No, I Will Not, No

Image of Tom Coburn

"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.

Oklahoma Sovereignty?

Image of Charles Key

The embarrassing and misguided sovereignty resolution circulating in the legislature has made national news as part of the faux GOP secession movement.

State Rep. Charles Key, pictured right, a Republican from Oklahoma City, appeared recently on the Montel Williams radio show to discuss House Concurrent Resolution 1028, a bill that asks the federal government to not go beyond its constitutional powers and claims state sovereignty. The resolution, if passed, will be sent to President Barack Obama and Congress.

A similar bill was passed earlier by the House and Senate, but then vetoed by Gov. Brad Henry, who worried the bill could result in the loss of federal money for the state. Key then brought the resolution back under a different form of resolution, which doesn’t need the governor’s approval. The Senate is expected to approve the bill.

Key’s interview with Williams shows again how the GOP continues to isolate the state. Williams, for example, tied the bill to recent comments made by Texas Gov. Rick Perry about the possibility of Texas seceding from the nation.

In the interview, Key said the resolution was not necessarily about secession, but he had a difficult time explaining its intention. He couldn’t provide an adequate answer to how the bill, in principle at least, might mean Oklahoma could lose federal dollars if the state declared sovereignty.

Williams, whose program appears on Air America Radio, also pointed out to Key that Oklahoma paid $19 billion in federal taxes last year, but received $28 billion in federal funding. Key didn’t directly address this issue and instead focused his comments on the U.S. Constitution.

The bill and Key’s interview hurt the state’s image on a national level. This is important in terms of economic growth and opportunities. The bill also could result in some backlash, financial or otherwise, from the Democratic-controlled Congress. This is obviously not good for the state.

In the end, the idea of Oklahoma seceding from the union is simply laughable. The state simply couldn’t function on any reasonable level without the financial assistance of the federal government. Secession, if we’re going to have a real discussion about it, would almost certainly lead to military conflict between seceding states and the federal government. It would create massive poverty in Oklahoma and lead to a huge exodus of people from the state.

Oklahoma GOP Schism?

Image of Kandinsky painting

(What's the difference between pro-life and pro-life intimidation? Read DocHoc's commentary this week in the state's finest alternative publication, the Oklahoma Gazette.)

Has the Oklahoma Republican corporate power structure finally hit the breaking point with GOP social conservatives?

It’s difficult not to ask this question in light of its vigilant and correct opposition to a bill that would have criminalized the practice of embryonic stem cell research in Oklahoma. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Mike Reynolds, an Oklahoma City Republican, passed the state House and Senate, but was met with a veto by Gov. Brad Henry. The Senate sustained Henry’s veto, but Republicans may attempt to override the veto again.

Both the Oklahoma City and Tulsa Chambers of Commerce, which primarily take ultra-conservative, pro-big business positions on political issues, urged Henry to veto the bill, arguing it could inhibit the growth of the state’s health care industry, which they say make up 13 percent of the state’s workforce. The Oklahoman editorial page opposed the bill as well.

They also argued the bill would send the wrong message to the nation about the state’s commitment to bioscience research. The mission of this research is often to help sustain and enhance life.

Researchers use a limited number of frozen embryos to seek cures for a number of diseases and medical conditions, including diabetes and Alzheimer’s. These embryos, created for pregnancies, aren’t from abortions and would have been discarded anyway.

The facts didn’t stop the right-wing, social conservatives from making it a “pro-life” issue, however. House Speaker Chris Benge, according to a local news report, said this about Henry’s veto: “Oklahoma is a pro-life state, and its citizens are overwhelmingly opposed to research that would result in the death of an unborn child.”

According to a press release, this is what Reynolds said about the bill after the Senate passed it: “For me personally, the single-most important issue we deal with as legislators is protecting the right to life. The idea that we should condone the harvesting of children for ‘well intentioned’ research runs counter to all morality. Human embryos are human beings and the state cannot condone their destruction for research purposes.” Again, these embryos would have been discarded.

Is all this a significant political schism in the Republican Party here? This isn’t the first time the corporate power structure has been in conflict with the social conservatives in the GOP in recent years. The two took opposite positions on the illegal immigration issue, for example. But this issue has the potential to alienate the two groups even further. This is good for Oklahoma.

It’s difficult for the business community to push for economic growth in Oklahoma without caring about its national image. By speaking up on this issue, they have indicated they will fight backwards and anti-science legislation sponsored by Republicans in the House and Senate. If the corporate power structure wants real change, it will start to target individual legislative elections.

But this will surely embolden the social conservatives who will feel frustrated that the GOP majority is not passing its full agenda. There are conservative Democrats who support this agenda as well. Will the Republicans take more issues to the ballot box like they have with Voter ID?

The other related issue lurking in the background is the 2010 election. If the Republicans are able to win the governor’s seat and retain their majorities in the House and Senate, then more ideological legislation will likely become law and Oklahoma will become even more isolated as a state enslaved to the dead neoconservative movement.

The potential GOP schism here is reflective of the problems faced by Republicans nationally. The party continues to struggle with identity problems. U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter for example, announced recently he plans to change his party affiliation to Democratic from Republican. How much this will affect the Oklahoma political scene remains to be seen, but the GOP will have to move to the center nationally if it wants to win back the presidency and more Congressional seats.

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