Dec 29, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 16 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
"In any election,” Tom Coburn often says, “you should vote for the candidate who will give up the most if they win.” All things being equal, we should prefer politicians who have accomplished something in their lives beyond government work—and who are willing to sacrifice it, at least temporarily, to serve the country at a cost to their convenience and comfort. During his 6 years in the House of Representatives and 10 more in the Senate, Coburn has embodied his own principle. He went to medical school after a successful career in business and became an obstetrician when he was 35. He built a lucrative practice in his hometown of Muskogee, Oklahoma. He waited until he was 46 to seek public office, after he’d delivered 4,000 babies. First things first.
Coburn retires from the Senate at the end of this Congress, and we’ll miss him. His résumé makes him an increasingly rare bird in the Washington aviary. Among “antigovernment” Republicans no less than Leviathan-loving liberals, our political ranks brim over with men and women whose careers began in second grade with their first campaign for hall monitor and went on from there, with perhaps a brief detour to law school offering them their closest view of the push and pull of normal commercial life. Coburn calls himself a “citizen legislator,” and the archaic title fits. Single-handed, he restored the phrase “public service” to good repute in Washington, at least for his admirers.
He’s done so by being a pest. This is the kindest word we can come up with, though enemies both in and of out of his party prefer surlier tags like crank and headcase. Coburn commandeered every parliamentary maneuver available to a lone senator and used his mastery to slow the Senate down and draw attention to the untoward details of business-as-usual: absurd expenditures, cheap favors for the well-to-do, presidential appointments for dolts and clowns, and every imaginable accounting trick in service of parochial rather than national interests, all of it undertaken on borrowed money. His endless amendments and points of order became a kind of shaming, directed at people who long ago abandoned shame. Coburn trained an outsider’s eye on the work of insiders and delivered the news, usually bad. “If we applied the same standards to Congress that we apply to Enron,” he once said of congressional book-juggling, “everybody here would go to jail.”
But he’s also a gentleman. 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?
1:35 PM, Dec 17, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Republican senator Marco Rubio said a top State Department official was "dishonest" about the Obama administration's plans to change its policy on Cuba. Tony Blinken, the newly confirmed deputy secretary of State, told the Florida senator at his confirmation hearing in November that the administration would not unilaterally change its Cuba policy without "full consultation" with Congress. That consultation, Rubio says, never happened to his knowledge.
"He was dishonest," Rubio told THE WEEKLY STANDARD Wednesday. "He was clearly evasive."
11:29 AM, Dec 17, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
The Obama administration is embarking on a “policy shift” to normalize diplomatic and economic relations between the United States and Cuba, according to senior administration officials who spoke with reporters on background Wednesday morning. One official described the current Cuban policy as “past its expiration date.”
5:28 PM, Dec 15, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
In one final ignominious act of parliamentary genius, outgoing Senate majority leader Harry Reid rolled Republican troublemaker Ted Cruz of Texas over the weekend, robbing the GOP of a chance to stop Democrats in the lame-duck session.
11:50 AM, Dec 12, 2014 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
The new dawn didn’t. There was to be no more sturm und drang, no more brinkmanship, no more government shutdowns, no more threats of default on America’s debt. Just routine passage of a $1,100,000,000,000 spending bill to keep the government running until next September when the current fiscal year ends. In the event, it was only hours before midnight on Thursday, when funding of most government activities was scheduled to end, that the House of Representatives, by a vote of 219-to-206 passed the so-called continuing resolution that will keep all of the functions of government, both the necessary and the wasteful, in operation. No, it was not a split in the Republican party that brought us once again to the brink of shutdown, although some Republicans, eager to show their distaste for the president’s unilateral action in freeing millions of illegal immigrants from the threat of deportation did cause, did defect. It was the Democrats who almost succeeded in shutting down the government and President Obama, not House speaker John Boehner, who had to struggle to get this resolution passed. The battle will have important consequences for the shape of American political life during the two years remaining of his term, and perhaps far into the future. Here’s why.
9:42 PM, Dec 11, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
The House of Representatives passed a long-term spending bill Thursday night, just hours before the current continuing budget resolution is set to run out. The vote of 219 to 206, including nearly 60 Democrats, took longer than the alotted 15 minutes as House members from both parties witheld their votes for several minutes.
1:43 PM, Dec 11, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Republican senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma delivered his farewell address to the U.S. Senate Thursday. An emotional Coburn thanked the staff of the Senate and the U.S. Capitol before delivering an assessment of the state of the Congress and of the country. Watch the video below:
7:01 AM, Dec 10, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
There's more Obamacare bashing from the political left today. This time it's from outgoing Senate majority leader Harry Reid.
As he tells a New York Times reporter:
Hosted by Michael Graham.1:15 PM, Dec 9, 2014 • By TWS PODCAST
THE WEEKLY STANDARD podcast with senior writer Stephen F. Hayes on the CIA interrogation report, and how it fails to report the facts.
8:01 AM, Dec 9, 2014 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
What follows is the document written by Jason Beale -- a pseudonym for a longtime U.S. military and intelligence interrogator with extensive knowledge of the enhanced interrogation techniques used by the CIA on some high-value detainees. Those techniques are scrutinized a forthcoming report, scheduled to be released today, prepared by the Democratic staff of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
From the Nov. 24, 2014, issue: The enhanced techniques work.
6:05 AM, Dec 9, 2014 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
The Central Intelligence Agency repeatedly tortured suspected terrorists, regularly lied about it to Congress and the White House, and, for all the pain and trouble this caused the agency and the United States, didn’t end up extracting a single piece of valuable information not readily available by other means.
9:28 PM, Dec 6, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
The Associated Press has called the Louisiana Senate race for Republican Bill Cassidy. "BREAKING: Cassidy defeats Landrieu in Louisiana Senate race, bolstering GOP majority in new Senate," the AP tweets.
Suddenly, things look up for the GOP.Dec 15, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 14 • By FRED BARNES
Republicans have lost the last two presidential elections, but not much else over the past six years. They’ve captured the House and Senate. They now hold 31 governorships and 69 of the 99 state legislative chambers. What this means is pretty simple: There’s an emerging Republican majority.