Repub­lic to lose true pub­lic ser­vant

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

It is a safe bet that Tom Coburn will not have a big fed­eral build­ing named for him. He is not likely to get a mon­u­ment erected around here hon­or­ing him. He won’t be sit­ting for an of­fi­cial por­trait — strik­ing that gen­er­ous pose of the long­time, greasy politi­cians — any­time soon.

No. The news from Sen. Tom Coburn, Ok­la­homa Repub­li­can, that he is re­tir­ing and will not fin­ish his sec­ond term, will come as a huge relief to peo­ple around here and all across the sprawl­ing fed­eral bu­reau­cracy.

But for Amer­ica, those who cher­ish free­dom and vot­ers who be­lieve in re­spon­si­ble, hon­est and lim­ited gov­ern­ment, one can scarcely think of a greater blow to the repub­lic.

Mr. Coburn’s good con­stituents back home surely will find a sat­is­fac­tory new se­na­tor. But, sim­ply put, Tom Coburn is ir­re­place­able.

He is not the most vis­i­ble politi­cian in Wash­ing­ton. You would never catch him be­tween Chuck Schumer and a tele­vi­sion cam­era. There isn’t much pretty or flashy about the guy. He doesn’t hold forth for hours on end wax­ing po­etic on the Se­nate floor about hum­ble be­gin­nings or over­com­ing per­sonal strife or fool­ish­ness like that.

If you call him “Se­na­tor,” he might cor­rect you and tell you to call him “Doc­tor.” And he is not jok­ing.

Tom Coburn is one of the most se­ri­ous, de­ter­mined and hard­est-work­ing peo­ple in Congress. And he ex­pects the same from those who work for him.

He has ded­i­cated his time here in the fed­eral city to root­ing out waste­ful spend­ing and gor­ing ev­ery bloated, sa­cred ox he could find — no mat­ter whose party had been the pa­tron of it. He and his staff do the re­ally hard and te­dious work of scour­ing bud­gets and ex­pense re­ports to find the cor­rupt, waste­ful or sim­ply du­plica­tive spend­ing in far-flung agen­cies you have never heard of. And then he calls the per­pe­tra­tors up from the bow­els of the bu­reau­cracy, hauls them be­fore his com­mit­tee and gives them a good ole bi­par­ti­san pub­lic shel­lack­ing.

Another rea­son Tom Coburn is some­thing of an odd­ity around here is that he can­not be lumped neatly into any par­ti­san camp. A lot of Repub­li­cans around here just love the idea of tax cuts. But the sec­ond you men­tion ac­tual spend­ing cuts, they take off run­ning like a bunch of scream­ing wee­nies.

Mr. Coburn loves tax cuts. But he loves smart spend­ing cuts even more. He is a true fis­cal con­ser­va­tive in a town filled with fis­cal sui­cide bombers.

No one in Congress to­day works as hard as Mr. Coburn does to reach across the aisle and coax oth­ers to join his fight for hon­est gov­ern­ment and fis­cal san­ity.

The only suc­cess­ful bill Barack Obama was ever chief spon­sor of dur­ing his years in the U.S. Se­nate was one Tom Coburn cob­bled to­gether with him. The law aims to force greater trans­parency on fed­eral spend­ing.

So, what kind of thanks does a stren­u­ously bi­par­ti­san, se­ri­ous, good­gov­ern­ment, com­mon-sense law­maker get around here?

He gets in­ves­ti­gated by the Se­nate ethics com­mit­tee for vi­o­lat­ing the au­gust body’s strin­gent rules on avoid­ing the ap­pear­ance of con­flicts of in­ter­est. His crime?

Be­ing a ded­i­cated doc­tor who re­fused to give up on his loyal pa­tients and de­voted nurses. For years, the com­mit­tee dogged Mr. Coburn, fix­ated on the no­tion that de­liv­er­ing ba­bies would some­how co­erce Mr. Coburn into bribery. This cha­rade was led by the Se­nate’s Javert him­self, Harry “Casino” Reid — surely an ex­pert on bribery.

Af­ter years of fun­house-mir­ror in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the Se­nate gave up and al­lowed Mr. Coburn to con­tinue see­ing pa­tients — but only if he doesn’t charge a fee.

Un­like Mr. Reid and his “ethics” syn­di­cate, Mr. Coburn un­der­stands that hold­ing a pri­vate job and do­ing it well is a much higher call­ing in Amer­ica than be­ing a se­na­tor. Pub­lic ser­vice is a “ser­vice” pre­cisely be­cause it is such a lowly and hum­ble task in a great, vi­brant coun­try with bound­less op­por­tu­nity.

Few prin­ci­ples were more im­por­tant to the Found­ing Fa­thers and, sadly, Mr. Coburn is one of the few in Congress who still be­lieves it.

Charles Hurt can be reached at and @charleshurt on Twit­ter.

Tom Coburn

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