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2014 Says Goodbye to Tom Coburn

Jim Antle reminds today in The Week that whatever New Year’s cheer conservatives share as Republicans retake the Senate leadership gavels in 2015 should be tempered by the loss of Tom Coburn, who spent the past 20 years proving that a politician could at once be both right-wing and reasoning.

After the last Republican electoral tidal wave in 2010, Michael Brendan Dougherty profiled Coburn’s fiscal rectitude:

A large flat-panel television hangs in the lobby of Coburn’s office. Most senators have sets playing Fox News, CNN, or C-SPAN, hoping to catch a glimpse of themselves. Coburn’s is tuned to USDebtClock.org, a website with over 50 live metrics. National debt, average household debt, M2 money supply, interest on debt, debt held by foreign countries—the numbers zoom by. Over $13 trillion in United States debt. Nearly $800 billion in Medicare and Medicaid obligations every year. $690 billion for defense and wars. More than $77 trillion in total Medicare liabilities. The chart whirs like a fiscal doomsday machine.

Dougherty continued,

Coburn has made his war on pork something of a crusade. In the spring of 2006, as the Senate prepared to lard up a $92 billion emergency supplemental bill with an extra $14 billion in pet projects, Coburn offered an amendment to strip out 19 of the most indefensible items, then used a parliamentary maneuver to force his colleagues to debate each of them separately. Coburn called it the “Clay Pigeon” strategy. One of his targets was a $500 million bonus from Trent Lott to military contractor Northrop Grumman. Another was a $5 million giveaway from Richard Shelby to the Alabama seafood industry for “promotional materials.”

And goes on to explain that,

Though he doesn’t articulate it, Coburn’s passion for fiscal matters cannot be explained by actuarial concerns alone. … for Coburn, financial rectitude and moral rectitude are roughly equivalent. Pork corrupts politicians. Office budgets are a personal excess. And Washington’s petty financial corruption has infected the rest of the country, debilitating the character of its people.

‘We’ve gone from self-reliance to dependence,’ he offers as a diagnosis. ‘It is cultural,’ he says, ‘but where did they learn that? From us.’

Come to think of it, maybe Senate Republicans won’t miss “Dr. No” after all. The rest of us should miss him already.

about the author

Jonathan Coppage is a TAC associate editor. He received a BA in Political Science from North Carolina State University, and previously attended the University of Chicago, where he studied in the Fundamentals: Issues and Texts great books concentration. Jonathan also worked at The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society. Jon can be followed on Twitter @JonCoppage, or reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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