A very long time ago U.S. Senator Tom Coburn and I shared space on the playground at Longfellow Elementary School in Muskogee, Oklahoma. The last time I saw him he was in the 6th grade and I was in the 3rd. He moved on to West Jr. High the following year and my family moved to Oklahoma City. Only two incidents remain fixed in my mind from those bright days filled with hard packed dirt and guys wearing blue jeans with the hems of the legs rolled up into large cuffs. Both involved fights. First I got into it with a classmate of his and despite the age difference we squared off. Coburn chided the guy for picking on a third grader. The second, Coburn himself ended up in a fight and on the losing end. What I remember most is him being held down by the other kid who spit in his face. Coburn told him, over and over, "I'm not scared of you." A teacher came out and everyone scattered. I have no idea how the dispute turned out.
I say these things to indicate that while I disagree with just about everything Tom Coburn says and does I've always respected his integrity and honesty. Unlike, Jim Inhofe, who I consider a ruthless and opportunistic beast, he has, or rather had, always seemed to at least consider other points of view with respect.
Now, fast forward a couple decades to Oklahoma City. Around thirty five years ago I met and became friends with the family of U.S. Magistrate Robert E. Bacharach. The Bacharachs were friendly, highly intelligent and creative. Bob's brother Phil is a journalist of note around here and ended up being a spokesman for a governor or two. His sister, Shaina is a registered nurse, who after some soul searching became a rabbi.
Because Oklahoma really is a small place, these two disparate stories have just intersected. Three months ago, President Barak Obama nominated Robert Bacharach to a vacant seat on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A story in today's Oklahoman by Chris Casteel points out that Coburn has so far refused to sign off on that nomination and another for John Dowdell to a federal judgeship in Tulsa.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has a quaint tradition of not holding a hearing for a judicial nominee until both home state senators give their approval. Bacharach's qualifications are impeccable. He has, according to Casteel, received the highest possible rating by the American Bar Association and has been vetted by the Justice Department. He has handled more than 3,000 civil and criminal cases. Even the crazed Inhofe gave his go ahead on the nomination more than a month ago.
So, Tom, what is the problem?
According to the article Coburn's office issued a statement saying "Per regular order, Dr. Coburn will return the blue slip (an approval) once the committee review of Judge Bacharach and Mr. Dowdell's nomination materials is complete. These are lifetime appointments; thus, the Senate has a duty to conduct a careful review of the nominations before proceeding. Blah, blah, blah."
Right, well according to a spokeswoman for Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, they are waiting on Coburn. "The committee will not begin to consider scheduling a hearing on the nominee until both blue slips are returned."
Catch 22. Coburn says he is waiting on the committee, the committee says it is waiting on Coburn.
The seat in question has been vacant for two years and statements by Coburn indicate he wants it filled as quickly as possible. Those statements are starting to look a tad on the fictitious side. Coburn is after all an evangelical conservative republican. His periodic homages to civility aside this is an election year and the Presidency is up for grabs. If he sits on the nomination and Obama loses, his man Mitt Romney gets to make the appointment. One can only assume that if that happens Coburn's approval of the new nominee, no matter what his or her qualifications are, will be so fast it will make heads spin.
So much for the conservatives whining about judicial appointments being too political in nature. Quoting the constitution looks great in front of the tea party mobs, but in reality that dusty old document just gets in the way every now and then. In a pinch one shouldn't take it too seriously.
Of course there is another explanation. An even darker one than Coburn simply maneuvering on behalf of his party. Bacharach is Jewish. Most evangelical Christians are in whole hearted support of Israel and the people who live there. However they don't really have much use for American Jews. They are mostly democrats, many support policies that are an anathema to evangelicals and, of course, the bottom line is they won't accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior. They simply refuse to rush to the rail at the altar call all teary eyed.
Obama, a liberal, nominates a Jew to a lifetime on the federal bench. It is a seat one step below the United States Supreme Court. One can imagine the alarm bells going off in Coburn's suddenly fevered brain. Robert Bacharach is a man not to be trusted no matter how great his qualifications. Despite Tom Coburn's medical degree and all his experiences, that innate Oklahoma small town suspicion of those different from you kicks in.
Obviously he is enough of a politician to do everything he can to sound reasonable while acting just the opposite. Hypocrisy is a fine art form, best practiced by those who can at least have some semblance of sincerity. And if recent history teaches us anything it is that Tom Coburn can act as sincere as any human life form on the planet.
He never had my vote, but I always grudgingly liked Senator Coburn. At least until today. Unfortunately this morning, after all these years, I think I've finally caught a whiff of why the other kid spit on him. I don't blame him either. Given the same opportunity now, I believe I would too.