When conservatives eat their own

Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma is one of the heroes of the legislature, in my opinion, the scourge of earmarks and the Scrooge of fiscal responsibility.  More than that, he is a strong pro-lifer.  And yet now he’s in trouble with his fellow conservatives:

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. 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’ 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.”

via Ruth Marcus – Vilifying Tom Coburn for a moment of civility. Might conservatives blow their big chance by scaring or just putting off the general public?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Steve

    Dr. V,
    Your observation is well made; there was a day in Washington when the powers that were could argue vehemently in the halls of congress and when the day was over they could share a meal together in peace. Not now, the attitudes seem to be of hatred and vitriol.

    It seems to me to also be a very effective tool of Satan; getting people so agitated and frenzied that we forget the sharing of the Gospel and the imparting of the peace that can eternally effect the soul. This starts individually and grows to a societal movement and is exactly the distractor the devil wants. What has started in Washington has poured into much of our society (or maybe the other way around). The true solution is the proclamation of God’s Law until man realizes his need of God’s Gospel.

    On a side bar, I find it notable that the company owning some of the most decadent, morally liberal and slimy programming also portends the most conservative political and personal views. My personal belief is that Foxnews merely sees a market to exploit and does what it can to spin those viewers emotionally for monetary gain. They probably don’t believe a word of their own utterance.

  • Steve

    Dr. V,
    Your observation is well made; there was a day in Washington when the powers that were could argue vehemently in the halls of congress and when the day was over they could share a meal together in peace. Not now, the attitudes seem to be of hatred and vitriol.

    It seems to me to also be a very effective tool of Satan; getting people so agitated and frenzied that we forget the sharing of the Gospel and the imparting of the peace that can eternally effect the soul. This starts individually and grows to a societal movement and is exactly the distractor the devil wants. What has started in Washington has poured into much of our society (or maybe the other way around). The true solution is the proclamation of God’s Law until man realizes his need of God’s Gospel.

    On a side bar, I find it notable that the company owning some of the most decadent, morally liberal and slimy programming also portends the most conservative political and personal views. My personal belief is that Foxnews merely sees a market to exploit and does what it can to spin those viewers emotionally for monetary gain. They probably don’t believe a word of their own utterance.

  • Daniel Gorman

    Sen. Coburn and Fox News have two different very different objectives. Sen. Coburn’s objective is a thoughtful debate regarding the very important issues confronting this nation. He believes a thoughtful debate will favor the conservative cause.

    On the other hand, the Fox News’ objective is high ratings. Thoughtful debate would only shrink its audience. Contrary to popular opinion, Fox News does not favor the conservative cause. The triumph of the conservative cause would be disastrous for its ratings. By attacking personalities and confusing the issues, Fox News can appear to support the conservative cause while, at the same time, ensuring its defeat.

  • Daniel Gorman

    Sen. Coburn and Fox News have two different very different objectives. Sen. Coburn’s objective is a thoughtful debate regarding the very important issues confronting this nation. He believes a thoughtful debate will favor the conservative cause.

    On the other hand, the Fox News’ objective is high ratings. Thoughtful debate would only shrink its audience. Contrary to popular opinion, Fox News does not favor the conservative cause. The triumph of the conservative cause would be disastrous for its ratings. By attacking personalities and confusing the issues, Fox News can appear to support the conservative cause while, at the same time, ensuring its defeat.

  • Carl Vehse

    So, according to the Washington Compost (well-known as the epitome of conservative support and unbiased reporting), Tom Coburn has been citicized by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Mark Levin over whether Nancy Pelosi is a “nice lady” and whether we should swallow more CNN swill (or presumably read the Compost) to balance out Fox News.

    And as far as the Compost is concerned, since these three are the official spokemen for the Republican Party, that’s enough for Ruth Marcus in her hatchet job column to pontificate “there is something dangerous going on in the Republican Party.”

  • Carl Vehse

    So, according to the Washington Compost (well-known as the epitome of conservative support and unbiased reporting), Tom Coburn has been citicized by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Mark Levin over whether Nancy Pelosi is a “nice lady” and whether we should swallow more CNN swill (or presumably read the Compost) to balance out Fox News.

    And as far as the Compost is concerned, since these three are the official spokemen for the Republican Party, that’s enough for Ruth Marcus in her hatchet job column to pontificate “there is something dangerous going on in the Republican Party.”

  • Kirk

    I read what Coburn said a few weeks ago and I think it’s a breath of fresh air. Political dialogue is so pock marked by vitriol and slander that modern political debate has devolved into an anti-personality contest. No one makes decent points on policy because they’re too busy photoshopping Obama’s face as the Joker or painting Hitler mustaches on Bush’s lip. Maybe politics has always been like this and I’ve never noticed, but there seems to be a disturbing trend of populism in our political discourse that is counter-productive and unintelligent.

    I think that’s what Coburn was trying to remedy in saying this. I don’t agree with the man on a lot of things, but I really do respect him for asking his constituents to raise the level of dialogue. I think it’s reasonable for someone to say “we’ll have more effect on issue X if we actually address it than we will if we simply blow off Nancy Pelosi as a maniacal feminist.” The fact that he’s taking heat for this is sickening. I mean, God forbid that the constituency actually be informed on policy. In reality, though, it’s easier to simply hate the opposition than it is to have reasonable positions. And lest anyone think I’m indicting only conservatives on this, the liberals were just as bad (albeit less organized) during the Bush years.

  • Kirk

    I read what Coburn said a few weeks ago and I think it’s a breath of fresh air. Political dialogue is so pock marked by vitriol and slander that modern political debate has devolved into an anti-personality contest. No one makes decent points on policy because they’re too busy photoshopping Obama’s face as the Joker or painting Hitler mustaches on Bush’s lip. Maybe politics has always been like this and I’ve never noticed, but there seems to be a disturbing trend of populism in our political discourse that is counter-productive and unintelligent.

    I think that’s what Coburn was trying to remedy in saying this. I don’t agree with the man on a lot of things, but I really do respect him for asking his constituents to raise the level of dialogue. I think it’s reasonable for someone to say “we’ll have more effect on issue X if we actually address it than we will if we simply blow off Nancy Pelosi as a maniacal feminist.” The fact that he’s taking heat for this is sickening. I mean, God forbid that the constituency actually be informed on policy. In reality, though, it’s easier to simply hate the opposition than it is to have reasonable positions. And lest anyone think I’m indicting only conservatives on this, the liberals were just as bad (albeit less organized) during the Bush years.

  • fws

    point us to more politicos like this. this is what earthly righteousness looks like.

    self-discipline/restraint (aka mortification of the flesh) + pleasing our neighbors in our words and deeds (aka what love is)= earthly, god-pleasing righteousness.

    This is official Lutheran Doctrine as to what God Pleasing earthly righteousness is defined as.

  • fws

    point us to more politicos like this. this is what earthly righteousness looks like.

    self-discipline/restraint (aka mortification of the flesh) + pleasing our neighbors in our words and deeds (aka what love is)= earthly, god-pleasing righteousness.

    This is official Lutheran Doctrine as to what God Pleasing earthly righteousness is defined as.

  • colliebear56

    I think conservatives, including Sen Coburn could certainly brush up on their debate skills. His answer to the woman’s question was a bit condescending, I thought, like a parent scolding a child about proper behavior.

    The country is really at a crossroads: do we want top-down control of our lives for the next couple of decades or do we want more individual control. Politicians of the conservative stripe better learn how to articulate their beliefs in a concise, readily understandable way without falling into the ditch of “I’m a nice guy” (Coburn) on one side of the road only to lurch to the other side of “He’s a jerk” (Levin).

    I guess this is one reason, among others, that Congress is populated with so many lawyers. They know how to argue.

    Being a politician these days, with all the media out there waiting to catch every utterance, requires much skill in wisdom, knowledge of history and debate. I really don’t think we have a lot of high quality representatives in Congress right now and it’s a brutal thing to behold.

  • colliebear56

    I think conservatives, including Sen Coburn could certainly brush up on their debate skills. His answer to the woman’s question was a bit condescending, I thought, like a parent scolding a child about proper behavior.

    The country is really at a crossroads: do we want top-down control of our lives for the next couple of decades or do we want more individual control. Politicians of the conservative stripe better learn how to articulate their beliefs in a concise, readily understandable way without falling into the ditch of “I’m a nice guy” (Coburn) on one side of the road only to lurch to the other side of “He’s a jerk” (Levin).

    I guess this is one reason, among others, that Congress is populated with so many lawyers. They know how to argue.

    Being a politician these days, with all the media out there waiting to catch every utterance, requires much skill in wisdom, knowledge of history and debate. I really don’t think we have a lot of high quality representatives in Congress right now and it’s a brutal thing to behold.

  • colliebear56

    I should revise my remarks: The lawyers in Congress LIKE to argue. Knowing how to and doing it well is another thing.

  • colliebear56

    I should revise my remarks: The lawyers in Congress LIKE to argue. Knowing how to and doing it well is another thing.

  • Richard

    Os Guinness has a great book out, “The Case for Civility,” which explores some of these issues, and the toxicity of our political language. It’s worth a read.

  • Richard

    Os Guinness has a great book out, “The Case for Civility,” which explores some of these issues, and the toxicity of our political language. It’s worth a read.

  • Economist Doug

    I think our politics are so poisonous because policy is no longer linked to any shared concept of virtue or any shared goals. There is no such thing as a political sense of “the common good”.

    Policy has been linked to struggles over power, money and control between the Republican tribe and the Democrat tribe. Elections have begun to determine winners and losers in the economic sphere.

    To lose an election is to imperil the economic status of your tribe.

    The fundamental parts of the Democrat tribe are unions, bureaucrats, minorities, Democrat favored industries and recipients of federal benefits.

    The fundamental parts of the Republican tribe are the white working class, the white non-unionized middle class, Republican favored industries and small business owners.

    In such a climate the opposing party isn’t offering an opposing view but threatening your economic well-being.

    The predominant amount of assistance to unionized firms, of heavily unionized states, of Democrat constituencies, and of Democratic special interest groups isn’t a coincidence but was the whole point of the Democratic groups who bankrolled the election of the Democrats now in power.

    The predominant amount of tax cuts, new corporate welfare, and new entitlements were to Republican core groups (small business owners, Republican favored firms, and the white elderly).

    Politics is now more about fighting over how the government will divide up our welath than about doing what’s right or doing what’s best for all.

    We see a thin vineer of morality used to justify the policies of Republicans and Democrats but they are only fighting so hard to get government power to make sure they defend and maximize their own economic interests. The common good just isn’t up for consideration by most voters or politicians.

  • Economist Doug

    I think our politics are so poisonous because policy is no longer linked to any shared concept of virtue or any shared goals. There is no such thing as a political sense of “the common good”.

    Policy has been linked to struggles over power, money and control between the Republican tribe and the Democrat tribe. Elections have begun to determine winners and losers in the economic sphere.

    To lose an election is to imperil the economic status of your tribe.

    The fundamental parts of the Democrat tribe are unions, bureaucrats, minorities, Democrat favored industries and recipients of federal benefits.

    The fundamental parts of the Republican tribe are the white working class, the white non-unionized middle class, Republican favored industries and small business owners.

    In such a climate the opposing party isn’t offering an opposing view but threatening your economic well-being.

    The predominant amount of assistance to unionized firms, of heavily unionized states, of Democrat constituencies, and of Democratic special interest groups isn’t a coincidence but was the whole point of the Democratic groups who bankrolled the election of the Democrats now in power.

    The predominant amount of tax cuts, new corporate welfare, and new entitlements were to Republican core groups (small business owners, Republican favored firms, and the white elderly).

    Politics is now more about fighting over how the government will divide up our welath than about doing what’s right or doing what’s best for all.

    We see a thin vineer of morality used to justify the policies of Republicans and Democrats but they are only fighting so hard to get government power to make sure they defend and maximize their own economic interests. The common good just isn’t up for consideration by most voters or politicians.

  • Carl Vehse

    Destroying political enemies and their treacherous plans should always be done with civility.

  • Carl Vehse

    Destroying political enemies and their treacherous plans should always be done with civility.

  • CRB
  • CRB
  • Mark

    Like so much else in contemporary right-wing politics, Glenn Beck, Mark Levin, and the talk-show gang remind me of Yeats’ lines:

    We had fed the heart on fantasies,
    The heart’s grown brutal from the fare

  • Mark

    Like so much else in contemporary right-wing politics, Glenn Beck, Mark Levin, and the talk-show gang remind me of Yeats’ lines:

    We had fed the heart on fantasies,
    The heart’s grown brutal from the fare

  • Tom B.

    Behold the doctrinal statement of the American religious right -

    “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.”

  • Tom B.

    Behold the doctrinal statement of the American religious right -

    “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.”

  • Carl Vehse

    Behold,”He is the Senate’s ‘Dr. No’” is just Ruth Marcus displaying leftist civility.

  • Carl Vehse

    Behold,”He is the Senate’s ‘Dr. No’” is just Ruth Marcus displaying leftist civility.

  • DonS

    My wife worked on Capitol Hill in the 80′s, for a year on the Senate side and for about 5 years on the House side. Tip O’Neill was the Speaker of the House during that era, and both he and Reagan were universally liked by politicians and staff from both parties. They were very nice men. Ted Kennedy, also, though known to have some “appetite” issues, so to speak, was a personable and likeable man.

    I think Tom Coburn was hearkening back to that kind of era in making the comments he did. Politicians and staff have to work with one another day in and day out. Many have friends on both sides of the aisle, and after hours will go and have a drink together. There is nothing wrong with that. We are all Americans, after all, and politics is a profession requiring some collegiality to get things done. The reference to Fox News, in context, was because he was speaking to conservatives. What I would like to see is a politician on the left having the decency to say the same kinds of things to his or her constituency, admitting that Republicans are nice people and calling out MSNBC. Haven’t seen that yet.

    What struck people wrong about Coburn’s statement is the haughty public persona Pelosi has. It is not believable to most people that Pelosi is nice. The whole deal with walking through the streets, past the protester, with the Medicare legislation gavel in hand, at the time they rammed the health care bill through was not gracious. Public statements she makes about Republicans never seem to take a conciliatory tone. It is unfortunate for her, because it will truly affect her legacy as a Speaker.

  • DonS

    My wife worked on Capitol Hill in the 80′s, for a year on the Senate side and for about 5 years on the House side. Tip O’Neill was the Speaker of the House during that era, and both he and Reagan were universally liked by politicians and staff from both parties. They were very nice men. Ted Kennedy, also, though known to have some “appetite” issues, so to speak, was a personable and likeable man.

    I think Tom Coburn was hearkening back to that kind of era in making the comments he did. Politicians and staff have to work with one another day in and day out. Many have friends on both sides of the aisle, and after hours will go and have a drink together. There is nothing wrong with that. We are all Americans, after all, and politics is a profession requiring some collegiality to get things done. The reference to Fox News, in context, was because he was speaking to conservatives. What I would like to see is a politician on the left having the decency to say the same kinds of things to his or her constituency, admitting that Republicans are nice people and calling out MSNBC. Haven’t seen that yet.

    What struck people wrong about Coburn’s statement is the haughty public persona Pelosi has. It is not believable to most people that Pelosi is nice. The whole deal with walking through the streets, past the protester, with the Medicare legislation gavel in hand, at the time they rammed the health care bill through was not gracious. Public statements she makes about Republicans never seem to take a conciliatory tone. It is unfortunate for her, because it will truly affect her legacy as a Speaker.

  • Kirk

    @14 – Carl, I’ve got to ask: are you missing Cobrun’s point or actively disagreeing with it?

  • Kirk

    @14 – Carl, I’ve got to ask: are you missing Cobrun’s point or actively disagreeing with it?

  • Carl Vehse

    Marcus quoted Coburn making several points. To which one are you referring?

  • Carl Vehse

    Marcus quoted Coburn making several points. To which one are you referring?

  • Kirk

    The tone of political dialogue, specifically not demonizing those that disagree with you. I took that as being the broader point, anyways.

  • Kirk

    The tone of political dialogue, specifically not demonizing those that disagree with you. I took that as being the broader point, anyways.

  • Richard

    Tim Keller also has a good book, “Counterfeit Idols” out where he has a chapter on how we make idols of power, and attributes much of the vituperative language to our idolatry. Keller quotes Luther quite a bit in the book. It’s a pretty powerful thought.

  • Richard

    Tim Keller also has a good book, “Counterfeit Idols” out where he has a chapter on how we make idols of power, and attributes much of the vituperative language to our idolatry. Keller quotes Luther quite a bit in the book. It’s a pretty powerful thought.

  • Carl Vehse

    “The tone of political dialogue, specifically not demonizing those that disagree with you.”

    I would distinguish between political advocacies for various policies which are morally acceptable, but contain different approaches for achieving a common goal, and those advocacies or goals that are immoral, treasonous, and satanic.

  • Carl Vehse

    “The tone of political dialogue, specifically not demonizing those that disagree with you.”

    I would distinguish between political advocacies for various policies which are morally acceptable, but contain different approaches for achieving a common goal, and those advocacies or goals that are immoral, treasonous, and satanic.

  • The Jungle Cat

    The Republican Party is becoming more Pauline (that’s Ron, not Saint). This is, naturally, the moment for fiscal conservatives to make their move, since, during the Bush years, they couldn’t really run against the Washington establishment–which claimed to represent smaller government–on a platform of, well, smaller government, but because the Obama administration embraces the idea of large government, fiscal conservatives–like Rand Paul–can talk about putting the IRS out of business without being dismissed. If they succeed, it may lead to a more sustainable nation, but I think that it also could lead to Republican failure in November. I’m worried that the movement is becoming too narrow. Consider my homestate, Idaho: Rex Rammell is currently running an insurgent campaign against the Republican governor “Butch” Otter–the first to initiate lawsuits to challenge Obamacare’s constitutionality–on the grounds that Otter is too liberal. There are many negative things to say about Otter, but the claim that he is too Democratic is not among them.

  • The Jungle Cat

    The Republican Party is becoming more Pauline (that’s Ron, not Saint). This is, naturally, the moment for fiscal conservatives to make their move, since, during the Bush years, they couldn’t really run against the Washington establishment–which claimed to represent smaller government–on a platform of, well, smaller government, but because the Obama administration embraces the idea of large government, fiscal conservatives–like Rand Paul–can talk about putting the IRS out of business without being dismissed. If they succeed, it may lead to a more sustainable nation, but I think that it also could lead to Republican failure in November. I’m worried that the movement is becoming too narrow. Consider my homestate, Idaho: Rex Rammell is currently running an insurgent campaign against the Republican governor “Butch” Otter–the first to initiate lawsuits to challenge Obamacare’s constitutionality–on the grounds that Otter is too liberal. There are many negative things to say about Otter, but the claim that he is too Democratic is not among them.

  • John C

    Yeats again –
    the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity

  • John C

    Yeats again –
    the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity


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