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No Way to Treat a Senator

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Posted on Apr 13, 2010

By Ruth Marcus

There is something weird going on in the Republican Party when Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn is the voice of reason.

There is something dangerous going on in the Republican Party when he is vilified for it.

Coburn has said he favors the death penalty for “abortionists.” He opposes “any and all efforts to mandate gun control on law-abiding citizens.” During the debate over health care reform, Coburn said that “what the American people ought to pray is that somebody can’t make the vote tonight.” He is the Senate’s “Dr. No,” leading the charge this week against extending unemployment benefits.

I could go on—but Coburn doesn’t need me to vouch for his conservative bona fides.

Except for these alleged transgressions: At a recent town hall meeting, Coburn called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “a nice lady”—in the course of criticizing the speaker for telling him she did not want to set a “precedent” by paying for the extension of unemployment benefits.

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In my world, “nice lady” borders on dismissive with a slight, if unintended, tinge of sexism. In Conservative World, that description of Pelosi apparently is heretical. Coburn’s comment was greeted with jeers and hisses, but he stuck to his, well, guns.

“Come on now. She is a nice—how many of you all have met her? She’s a nice person,” Coburn said. “Let me give you a little lesson here. I hope you will listen to me. Just because somebody disagrees with you doesn’t mean they’re not a good person.” 

When a woman said she worried about the health reform law because the Internal Revenue Service would be empowered to put people in jail, Coburn politely—and accurately—disagreed. “The intention is not to put anybody in jail,” he said. “That makes for good TV news on Fox, but that isn’t the intention.”

Coburn went on: “What we have to have is make sure we have a debate in this country so that you can see what’s going on and make a determination yourself. So don’t catch yourself being biased by Fox News that somebody is no good. The people in Washington are good. They just don’t know what they don’t know.”

The howling was swift.

Rush Limbaugh: “Well, who cares if she’s nice? ... Al Capone was a nice guy. Hitler had friends, for crying out loud. ... So Coburn says, ‘There’s no intention of putting anybody in jail.’ No, no, no. ... Somebody tell Tom Coburn she was specifically asked about possible jail time, and she said ‘the legislation is very fair in this respect.’ ”

Glenn Beck: “The Republican that I’m supposed to defend because he’s so unlike Nancy Pelosi was defending Nancy Pelosi.”

Mark Levin, who manages to make Limbaugh and Beck sound like calm voices of reason: “We don’t need you hack, detestable politicians telling us a damn thing. Most of you are a bunch of pathetic unethical morons. And so, no, Mr. Coburn, we won’t be told to sit down and be quiet. We won’t be told by you to watch CNN to balance off Fox. You got that, pal? Who the hell do you think you are? You sound like a jerk to be perfectly honest about it. You, the jerk, who backed John McCain.” 

No surprise that Coburn’s Oklahoma twin, James Inhofe, was distancing himself from the remarks. “There’s nothing nice about Nancy,” Inhofe told a local radio show. “She disagrees with everything we believe.”

Impressively, Coburn managed, the same week, to be Keith Olbermann’s “Worst Person in the World” for blocking unemployment benefits.

The late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan liked to say that everyone is entitled to his own opinions but not his own facts. In the modern update, no one would be entitled to either: Dissenting opinions are not tolerated. Facts that clash with preconceived ideas must be ignored, if not outright denied.

Certainly, Republicans hold no monopoly on inflammatory rhetoric or self-defeating demands for ideological purity. Remember when Howard Dean and company declared the Senate health care bill not worth passing?

In the angry age of the tea party, however, Republicans appear particularly inclined in this direction. It’s up to Republicans whether they want to be a big tent or a pup tent. The latter does not strike me as a particularly smart political strategy. More worrisome, it augurs a continued politics of vilification and polarization that is as unhealthy for the country as it is unpleasant to participate in.

Ruth Marcus’ e-mail address is marcusr(at symbol)washpost.com.

© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group


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By gem_in_orange, April 14, 2010 at 3:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

ocjim, April 14 at 2:57 pm :  “What will finally stop this irresponsible and violence-inducing rhetoric? Another Oklahoma City bombing? “

I’m actually thinking another Dallas.  And even then Rush and Glen will say they had nothing whatsoever to do with it—as will Michelle Bachman, Imhofe, and the rest.

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By darkhaha, April 14, 2010 at 3:43 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

By BeanerECMO, April 14 at 9:03 am #

“When questioned about the statement and validity of it, “The intention is not to put anybody in jail,” he said. “That makes for good TV news on Fox, but that isn’t the intention.”, Coburn could not cite anyone on Fox saying that…”

Just because Coburn couldn’t cite an example doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Perhaps you should look at the following link, in which Glenn Beck specifically talks about jail time for not buying health insurance…
http://www.mediaite.com/online/bill-oreilly-chides-sen-coburn-for-making-fox-news-his-whipping-boy/

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By firefly, April 14, 2010 at 3:27 pm Link to this comment

The only reason that Fox news exists is to make money, and there are enough moronic Republicans who pay anything to watch utter garbage and to be indoctinated by total and dangerous nonsense.

Unbelievable.

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By Serginho, April 14, 2010 at 1:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

You know Coburn’s in trouble when party boss HeadRush
Limpballs calls him out.

The abject, groveling act of contrition from Coburn to
HRL is no doubt being drafted being drafted as I type
this, to be delivered as soon as the senator gives
approval to the final draft and gets himself a pair of
kneepads.

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By OldManCA, April 14, 2010 at 12:57 pm Link to this comment

The people of India, China, Russia, and the rest of the developing world must
be laughing there arses off at the Americans. We are far more interested in
vilifying the other side than we are in solving the problems we confront. 

I’ve never been a big fan of TV news from any side. Has been too simplistic and
sensationalistic for me since I entered my mid 20s.

But on those occasions when I have watched ABC, NBC, or CBS, and an
occasional clip from FoxNews, I have found the FoxNews talking heads, even
the ones that are identified as “News” people, to be snarky, and contemptuous
of all things that don’t serve the needs of big corporations.

The media exists to sell advertising. Advertisers want an audience. An audience
quickly forms when there is conflict. Much harder to get an audience for a
thoughtful examination of a problem and proposed solutions.  Easy to get
people riled up about fictitious “Death Panels;” hard to get anyone to notice a
provision that would require insurance to pay for an office visit if you want to
discuss your “living will” with your doctor.

The level of thought in this country, as opposed to uninformed knee-jerk
reaction, is dropping each week. I wish I knew why. I wish there was a way to
reverse it. But that would require effort, thought, analysis, reasoning; and as
the quitter from Alaska would say: “How’s that there thinking thing workin’ out
fer ya?” wink, wink.

Sad.

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By ocjim, April 14, 2010 at 10:57 am Link to this comment

What will finally stop this irresponsible and violence-inducing rhetoric? Another Oklahoma City bombing?

Report this

By gerard, April 14, 2010 at 10:45 am Link to this comment

“More worrisome, it (inflammatory rhetoric) augurs a continued politics of vilification and polarization that is as unhealthy for the country as it is unpleasant to participate in.”
  That’s Marcus’ point.  It’s important and I applaud her bringing the matter up.  However:
  Most of the article reads more like a gossip column than a commentary of political significance.
This country needs to learn more about where such rhetoric comes from and why:  What is its psychological signifance as well as why it is politically destructive? What pain and ignorance is behind the threats and invective? What do deprivation and feelings of inferiority have to do with it?  What can be done to prevent its growth?
Whay is it traditionally a large part of American “culture”? And more.
  Until we understand it we won’t know how to react to it, and that makes it dangerous—the reactions.
Right now, more clarity is vitally important. It’s already in the wind, and reactions need to come out of a broad, general understanding.  We’re not going to get that from Fox, you know.

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By jackwbarnes1, April 14, 2010 at 10:44 am Link to this comment

COBURN JUST HAD A TOUCH OF FOOT IN MOUTH DISEASE. HE DID A
GOOD JOB OF SPINNING WHEN CONFRONTED BY OREILY ON FOX NEWS.
PLEASE REMEMBER HE IS A MD AND NOT A GOD.

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, April 14, 2010 at 8:51 am Link to this comment

P.T.—Liberals have to show that they’re even-handed.  I saw another article recently equating Move On with the Tea Parties.

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Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, April 14, 2010 at 7:31 am Link to this comment

Am I seeing yet another article promoting partisan politicking as usual? We must maintain the great divide!

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BeanerECMO's avatar

By BeanerECMO, April 14, 2010 at 5:03 am Link to this comment

When questioned about the statement and validity of it, “The intention is not to put anybody in jail,” he said. “That makes for good TV news on Fox, but that isn’t the intention.”, Coburn could not cite anyone on Fox saying that. Further, when questioned about villifying of Pelosi on Fox, he stated that some commentators have done so. That’s what commentators do is villify their particular villain; whether it’s Olberman, Chris, Maddow, Beck et al. It’s commentators, not the news anchors saying it. But, I agree with villifying Nancy because I believe she doesn’t give a wit about the people of the US; she just wants the government to control their lives - not hers; theirs.

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thebeerdoctor's avatar

By thebeerdoctor, April 14, 2010 at 3:50 am Link to this comment

My god, yet another phone-it-in fluff piece about the Republicans.

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By Inherit The Wind, April 14, 2010 at 3:47 am Link to this comment

I can’t WAIT for GRYM to tell us both Ruth Marcus and Nancy Pelosi are bigots and the rest of us are “dishonorable” for being disgusted and repulsed by Limbaugh and Beck and Levin, who are CLEARLY try to stir up trouble—not dissent, that’s a right—but trouble.

The idea that Coburn is a voice of reason tells me one thing and that’s a frightening thing:
Tom Coburn is scared, scared by what he and his fellow Republicans have unleashed on the far, far Right.  I credit Coburn with being smart enough and having at least enough morality to realize that what is happening with the tea-baggers and Palinites is a very BAD THING.  But he is as much to blame as anyone.

Imhofe is part of that very scary Right.  When he says “There’s nothing nice about Nancy. She disagrees with everything we believe.”  It means he didn’t hear what Coburn said. 

Again, I can’t wait for GRYM to tell us once again “Who you gonna believe? Me or your own eyes?”

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By P. T., April 14, 2010 at 12:32 am Link to this comment

“Certainly, Republicans hold no monopoly on inflammatory rhetoric or self-defeating demands for ideological purity.  Remember when Howard Dean and company declared the Senate health care bill not worth passing?”


That is a non sequitur.  There is nothing wrong with pointing out that a sham is a sham.

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