Political Hay

Boarding the Tomnibus

Who defines the Republican brand -- Ted Stevens or Tom Coburn?

By 7.31.08

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Beware of any pol with an airport named after him. Will Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport now have to be renamed? As the Alaska senator flies into it with seven graft-related indictments trailing him, his old nemesis, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, emerges from this week looking better than ever.

Truth is the best policy and the best politics, Coburn's example reminds his pork-bloated colleagues. Where their power rests on hoarding government money, his power is based upon refusing it -- and that has proven much more potent.

Stevens, shrieking on the Senate floor in anger at Coburn for opposing his "Bridge to Nowhere," threatened to resign if he didn't get it. Had the Republican leadership displayed some sense, they would have let him go. But instead of choosing Coburn as their brand, they embraced big government, making the scandals of Randy Cunningham and Ted Stevens inevitable.

Coburn now receives some opportunistic support from fellow Republicans who see that he is useful in fumigating the Republican image. Coburn single-handedly won a victory for them by drawing Harry Reid into his ill-advised "Tomnibus" bill, which aimed to dislodge Coburn's hold on 34 Senate pork bills.

Reid's legislation failed, exposing the Dems' purported distaste for excessive spending under President Bush as a sham and publicizing ludicrous expenditures with which Congress routinely saddles the American taxpayer.

"You go home and explain to your folks [voters] about stroke legislation," Reid blubbered on the Senate floor, draping one of his pork bills in the most tired demagoguery.

"You go home and tell people...in a wheelchair you voted against moving forward on something that could get them out of their wheelchair."

COBURN'S OBSTRUCTIONISM might cost his graft-ridden colleagues a Viking gas grill or two, but that's about the extent of the damage. He has saved the American taxpayer millions of dollars that would normally slosh down special-interest corridors.

John McCain, if he wanted to challenge Obama's pretensions as a reformer and "change" agent, wouldn't bother with any of the business-as-usual Republicans on his VP shortlist; he would select Coburn. The only change in Washington not rattling around pols' pockets comes from Coburn's office.

By asking simple questions like Why exactly does the federal government need to spend millions of dollars on a Battle of 1812 commemoration commission? Coburn has done more to challenge the ethos of Capitol Hill than Obama ever will. Dr. No would expose Obama's "yes, we can" mantra as nothing more than the continuation of corruption.

Obama bemoans the corrupt culture of Washington while planning to deepen its cause, the size of the federal government. If Congress is avarice writ large, that's because corruption grows in proportion to the size of government spending. No Oklahoman fat cat would even bother to bribe Coburn, because he has no federal money to give him.

Even the crock Senate "ethics" investigation into Coburn is edifying. While Ted Stevens is investigated for among other things his suspiciously funded "wraparound deck" at his Alaska chalet, Coburn is investigated for...delivering babies.

According to Harry Reid and company, who are applying Senate rules with comic pettiness in retaliation for his obstructionism, Coburn's baby deliveries at a private hospital pose a "conflict of interest."

"In May, Coburn received a strongly worded 'final determination' memo threatening him with a Senate censure if he did not stop delivering babies for free," according to the Hill.

What is the conflict of interest? That the babies might grow up and vote for a self-term-limiting senator?

IT IS NOT clear, but this is apparently the radical "ethics reform" the Democrats had in mind after winning in 2006 and promising to sweep away the "culture of corruption." Coburn's conception of ethics reform is a little different: that senators actually take their oaths seriously.

One of the ironies of history is that the politicians most well-remembered by it are the least political ones. Ted Stevens got an airport named after him for delivering pork to his state; he may also lose that honor for the same.

Whatever is named after Coburn is likely to be more secure. If there is ever a Tom Coburn Airport, it will be because he didn't bring home the bacon.

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author, with Phyllis Schlafly, of the new book, No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.