Until the local corporate media holds U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn accountable for their relentless crude and hokey political stunts the state will continue to have image problems.
Sure, we’re also known for the Dust Bowl, tornadoes, a bombing, the highest incarceration rate of women, low education spending and poor medical outcomes. Sure, its largest city is known as the “fast-food capital” of the nation and as the most unfit in the nation. But Inhofe’s and Coburn’s antics probably do more than anything else to make Oklahoma seem to the rest of the nation like a backwards, irrational place filled with mean, anti-science ideologues. They have a wide, national stage.
Inhofe, with his nonsensical denial of climate change science, and Coburn, with his mean-spirited “gotcha” politics of supposed fiscal conservatism, seem like bizarre, polarizing caricatures to most of the country and raise the question: Why do Oklahomans continue to elect them to office?
It’s not good for the state, but the local corporate media, especially The Oklahoman, not only fail to challenge or thoroughly question the two on their pet issues, but in Coburn’s case actually laud the irrationality and the meaningless political stunts. When’s the last time the editorial page of The Oklahoman actually criticized Inhofe or Coburn?
Let’s look at two recent stunts: Inhofe’s op-ed about global warming in USA Today and Coburn’s supposed “oversight” report on the National Science Foundation. It’s not a coincidence that both stunts are attacks on science and intellectualism, attacks which undoubtedly both senators wear as badge of honors. By attacking knowledge, they pave the way for their own re-elections and the application of their own reductionist ideology here and elsewhere.
Inhofe’s op-ed (Inhofe’s view: All pain, no gain, May 16, 2011) supposedly makes the case against cap and trade, and argues that Americans are “more skeptical” of global warming science.
First, beyond supporting oil and gas interests, why does Inhofe even make global warming his most paramount interest? Well, he does receive a lot of campaign money from the energy sector. Why isn’t he just truthful and upfront about that? Why doesn’t the local corporate media simply acknowledge the connection and question Inhofe about it? Second, if there really is more skepticism about global warming, aren’t Inhofe’s distortions the number one reason?
Inhofe, if you recall, once said that global warming was the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” Can we be honest about it? The statement is completely paranoid and argues for a freaky, ignorant conspiracy theory along the lines of what the birthers do. It’s nonsense, but the local press sits on the sidelines as Inhofe makes Oklahomans seem like fools.
Meanwhile, a new assessment this month by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program shows:
… climate change in the Arctic shows the region’s ice and snow are melting faster than previously thought and sharply raises projections of global sea level rise this century.
A substantial rise in sea levels could have disastrous effects, including population displacement. The vast majority of credible scientists believe that the earth is getting warmer due to, among other things, man-made carbon emissions. The science isn’t in dispute. Yes, we can argue about what should be done about it, but for Inhofe to question a vast body of knowledge without credible evidence is simply nonsense. His conspiracy theory-scientists are coming together secretly to fool everyone-is either a manifestation of mental illness or, if he really doesn’t believe it, just a lie to protect oil and gas companies.
Coburn has his own track record of political stunts, primarily holding up legislation for what he claims are spending reasons. Lately, though, he’s been part of the famous “Gang of 6,” six senators who were supposed to find bipartisan agreement on federal spending and taxes. He quit that right after an investigation implicated him in the aftermath of the extramarital affair of former Sen. John Ensign, one of his friends. Now, he’s attacking the National Science Foundation, with a supposed oversight report on waste and mismanagement.
Here is just one of Coburn’s sensational findings: “Inappropriate staff behavior including porn surfing and Jello wrestling and skinny-dipping at NSF-operated facilities in Antarctica.” This allegation is coming from a guy that, according to an ethics report, was involved in arranging a payout to Ensign’s former mistress. What’s worse, Jell-o wrestling or being involved in a situation that could lead to criminal charges against a former senator?
But, because The Oklahoman presents Coburn as The Serious and Distinguished Senator, let’s take a look at his supposed major findings of waste:
Here they are, according to a Coburn press release:
$80,000 study on why the same teams always dominate March Madness;
$315,000 study suggesting playing FarmVille on Facebook helps adults develop and maintain relationships;
$1 million for an analysis of how quickly parents respond to trendy baby names;
$50,000 to produce and publicize amateur songs about science, including a rap called “Money 4 Drugz,” and a misleading song titled “Biogas is a Gas, Gas, Gas”;
$2 million to figure out that people who often post pictures on the Internet from the same location at the same time are usually friends; and
$581,000 on whether online dating site users are racist.
I would argue that all the online studies-FarmVille, picture posting, dating sites-are not only relevant but vitally important as the Internet increasingly defines our lives. The issue of “trendy” baby names holds psychological and sociological components that could be helpful for future studies dealing with nomenclature and linguistics. The production of songs seems relevant as well to promote science study. That leaves the $80,000 March Madness study. I’ll take a pass on trying to defend that one, but Coburn’s brief one-sentence descriptions of these studies or programs are obviously reductionist.
Perhaps, the larger question is why Coburn chose to reveal the waste of a science organization. Why not look at waste in defense spending? Now that could have a real impact on the budget. It should seem obvious that Coburn’s report is simply another attack on science and intellectualism, which is cruelly ironic since he’s a medical doctor.
Inhofe’s and Coburn’s actions reflect on the state, and they make Oklahomans seem like a backwards people who reject modernity. It’s hard to quantify, but it has to affect economic development here. Certainly, taken altogether, the actions promote ignorance, a distrust of intellectualism and conspiracy theories in Oklahoma. Virtually everyone agrees the state needs more college graduates, but Inhofe and Coburn could apparently care less.