December 20, 2014


A Model Senator (Andrew Ferguson, December 29, 2014, Weekly Standard)

Much of Coburn's appeal lies in an apparently bottomless insouciance. (He once mentioned that he was well into college before he even heard of marijuana, which proves that Merle Haggard was right: They really didn't smoke it in Muskogee.) In his most passionate moments he seemed baffled that the workings of politics and government don't operate disinterestedly and out in the open, for all to see, as the Founders intended. He spent a fair amount of time in his farewell speech offering apologies. "To those of you through the years whom I have offended, I truly apologize," he said, though even the sincerest apology couldn't make him cross his view of the Constitution. "I believe the enumerated powers meant something," he went on. "When I have offended, I believe it has been on the basis of my belief in Article I, Section 8." That's the section listing the things Congress is permitted by the Constitution to do. Senators might want to get staff to look it up. 

A pest and a gentleman and a man of firm principle--but not an ideologue, the off-the-shelf epithet tossed at him by a ditzy press and exasperated colleagues. His pragmatism is another reason he was always worth paying attention to. The lack of ideological rigidity most often served to expose the rigidity of others. When he sponsored a bill to cut agriculture subsidies to people who make more than $1 million a year, he was blocked by the same Democrats who complain that millionaires are undertaxed. When he grudgingly supported the timid tax increases in the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction proposal, he was disparaged by Republicans who say our debt is a form of national suicide--but nothing to raise taxes over. Most of the time he was asking his colleagues to put their money where their mouths were. And no one ever caught him in double-dealing or hypocrisy. That cut in agriculture subsidies, for example: It applied to millionaires in Oklahoma too. They voted for him anyway.

After his farewell speech, his fellow senators gave Coburn a standing ovation. We join his countless admirers in the general applause, but we can't help but wonder: Were the senators cheering his speech or his decision to retire and--finally--leave them alone?

Posted by at December 20, 2014 9:31 AM

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