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News from the Plains: All this Red can make you Blue

Deconstructing Coburn

by Barry Friedman

(First Appeared in The Tulsa Voice)

Senator Tom Coburn, due to a recurrence of prostate cancer (and other matters, he insists), decided to retire at the end of this congressional session. If you believe reports (and I don’t), Coburn’s move threw the state GOP for a loop.  

But Republicans in Oklahoma are like the Apparatchik in the old Soviet Politburo. They don’t panic. The GOP’s nominee will, in fact, be the senator from Oklahoma, and will be for a long time.

Democrats have as much chance of winning this November as I do of being invited to Representative Sally Kern’s house to watch gay porn and eat Baba Ghanoush.

Still, who’s not running for Coburn’s empty seat is more interesting than who is. The grownup in the GOP delegation, Tom Cole (OK-4), decided against it, saying he was just too happy (and powerful) in the House of Representatives. Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who, apparently, is too busy filing frivolous, expensive, and un-winnable lawsuits on behalf of Oklahoma, also said no.

Most surprising of all, First District Congressman Jim Bridenstine decided to sit this one out. Methinks he missed a golden opportunity, as this race will most surely, if inexplicably, be a referendum on President Obama, and nobody brings the berserk quite like the congressman, as shown when Bridenstine—a veteran, a patriot, a man of no doubt unsullied integrity who loves and honors America—joined in the frivolity when a supporter talked of hanging the country’s commander in chief.  

“You know, you look so sweet,” he said “… and everybody knows the lawlessness of this president.”
Ah, what a mensch!

We continue.

Which leaves 5th District Congressman James Lankford and Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representative T.W. Shannon. Lankford announced first and almost immediately took heat from those in his party who think he’s not conservative enough. This came about because, in 2013, he decided to be a responsible representative/human being and voted to raise the debt ceiling so the government could pay the bills it had already incurred. Oh, for the days when loving fetuses and ALEC but hating science and ACA was all you needed to make it in the Republican Party.  (The congressman did vote against raising the ceiling last week, though, so he’s clearly hoping they’ll let him back on the crazy train.)

Speaker of the Oklahoma House, T.W. Shannon—who promised, if elected, to go to Washington to say No a lot—announced about ten days later. It was the speaker, you may remember, who once made the claim: “I don’t believe providing health insurance is a proper or efficient function of government,” which might be of mild interest to the nation’s 40.3-million seniors and 22-million veterans who rely on such programs.

For Democrats, the difference between Langford and Shannon is the difference between hemlock and arsenic. In Oklahoma, the GOP is two shades of red—scarlet and blood—and style points, as mildly interesting as they are, don’t matter when both candidates are against same-sex marriage, Planned Parenthood, and the EPA and in favor of tax cuts, the XL Pipeline, and the NRA.

As for Senator Coburn, before we start carving his visage into the side of Robbers Roost Peak, let’s remember he wasn’t exactly Henry Clay during his time in Washington. Hell, he wasn’t even Henry Bellmon. Like John McCain, he gets great press for being above the fray, a non-partisan, country-first, straight shooter—and, like John McCain, it’s a maddening, inaccurate characterization.

For instance, much has been made of Coburn’s friendship with the president. But he’s friend to Obama in much the same way Iago was to Othello:

I hate the Moor
I know not if't be true;
But I, for mere suspicion in that kind,
Will do as if for surety. (Othello, 1.3.12)

To wit, it was Senator Coburn who called for Obama’s impeachment, even though he couldn’t tell you what the president did wrong.

“I think those are serious things, but we're in serious times. And I don't have the legal background to know if that rises to 'high crimes and misdemeanors,' but I think you're getting perilously close," Coburn said at a town hall in his home state last August.
Not that the senator doesn’t still love the guy, it’s just that his buddy can be so black sometimes.
“His intent isn’t to destroy. It’s to create dependency because it worked so well for him. I don’t say that critically. As an African American male, coming through the progress of everything he experienced, he got tremendous benefit through a lot of these programs … So it’s very important not to get mad at the man. And I understand, his philosophy—there’s nothing wrong with his philosophy other than it’s goofy and wrong [laughter]—but that doesn’t make him a bad person.”
Look at that section again. It’s condescending, borderline racist, and factually insupportable. What programs, exactly, have been of such tremendous benefit to African Americans, generally, and to the president, specifically—and, the implication is, to the exclusion of everyone else (read: whites)?

And this is his fking friend!

It was Coburn who asked the government to find offsets before helping the people of Moore—his constituents—after May’s killer tornadoes, including the need to build storm shelters for them.

"If you're living in that area of Moore in Oklahoma, the likelihood of being hit by another tornado is about zero in terms of odds,” Coburn said during an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
From John Irving’s The World According to Garp: “We'll take the house. Honey, the chances of another plane hitting this house are astronomical. It's been pre-disastered. We're going to be safe here."

I digress.

And it was Coburn, an OB/GYN, who looked at the Constitution of the United States and said it could use a fresh perspective.

“I used to have a great fear of constitutional conventions,” Coburn said, according to Tulsa World. “I have a great fear now of not having one.”
Yeah, because there’s nothing scary about taking a document written by Gouverneur Morris, Edmund Randolph, and James Madison and allowing the likes of Representative Markwayne Mullin, who’s not entirely certain how many branches of government there are, to take a red pencil to it.

These are the shoes Shannon or Lankford will promise to fill.

I think we should all have a drink now and split a Percocet.

One more thing: whoever loses shouldn’t toss out his yard signs and bumper stickers. Senator Inhofe, who recently went under the knife for a quadruple bypass, will likely win re-election in November, two weeks before turning 80.

The GOP crazy train will be coming ‘round the mountain again… this time with Bridenstine aboard—and who-knows-how-many from that town-hall meeting, lining the route, waving to welcome it.

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