"We were cut off from the comprehension of our surroundings; we glided past like phantoms, wondering and secretly appalled, as sane men would be before an enthusiastic outbreak in a madhouse. We could not understand because we were too far and could not remember because we were travelling in the night of first ages, of those ages that are gone, leaving hardly a sign -- and no memories."—from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
U.S. Sens. Tom Coburn's and Jim Inhofe's expected public opposition to Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court and to real healthcare reform reflects the “culture of no” Republicans have adopted in response to President Barack Obama’s presidency and the Democratic Party’s national ascendency.
No, Republicans say, to the first Hispanic nominee to the country’s highest court.
No, Republicans say, to any healthcare reform that doesn’t benefit big insurance companies.
While the culture of no might be an easy political sell for Coburn, pictured right, and Inhofe in ultra-conservative Oklahoma these days, it seems destined to fail on the national level. Coburn and Inhofe obviously reflect the party’s fear of change, and it is likely Republicans have only just begun their time in the political wilderness before they undergo a paradigm change.
Can the controversial quitter Sarah Palin help the Republicans in 2012? It seems unlikely at this point. Consequently, Coburn as “Dr. No” and Inhofe, the global warming contrarian, become stark symbols of a failed ideology and worldview. Outside this region of the country, they are often reviled for what is seen as calculated political obstinacy.
On the state level, the Republicans continue to be defined by state Rep. Sally Kern, whose silly anti-gay and “morality” proclamations make the state a laughingstock across the country. Unfortunately, the religious right in Oklahoma remains a powerful political force, and many elected Democrats attempt to appease this force rather than challenge it.
What this means to Oklahoma is continued isolation from the national political scene and from the cultural framework of a diverse, emerging America in the twenty-first century. This could obviously affect economic development here in larger structural terms. The question becomes this: Will the state corporate power structure—particularly the big media and energy companies—continue to support this isolation?
At least one Oklahoma media outlet, The Journal Record, recognizes the problem of this isolation, at least when it comes to Kern. In a recent editorial, the newspaper argued:
More importantly, we ask Kern to stop providing fodder for late-night talk show hosts, comedians and bloggers to publicly humiliate our state from a national platform. Since Kern first distributed a press release describing the proclamation, our state Legislature has been called “a petri dish for wingnuttery” and worse.
Our Department of Commerce and Tourism and our local chambers of commerce and convention and visitors bureaus struggle daily to attract and retain the nation’s most prestigious employers, to fill convention halls and hotel rooms and to retain our most talented college graduates. They already are competing against 49 other states and it is a much tougher sale when the prospect starts out with a perception of our state as a haven for those who force their personal beliefs on all. The inherent ignorance of such a position not only makes our state undesirable, it makes us, as the talk show hosts have demonstrated, a laughingstock.
Coburn, Inhofe and Kern represent the most extreme right-wing element of the Republican Party, and this makes the state a mausoleum of dead, narrow-minded ideologies. This can’t be good for business or the overall quality of life as some of the state’s brightest residents move to more diverse and tolerant states.
It’s time for far-sighted leadership here in Oklahoma. State leaders need to steer the state away from right-wing extremism. It’s one thing for many of our state’s politicians to hold old-school, pre-Bush, conservative ideas about fiscal and social policies; it’s quite another for them to alienate a majority of Americans with senseless obstructionism, polarizing political statements and religious extremism.