BY EDWIN E. VINEYARD
A few doctors give the impression that they think they are gods. Nearly everyone has known one or two. It appears that Oklahomans may have one of those as U. S. Senator.
Doctors are usually very bright people. They have to be bright to pass the difficult regimen of medical college and to master the essentials of their profession. The problem comes when they go outside their sphere of knowledge and assume the same confidence of opinion in areas of less knowledge or expertise.
Of late, Dr. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma’s junior United States senator, has taken up the practice of substituting his own judgment, or conscience as he puts it, for the wisdom of the entire Senate body. Several times he has blocked Senate consideration, and probable vote of approval, for legislation significant to people. A while back he did that on an issue of medical benefits for veterans. He did that on a humanitarian bill, bringing protests outside his Oklahoma offices by young people.
Now, “Senator No” is blocking extension of unemployment benefits for some 240,000 recipients, labeling it as an insignificant matter not worth its costs. Under the stupid Senate rule allowing him to do this, he keeps the other 99 senators from being able to vote up or down on the measure.
Singlehandedly and arrogantly, Dr. Coburn is assuming an omniscience he thinks the entire Senate does not possess, therefore should never get to vote on something he doesn’t like.
Dr. Coburn says that he wants to block anything that is “not paid for,” meaning accompanied by a tax or by a cut in some other expenditure. Noble as that sounds, that is not the history of the senator’s votes. During the past administration he repeatedly voted for legislation, such as Iraq War costs and deficit budgets.
Dr. Coburn has repeatedly voted for tax cuts for the wealthy, although each one of those votes added greatly to the nation’s financial deficit.
But blocking a Senate vote on a measure is not the same as voting against the same bill working its way through. Blocking democratic consideration is assuming an arrogant, one-person, autocratic ruling posture. Dr. Coburn says, “My conscience will not permit me to vote for [the measure] because it will add to the deficit burden of our children.” This seems somewhat hypocritical in view of past votes, but again, he can salve his conscience by voting against the measure – not by blocking other senators from having a vote one way or the other.
We suspect that Dr. Coburn’s real problem with this particular issue is that he does not really believe in extending unemployment benefits at all. Many Republicans oppose that ideologically, and they are quite open in stating, “It is time for these people to get a job.” Never mind that jobs are short, and unemployment high, and that we are trying to keep consumer spending up to work out of the recession.
If this is what he thinks, then he should be honest and say that. But he should stop blocking a democratic vote on the issue.
Dr. Coburn has some ethics issues which he needs to be forthcoming about. He has told two stories about his role as a go-between in negotiating a financial settlement for his friend, Nevada Sen. John Ensign, with the husband of his paramour demanding money. It would be good to have the truth about that ethics issue.
Further, Dr. Coburn has been associated with a group of fundamentalists, masquerading officially as a “church,” but offering deluxe, low-cost room and board arrangements for congressmen on “C” Street near the Capitol. From the facts emerging, this “church” tax exemption is questioned, and below the market room rates offered to congressmen may constitute unethical, as well as unreported taxable “gifts.” Dr. Coburn and a dozen other congressmen face potential ethics and legal issues resulting from this long term arrangement.
Those who are involved in this cozy arrangement have some explaining to do, Dr. Coburn included. Other than to attack the journalists doing the investigating and reporting, there has been little response so far. The possibility exists that Dr. Coburn’s conduct has not been as pure as the driven snow. The public has a right to know.
It appears that Oklahoma will be stuck with Dr. Coburn for another six years by default. Thus far he has no opponent in either party. Too bad; he can’t really be that popular. But Coburn basks in the pledges of millions in support from the right-wing political group called Club for Growth, a tool of rightist billionaires, which also finances the Tea Party express bus and other operations of the fringe. They love Coburn’s irresponsible negative stance. Apparently all this scares strong opposition away.
In spite of all the above, we will credit Dr. Coburn for showing some awareness of the need to tone down the rhetoric and emotionalism of the present hostile political divide in the nation. He is being attacked in his own party for saying this, and also saying that he thinks Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a “nice lady,” undeserving of the vicious attacks and threats made against her.
We suspect also that there may be a personal connection between the senator and President Obama. From certain subtle cues, there seems to be a genuine bond of some sort between them. If so, we think that the senator could do the nation a great deal of good if he would focus his efforts on expanding that kind of bi-partisanship and reducing the rancor that dominates politics today.
That would seem to be the Christian, biblical “peace-maker” thing to do.
– Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard, AKA The Militant Moderate, lives in Enid, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer