Oil-Funded Career Politician Sen. Coburn Decries Careerism, Lack Of Integrity

October 28, 2011 5:50 pm ET — Kate Conway

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is known as the Senate's "Dr. No" for his willingness to hold up the passage of just about any legislation, from funding for autism research to a women's history museum to the 9/11 first responders health care bill. So things could've gotten a little bit awkward today on MSNBC when host Dylan Ratigan confronted Coburn about politicians who are influenced by industry money "to ensure things don't happen, not to ensure that they do happen."

Yet without the slightest hint of shame, Coburn joined Ratigan in decrying "career politicians" whose goal is "to stay in office rather than do the best right thing for our country."

RATIGAN: It's become apparent that if 94 percent of the time the politician who raises the most money wins — that means that if you are not the politician who raises the most money, 94 percent of the time you will lose. Simultaneously I have a system in which money is paid by the hundreds of billions to ensure things don't happen, not to ensure that they do happen. And I don't see how we get to the resolution that you so articulately present. [...]

COBURN: What we have is a problem with careerism. That's my diagnosis as a physician. When the number one goal for a politician is to stay in office rather than do the best right thing for our country, you can understand why people might be skeptical. And so you talk about money and politics, the problem with money and politics is we have these stables of careerism, that incumbency generates so much of an advantage over somebody challenging them, but what we've seen recently is that incumbency is losing that advantage and the money is a marker but it's not a true marker. The true marker is the American people have awakened. And they're on to the career politicians who are not going to vote the best thing for the country.


Coburn comes pretty close to the definition of "career politician," since he's been an elected official for over fifteen years (before his Senate gig, he served in Oklahoma's House of Representatives). And he would know something about how industry money influences politicians focused on reelection: Coburn is a notorious advocate for the interests of the oil and gas industry, which is his second-biggest funder.

Meanwhile, Coburn hasn't exactly been prioritizing doing "the best right thing for our country." He held up a Federal Aviation Administration funding bill that left thousands out of work — and cost the government money. He singlehandedly blocked a vote on disaster relief funding. He even attacked a bridge project in his own state without looking at the facts, prompting Oklahoma's second-biggest newspaper to accuse him of "myopic thinking."

Later in the interview, Coburn mused, "I don't think the money's the problem, I think the character and integrity of the people who are there and their vision for America in the long term versus their vision for their own political career." One has to wonder which of those things Coburn himself is prioritizing.