive Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources, according to a media report.

But defining the “spirit” of anything or anyone is always problematic, and Hamm is an obvious if not crass political choice since he serves as an energy advisor to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The Oklahoma spirit, if such a thing exists, is much deeper and varied than a wealthy oilman producing the fossil fuels that create the carbon emissions that are slowly but steadily destroying the planet through global warming.

Surely, Fallin will talk about other examples of the so-called Oklahoma spirit, including the state’s American Indian tribes and Will Rogers, but there’s one thing she’s not going to mention, and that’s the state’s long-term and current reliance on the federal government for its basic sustenance and viability. That would be considered blasphemy at the RNC, but then the truth is often perceived as blasphemy.

Let’s be clear: The federal government is not the problem for Oklahoma; it’s the reason for Oklahoma. That line won’t get any applause at a Republican gathering.

As I’ve outlined in some recent posts and as a recent Washington Post article clearly suggests, the state continues to feast at the federal trough even as it produces citizens expressing the Oklahoma spirit of biting the hand that feeds them or, in other words, posturing as terribly aggrieved small-government patriots.

It’s all the federal government’s fault when, in fact, the government supplies, according to the most recent figures, $1.30 for every dollar the state pays in federal taxes. This is the state’s old story of post-World War II ingratitude, as much part of the Oklahoma spirit as anything else.

But don’t worry. A recent editorial in The Oklahoman, the state’s largest newspaper, tells us that “Oklahomans aren’t any more or less ‘hypocritical’ than other folks.” That’s good to know, I guess, but where exactly in Oklahoma are those hypocritical limousine liberals to which the editorial refers. I don’t believe Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips rides around town in a limousine. Is it Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder? Is he even liberal?

Or is the editorial’s overall point that Oklahomans are just as hypocritical as folks in other red states such as Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, which also receive much more in federal dollars than they pay into the system? All those states will start to feel the brunt of Hurricane Isaac, fueled by the residual effect of global warming, right around the time Fallin extols the virtues of a wealthy oilman, and so we come full circle.

This is certain: Those states hit hardest by Isaac will not only expect but demand the federal government help them out after the storm hits, and, by logical extension, therefore demand Massachusetts and New York citizens pay for their obliviousness. So goes the spirit in red-state America these days. Rich oilmen become demigods as the federal government continues to coddle its petulant children.

The Biggest Contradiction?

Image of Thomas Hart Benton painting

An interactive map and a recent in-depth New York Times article raise the question progressives here have grappled with for a long time: Why do red-state Oklahomans increasingly vote against their own financial interests by electing conservatives?

I’ve been asking that question here on Okie Funk since at least 2006 following the publication of Thomas Franks’ book What’s The Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. In the book, Franks argues that conservative politicians use cultural wedge issues, such as abortion, to win votes while promoting an ideology that is financially detrimental to most people’s lives in places like Kansas and Oklahoma.

While Oklahomans, for example, elect politicians who profess to be small-government advocates and want cuts in entitlement programs, they also take advantage of government financial assistance in increasing numbers. It’s a striking contradiction.

An interactive map recently published in The Times shows that in some Oklahoma counties, the percentage of government money used as income is more than 35 percent, far above the national average of 17.6 percent. In Pushmataha County in southeastern Oklahoma, for example, 38.95 percent of all income is derived from government benefits programs, such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and unemployment insurance. In Tillman County in southwestern Oklahoma, the rate is 35.11 percent. Oklahomans rely on the government for assistance in huge numbers, and that’s nothing new.

As columnist Paul Krugman recently pointed out, “there’s no mystery about red-state reliance on government programs.”

Yet Oklahomans continue to elect politicians such as U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican, who would cut government programs and essentially reduce their income and potential income.

So it’s an old issue, but it deserves to be revisited periodically. The Tea Party rhetoric of limited government and self-reliance doesn’t match the reality in Oklahoma. It’s the largest political contradiction of our era, and there doesn’t seem to be any resolution in the foreseeable future.


Image of Sally KernImage of Mike Reynolds

State Rep. Mike Reynolds’ legislative proposal that could prevent gay people from serving in the Oklahoma National Guard and state Rep. Sally Kern’s obsession with supposedly protecting Oklahomans from Sharia Law when they go to court are really just bigoted, freaky sideshows to the main GOP play this year: Cutting taxes for rich people and cutting state government.

Progressives, of course, should always raise their voices against intolerance and hate, but both Reynolds’ and Kern’s legislative proposals are unlikely to get much traction this year and would obviously face court battles if passed. The two Republican Oklahoma City legislators might want to motivate the GOP base by assuring it discrimination against gay people and Muslims still remains a priority for the party this election year, but, at this juncture, it seems the general, faux anti-Obama hysteria—some of which is also based on bigotry—will be more than enough to assure a large voter turnout.

Media reports this week outlined Reynolds’ proposal to bring back the now repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) military policy to the Oklahoma National Guard. Under the bill, according to human rights organizations, officials could actually ask military members about their sexual orientation, which, in effect, would mean the gay community would be barred from serving.

The federal government, of course, has repealed DADT and gay people can now serve openly in the military, but some national GOP politicians have vowed to reinstate the archaic policy just after what they foresee as a pending GOP sweep in the 2012 elections. Even if the Republicans do win the White House, it still would remain uncertain whether they would risk alienating the growing number of voters who now favor gay rights. Younger voters, in particular, are more tolerant.

Reynolds was quoted as saying some Oklahoma National Guard members had asked for a reprise of DADT, a claim not backed up by specific numbers or clear, convincing evidence. That some Oklahoma National Guard members are opposed to gay rights is probably a given, but that doesn’t mean there’s a groundswell of support for Reynolds’ bill, which is simply political code.

Bashing gay people is a tradition among GOP Oklahoma politicians from Reynolds to Kern to U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, but it hasn’t stopped a growing acceptance of gay rights and new government policies forbidding discrimination. Oklahoma City, for example, just passed a new rule that prevents the city from discriminating against its employees because of sexual orientation.

Meanwhile, when a federal court recently ruled that an unnecessary Oklahoma constitutional amendment stopping judges from using Sharia Law, based on Islam, from deciding cases could be ruled unconstitutional in the future, Kern suggested a way to sidestep the ruling. The Oklahoma City legislator said the legislature should pass a bill she proposed last year that would prohibit courts from using any type of foreign laws to decide court cases. This way, so goes her logic, it doesn’t target just one religion.

Of course, the creation of the proposed amendment and the overwhelming vote in favor of it was a collective exercise in xenophobia, bigotry and religious intolerance, and that’s why the courts have granted injunctions against it. Obviously, there has never been a case in an official Oklahoma court in which a judge announced she/he was not going to rely on the U.S. Constitution to rule on a case but, instead, use Sharia Law. The amendment was designed as a way to simply incite more hatred against Islam.

Kern’s idea to get around the recent ruling is just an example of more hatred and intolerance. Is she really that concerned with this issue? Does she really believe judges are going to start using Sharia Law in Oklahoma courts? Even with a growing economy, the state faces serious problems and issues. How in the world is Sharia Law a pressing political issue in Oklahoma?

As Reynolds and Kern predictably draw attention with their proposals, the GOP leadership, under the ruse of a “task force, is recommending a drop in the top income tax rate from 5.25 to 4.75 percent and a drop in the corporate tax rate from 6 to 5 percent. Many Republicans say they want to eventually eliminate the income tax.

The Oklahoma Policy Institute continues to outline how the cut will primarily benefit the wealthiest Oklahomans and possibly lead to more budget cuts for state agencies.

I imagine a scene in this year’s legislative theater in which the standard 200 to 300 progressive protesters rally at the State Capitol to oppose the latest bizarre GOP legislation de jour while rich Oklahomans and members of the corporate power structure look on, chuckle and even encourage the strife among the rabble. Again, the real GOP play this year is about taxes and the main actors belong to the Oklahoma oligarchy, which continues to manipulate government for its own financial gain at the expense of everyone else.

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