The Rightwing Crackup
September 12, 2005
As the Senate Judiciary Committee began confirmation hearings for Judge John Roberts, Bush's nominee to be the next Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, dead bodies were still clogging the streets in Mississippi and Louisiana.
Maybe it was the strain of watching the worst natural disaster in our nation's history unfold, coupled with the most callous and incompetent government response imaginable, that made one Republican on the committee actually start crying during his opening remarks.
Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, denounced "judicial activism" and the idea of a Supreme Court that functions as a "superlegislative body.” And then, out of nowhere, his voice broke and he seemed to lose control for a moment, declaring, "my heart aches," and calling for "less polarization, less bitterness, less partisanship." "Our family structures have declined. Our dependency on government has grown," he lamented.
What was Coburn crying about? He seemed to grow emotional when he began talking about our divided country, and calling for one, united America. But the Roberts confirmation battle has been a pretty easy ride so far--it's not like these are shaping up to be highly divisive hearings. With the Republicans in charge of everything in Washington, and Bush on the verge of installing both a new Chief Justice and a second Supreme Court justice, it's not like partisanship is blocking them at every turn. Besides which, Coburn is the guy who called for the death penalty for abortion doctors, denounced his moderate opponent in the 2004 election as "evil," and called homosexuality America's number-one problem. The idea that he's lamenting divisive politics is a little much.
I wonder if the New Orleans disaster has struck a deeper chord?
David Brooks cut loose with some unusually harsh criticism of his beloved Bush Administration on the Lehrer NewsHour recently--using words like "ashamed" to describe his reaction to the President's response to Katrina's victims. The blog crooks and liars captured his uniquely critical response.
A lot of people have made the stark connection between the policy of callousness toward the poor in this Administration and the humanitarian nightmare in Katrina's wake.
"Bush literally couldn't imagine that there were people poor enough that they couldn't just jump in their SUVs and drive to a nice hotel when they heard the hurricane was coming," Bernie Sanders, the independent, socialist candidate for Senate in Vermont, said when I talked to him a couple of days ago.
But if the TV images of people dying of neglect in New Orleans are awfully stark, Sanders makes the point that other people are dying every day because they can't get to a doctor, can't afford prescription drugs, or can't pay for a college education, so they've enlisted and been sent to fight Bush's boondoggle war in Iraq.
Maybe Senator Coburn is just plain unstable; it's probably as good an explanation as any for his unexplained crackup. But as I was watching him it struck me that, like David Brooks, he may be suffering a kind of moral breakdown, triggered by the irrefutable evidence that his side, so fond of moral posturing, is actually very much in the wrong. It's not just divisive partisanship, or Democrats "playing politics," as Bush defensively put it, making the Republicans look bad. It is their whole philosophy and practice of governing that is tearing our country apart.
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