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?

Coburn’s parliamentary maneuver

More local color from Dana Milbank:

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) . . .went to the Senate floor just before noon Wednesday and asked Democrats to agree to an amendment to the health-care bill that "would certify that every member of the Senate has read the bill and understands it before they vote on the bill."

Understands it? Would there be a quiz? Would the exam be scored by the Congressional Budget Office? When Democrats understandably rejected this idea, Coburn responded with a parliamentary maneuver that stopped all action on the floor until the Senate clerk could read aloud every word of a 767-page amendment offered by [Sen. Bernie] Sanders [I-Vt].

"For purposes of section 1101(a)(5)(c)," read the clerk, "individuals described in this subsection are the following individuals . . ."

Sanders, purple in the face, beckoned furiously at Coburn, who smiled, winked and attended to his BlackBerry. “How long will it take?” Sanders asked a member of the floor staff.

She eyed the five-inch-tall printout of the amendment. “I don’t know — eight hours?” she answered.

One hundred thirty-nine pages and nearly three hours later, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) surrendered. He waved Sanders into the cloakroom. A few minutes later, Sanders emerged on the Senate floor and withdrew his amendment calling for government-run health care.

“This is nothing more than an ongoing stalling tactic on the part of the Republicans,” Sanders complained of Coburn’s stunt.

Sanders’s complaint carried some irony, because he delivered it at a news conference he had called to explain why he had put a “hold,” or a delay of his own, on Obama’s renomination of Bernanke.