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(In the coming weeks, Okie Funk and Blue Oklahoma will set the record straight when it comes to U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe. This blog will be publishing an open-ended series titled “The Case Against Jim Inhofe.” The series will comment on Inhofe’s political and business escapades, from his earlier lies about when he graduated from college to the insurance company he ran into insolvency to his dirty campaign tactics. It will show how Inhofe has consistently hurt the state’s image. It will focus as well on Inhofe’s atrocious record on economic, health, energy, environmental, military and government spending issues. Here are the installments published before this post: Part I: “Rice Gains Ground on Inhofe,” Part II: “Character Issue Follows Inhofe.”)
There are few states in this country that suffer more from image problems than Oklahoma.
From the lingering memories of the Dust Bowl to decades-old poverty to the perception of its residents as uneducated hicks, Oklahoma gets kicked around as a butt of jokes, and, as a result, it often gets passed over for economic development.
Although Oklahoma has made some progress in the last decade to change its reputation, one leader in particular continues to harm the state when it comes to its basic image. That leader is U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, a Republican whose outrageous, public statements taint us all with the “hick” label.
Some in the GOP will argue that Inhofe is only colorful and obstinate, that the state’s image matters little to economic development. But that argument is undercut by former and contemporary state leaders-in the private and public sectors-who have consistently realized how important public relations can be to a state like Oklahoma. Even with its now thriving energy sector, the state is part of a larger global business community. The state must welcome different types of people with different types of views and skills or our standard of living and quality of life will suffer.
Yet we know this: When the intolerant 73-year-old Inhofe opens his mouth, people cringe and Oklahoma suffers.
I think it is fair to argue Inhofe is one of the most despised American politicians in the country’s history. Oklahomans have continued to elect him to office for a variety of reasons, but outside the state and throughout the world he is loathed as a dangerous kook. Certainly, George Bush, the most unpopular president in modern history, beats out Inhofe in terms of disapproval rankings, but Oklahoma’s senior Senator’s antics have long made him seem like an angry, stubborn fool to much of the world.
Here are just three examples of how Inhofe has embarrassed the state and, in the process, damaged its image:
(1) Inhofe is perhaps best known for his outrageous comments on global warming, which he calls the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” No one can fault Inhofe or anyone for reasonable skepticism about any issue, but this statement goes well beyond rational consideration. It is a statement of paranoia and conspiracy, not of a rational leader. The scientific community overwhelming believes global warming exists, and it has presented much evidence to support it. Inhofe, meanwhile, has continued the rhetoric. He has compared people who believe in global warming to Nazis. He has acted boorish and hateful to former Vice President Al Gore, who won an Academy Award for his movie, An Inconvenient Truth, which is about global warming. (Watch this video clip.) All this bating, ridiculous rhetoric has made Inhofe seem like a fool. This directly reflects on the state.
(2) Inhofe once disparaged gay and divorced people on Senate floor. On June 6, 2006, in an act of narcissism, Inhofe pointed to an oversized photograph of his family and said, “As you see here, and I think this is maybe the most important prop we’ll have during the entire debate, my wife and I have been married 47 years. We have 20 kids and grandkids. I’m really proud to say that in the recorded history of our family, we’ve never had a divorce or any kind of homosexual relationship.” Inhofe’s actions were widely mocked in the blogosphere and media. Some felt his remarks proved his mental instability. What type of person bases his pride, his self-worth, on the sexual orientation or marital status of family members? Oklahoma has long possessed one of the highest divorce rates in the country. Gay people here, such as Corporation Commissioner Jim Roth, have contributed greatly to the state’s recent efforts to change its image. Inhofe makes the state’s residents seem narrow-minded and foolish.
(3) On May 11, 2004, in response to the atrocities committed by American soldiers against prisoners at Iraq’s infamous Abu Ghraib prison, Inhofe said, “…as I watch this outrage — this outrage everyone seems to have about the treatment of these prisoners — I have to say, and I’m probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment.” He went on to blame politics for how we even discovered the pattern of Bush-sanctioned torture. Inhofe, a staunch supporter of Bush and the Iraq occupation, was more outraged by the publicizing of the events than the events themselves. The problem is not the torture, then, but the revealing of the torture, according to Inhofe’s warped logic. This goes along with Inhofe’s support of the Bush agenda to make government as secret as possible. Oklahomans, meanwhile, are made out to be callous hicks filled with ridiculous political conspiracies.
There are more examples, for sure. Inhofe once suggested that God allowed the September 11, 2001 attacks because the United States did not give enough support to Israel. In 2002, Inhofe said, “One of the reason I believe the spiritual door was opened for an attack against the United States of America is that the policy of our government has been to ask the Israelis, and demand it with pressure, not to retaliate in a significant way against the terrorist strikes that have been launched against them.” As David Corn wrote then, “Inhofe’s remarks are reminiscent of the ravings uttered by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson days after the awful attacks. The pair accused the ACLU, abortion rights advocates, feminists, gays and lesbians, and People for the American Way (a liberal interest group) of degrading the nation and thus pissing off God.”
Inhofe faces reelection this year, and he currently leads in polls. Part of the problem is the right-wing corporate media in Oklahoma, led by The Oklahoman, will not report extensively about Inhofe’s gaffes and their effect on the state’s image. The newspaper serves as a propaganda ministry for extreme Republican ideology.
Inhofe’s opponent, state Sen. Andrew Rice, has promised to promote the state’s image and serve as a rational and welcoming ambassador for Oklahoma. Rice has a healthy skepticism about issues and politics, but he will express it intelligently and without absurd theater, either from the left or the right viewpoint. That alone sho
uld be enough for Oklahomans to vote for Rice.