Sunday, November 07, 2004

Know your enemy: your stupid, stupid enemy. Part I: Tom Coburn


As I look for sources of humor and outrage in the next few dark years, I suspect much bloggy goodness will be had from Oklahoma’s new senator, Dr. Tom Coburn, he of the lesbian fetish, sterilizations of under-aged girls, racist ads, belief that black men are genetically inferior, calls for death penalty for abortion doctors, etc. He’s also the guy who complained about all the nudity and bad language in Schindler’s List. These are links to earlier posts which mention him, some of which link to outside articles: link link link link link link.

So when I heard that he’d written a book, I bounded over to my public library and checked it out: Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders into Insiders (2003).

Since I just added the Powell’s link, I should make very clear that I am not recommending that anyone read, much less buy this book. For a start, he doesn’t talk about lesbians in bathrooms or any of that good stuff. Mostly it’s about the budget process.

At the time of the book’s writing, Coburn was out of Congress, having kept his pledge to leave the House after 3 terms. He was a Gingrichite (aka Newtzie), one of the bomb-throwers of the class of 1994. He is inordinately fond of using the word “revolution” for the enterprise that group of ideologues was engaged in, and the book is an attack on R’s for having been too soft and compromising in their pursuit of Newtie’s agenda. Ultimately, he even broke with Gingrich, proving himself more royalist than the king (I was going to write that phrase in the original French, but I believe Ashcroft plans to outlaw any use of French as sedition). He was especially let down when the government shutdown of 1995 was abandoned. The adults in the Republican party came home just as the party was getting good; “Enough is enough,” Bob Dole said.

Coburn wanted the government cut down to size. About the size of a basketball team. He’s one of those for whom every time the federal government spends a dollar, an angel dies. And he believes the reason this doesn’t happen is that we don’t have enough citizen-legislators such as, for example, himself. Instead, Jimmy Stewart goes to Washington and is instantly corrupted, “going native” as he describes it, a phrase more telling than he intends since it derives from white imperialists, smugly confident in their own cultural and moral superiority. Seniority in Congress, i.e., going native, “tends to erode sound judgment and character”. He pathologizes power (and Washington DC), portraying it as either a cancer that consumes morality, or as a drug to which people become addicted. He also likens it, over and over, to the ring in Lord of the Rings. You’d never know that, while he kept his commitment to term-limit himself out of the House, he would soon be running for Senate. And while he did deliver a few babies (he makes a big deal about delivering babies, which he did right through his time in the House; I’m gonna take a wild guess that he’s using it as some sort of metaphor for purity)(he doesn’t mention sterilizing under-age girls and then billing Medicare), he got Bush to appoint him to the AIDS Commission, where he fought against condoms and for abstinence-only sex ed.

While his arguments against pork and fraudulent budgeting practices are legitimate (and obvious), there’s a great gap between the need to eliminate highways-to-nowhere, and dismantling most of the federal government. In fact, the connection between the paucity of uncorrupted congresscritters and his goal of microscopic government is so clear in his own head that he doesn’t bother actually to make the case. His ideal is citizen-legislators whose short exposure to the Ring will allow them to make unpopular decisions, except he won’t acknowledge their unpopularity. Several times he describes these little vignettes in which he explains to old people that they don’t really want Social Security increases at the expense of their grandchildren, and they all go away convinced. Unanimously. And the same when he gave up road funds for his district, and agriculture subsidies. This is a man who still believes, or claims to believe, that the 1994 elections were a mandate to destroy 60 years of social programs, just as Shrub thinks 2004 is a mandate.

Coburn does not play well with others, so I’m not too worried about the damage he might inflict. It’s as likely as not to be inflicted on his own side. And I suspect there’ll be a few filibusters in the future--in 1999 he tried to filibuster in the House, which doesn’t actually have filibusters.

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