Tom Coburn, the obstetrician-turned-senator from Oklahoma, is a member of what was once called “the greatest deliberative body” and someone I really want to interview. Haven’t arranged it so far, but he actually deliberates, defined as “considers carefully.”
Coburn’s column in the Dec. 31 Wall Street Journal, aptly headlined “The Year Congress Fled Reality,” starts out with a sadly accurate review of 2013: “The past year may go down not only as the least productive ever in Washington but as one of the worst for the republic.”
He gives lots of specifics that I hope you’ll examine, but Coburn’s general statement points to the essential problem: “In both the executive branch and Congress, Americans witnessed an unwinding of the country’s founding principles and of their government’s most basic responsibilities. The rule of law gave way to the rule of rulers.”
(By the way, the Latin root of “deliberative” is liber, which we associate positively with liberty, but Liber was also an ancient Roman god associated with the uninhibited pseudo-freedom that comes with inebriation. Many drunk-with-power Washingtonians ignore the rule of law, and in that sense we desperately need more sober-minded, de-liberative leaders.)
Coburn describes the belief of many of his colleagues that they are “entitled to both their own opinions and their own facts.” When “facts” are lies, “it’s no wonder the institutions of government barely function.” The Obamacare debacle is an example.
He notes that handlers tell their politicians to have “message discipline”—use the same slogans over and over again—so as to win elections, but “When a misleading message ultimately clashes with reality, the result is dissonance and conflict. In a republic, deception is destructive. Without truth there can be no trust. Without trust there can be no consent. And without consent we invite paralysis, if not chaos.”
I’ve lost money this year by not betting on the stock market surge that occurred, but I still feel we’re bubbling toward another fall, and Washington is no closer to avoiding what is our likely “solution” to the massive deficit: purposeful inflation. Coburn is not joining his colleagues in “celebrating the avoidance of another nihilistic government shutdown as a great victory. The choice to not commit mass political suicide may be a step toward sanity, but it isn’t reform.”
He has the formula for moving forward: “fixing entitlements, reforming the tax code and consolidating the government’s $200 billion in duplicative spending. Yet … even in this year of budget-sequestration anguish, the federal government still managed to fund the study of romance novels, provide military benefits to the Fort Hood shooter and even help the State Department buy itself Facebook fans.”
I wish Coburn could offer his formula as a New Year’s resolution, but by himself he doesn’t have the authority to bring about such change. My 2014 governmental wish is that more senators will deliberate alongside him.