Dreaded ‘I’ surfaces again in political rhetoric



Has the world gone mad?

The question came to mind upon reading that one of the more staid — and conservative — Republicans, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, deliverer of 4,000 babies, decrier of waste and joiner of multiple bipartisan gangs, had said at a town-hall meeting that his friend, President Obama, was “perilously close” to impeachment.

Town halls have turned into cauldrons of activism almost guaranteed to drive a member of Congress crazy. Happy people don’t spend their summer evenings in drab rooms under fluorescent lights with sketchy air conditioning. The people who come don’t want to be calmed. They want to be heard, no matter how wrong they might be. You correct them at your peril.

When I caught up by telephone with Coburn, he was the judicious, calm, non-lectern-pounding member I know. In his first post-brouhaha interview, he recalled what happened in Muskogee, his fifth town hall of the day on Aug. 21, when an answer he gave to a question about impeachment at the end of the day, one of many over an hour-plus session, got overblown. He didn’t say Obama should be impeached, as have some attention-hungry House members, but was explaining how such an event could come about.

“I didn’t express myself very well,” he said, “Yes, I’m unhappy with a lot of what they’re doing expanding executive power, but I also explained that I don’t know what constitutes high crimes and misdemeanors.”

He answered, he said, “not very appropriately.”

So a constituent made him do it. Senators, as a rule, even ones like Coburn not running for reelection, aren’t in the business of offending voters. Restraint is one more casualty of the rhetoric in Washington, which has raised the level of what people back home expect to hear from their representatives. If you don’t want to defund the healthcare law (Coburn doesn’t, because it won’t work) you aren’t a true conservative such as Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Second-termers are suspect for having gone Washington. You have to prove yourself constantly.

While Coburn uttered the “I” word, he also called out another of his friends, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who has written a letter calling for defunding Obamacare that he wants Coburn to sign, a demand that Coburn called “ridiculous” at the same town hall (and he shares a house with this particular friend on Capitol Hill). He also said that the move by conservatives to shut down the government was “childish” and that Republicans shouldn’t blame everything they don’t like about government on Obama.

“There were uncontrolled bureaucracies under Bush, too,” he said.

Coburn tried to keep the conversation on his subjects: a smaller, less wasteful government run by non-lifetime representatives. He has never voted for a continuing resolution to keep automatically funding government, because he sees it as a dereliction of duty not to know what you are budgeting for.

No one has introduced more amendments to stop waste than he has, he tells the hall. He’s always hard on the Pentagon, which he calls the “Department of Everything,” with $68 billion over 10 years going to indispensable programs such as beef jerky development and a mobile application to let you know when it’s time for a coffee break. He points out that sequestration was not the best way to cut spending, but in the absence of real governing, the only way.

Coburn is consistent. When he was elected to the Senate in 2004, he risked offending his constituents by promising he would never bring pork to Oklahoma. He won easily, and won reelection even more easily, exceeding 70 percent of the vote.

He succeeded even though he called liberals such as Sens. Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer, and even members of the press, his friends. Obama, however, should recall the aphorism about having a friend in the capital. It’s good the president just got a second dog.

© 2013, Bloomberg News

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

 <span class="cutline_leadin">GAZA DESTRUCTION:</span> Palestinians sit amid the rubble of a building this week while attending a “victory rally” organized by the military wing of Hamas.


    People of Gaza must be helped

    Now that the guns have fallen silent, leaders of Israel and Hamas are busy trying to convince their respective peoples that they emerged victorious from this 50-day war.

 <span class="cutline_leadin">LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE:</span> The rise of a terrorist state in the Middle East may be the defining crisis of President Obama’s presidency.


    Obama too detached to lead?

    Having once served a president, I don’t begrudge any president a vacation. There is, in fact, no escape from this relentless job. A change of scenery does not involve a change in responsibilities, or even a release from the essence of the president’s routine.



    Up close and personal with migrant children in Dade school

    This year, on the first day of the academic calendar, I kicked off the day at Francis Tucker Elementary in Coconut Grove donating book bags and supplies to excited kindergartners in this historic and economically fragile neighborhood of the City of Miami.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category