The right-wing hand-wring
In defense of Markwayne Mullin (seriously!)
Well, our old friend 2nd District Congressman Markwayne Mullin is back in the news again. And he’s getting boned.
I’m here to help.
“We looked at each other and we said, ‘We’re running again,’” Mullin said of a conversation with his wife, Christie. “We understand that people are going to be upset. And we get that. We understand it,” Mullin said. “I’m not hiding from that. Because we did say we were going to serve six years.”1
Within milliseconds of Mullin announcing his intention to seek a fourth term—and never trust a politician who uses the first person plural—the harpies on the right took to the fainting couch.
This from the fatuous site “U.S. Term Limits”:
Oklahoma Congressman, Markwayne Mullin has broken his word. He said that he would support term limits and only serve three terms himself. These two promises were a central part of his campaign, a key part of why people trusted him and believed he was going to work to change D.C. He promised while in office to co-sponsor the U.S. Term Limits Amendment to term limit the entire House and Senate. He has NEVER supported it and he has now announced he is also going to break his promise to only run for a third term.2
All caps, really?
To the point, Mullin’s success was based on convincing people who voted for him that they wouldn’t always have to. How dysfunctional is the relationship between the GOP and its voters anyway?
As regular readers around these parts know, I think3 Markwayne Mullin was put on this earth to make Jim Bridenstine look like a deep thinker. Nevertheless, a plumber-turned-congressman who decides, upon further reflection, that he can do more for his constituents by staying in Washington, representing them, than he can in Muskogee unclogging their toilets is not the end of the Republic, no matter how ferklempt former Senator Tom Coburn gets.
“What it tells us is the arrogance of power has affected his thinking, and when a man’s word doesn’t mean anything, nothing else matters,” former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn told a radio program … “To me, I just think it’s really sad.”4
Oh, lighten up, Saint Tom, would you? What is sad about Mullin deciding that after six years of a Democratic president he wants to stick around government for a GOP administration, even one headed by Donald Trump?
“If you can’t believe him on term limits, what else can you believe him on, and what can’t you believe him on?” Coburn asked rhetorically.
Please. Markwayne Mullin—the man who called the SNAP program “a fraud. Absolute, 100 percent, all it is, is fraud …”,5 enabled birthers,6 and kept his regular plumbing gig while serving in Washington7—is not going to suddenly jettison his former beliefs and turn into some pro-abortion rights advocate, global warming alarmist, and single-payer healthcare system proponent just because he decided to try to spend two more years in Washington.
Coburn’s outrage would be a tad more interesting if it wasn’t so covered in selective indignation and hypocrisy.
In 1994, Coburn, upon being elected to the same congressional seat Mullin now holds, promised to serve only three terms. And he did, retiring in 2000. Great. Let the hagiography begin.
But then in 2004, after U.S. Senator Don Nickles announced his retirement, Coburn decided to run for his seat. After he won, he then made another pledge to serve only two terms there.
What is the logic here? That Tom Coburn serving 18 consecutive years in the House of Representatives is bad for the country, but Tom Coburn serving a combined 18 years is somehow more in line with the wishes of the Founding Fathers? (More on them in a moment.)
Coburn was the same guy in the House that he was in the Senate—he just had a different business card. So spare me the sanctimony of one’s word and the desirability of citizen legislators, especially since Coburn, after leaving the Senate, didn’t go back to being a small-town doctor. He’s been writing editorials about the horrors of the Washington,8 making speeches, and calling for a constitutional convention.9 He’s now a special advisor to Citizens of Self-Governance and Convention of States Action10 and Manhattan Institute,11 two uber partisan think tank/lobbying groups. He hasn’t exactly taken a giant leap up on the career food chain.
Which brings me to Coburn’s former colleague Jim Inhofe, who has been in the U.S. Senate since 1994, and is acting like he’ll stay there until Barron Trump is elected president. Here’s what Coburn said about the length of Inhofe’s tenure:
Tom … Tom?
Oh, that’s right, he never criticized Inhofe by name, nor has he criticized Republican Senators Orrin Hatch, Thad Cochran, Chuck Grassley, Mitch McConnell, Richard Shelby, or John McCain—all of whom have served more than 30 years. Mullin, however, Coburn vows to unseat.
The difference, apparently, is that the others never said they wouldn’t run again, and Mullin just wasn’t artful enough to not make the pledge.
And for this Coburn summons the wrath of the God?
Coburn is only being a disingenuous bully on this, so let’s call him on it. If Mullin gets the GOP nod in the 2nd District primary—if he’s challenged—will Coburn promise to back the Democratic candidate in the general election out of principle?
As for Mullin, he explains his thinking as best he can:
“I don’t think there’s one person that’s never changed their mind six years apart from each other or how they would approach things,” Mullin said.12
Mullin bangs on the English language like it’s a corroded bathroom pipe, but he has a point. People change. Expectations change. And it’s good that they do. Good that he did.
This raises a fundamental question about term limits, which is the third-worst idea in current American politics behind 1) an elected judiciary and 2) a balanced budget amendment, and barely beats out charter schools for the bronze. Why do we even have them? Why shouldn’t voters be allowed to choose whomever they want for representatives, for as long as they want them? Candidates are not hooch and we’re not alcoholics—we can handle it. Here in Oklahoma, needless to say, we actually have term limits and, my oh my, how well that’s worked out. (After all, the only reason we have them for presidential races is because Republicans got tired of losing to FDR.)
A representative who hates government is like a gynecologist who hates women. Public service is an honor, not a burden. Good governance, coalition-building, budgets, allocations, and understanding the law take hard work—harder than memorizing four or five bumper stickers about the evils of big government.
In The Federalist No. 62, James Madison saw the strength in continuity, in career politicians:
No government, any more than an individual, will long be respected without being truly respectable; nor be truly respectable, without possessing a certain portion of order and stability.
Order, stability. Those come from continuity, come from people like John McCain, Ted Kennedy, Orrin Hatch, and Robert Byrd, representatives who developed an institutional memory, fondness, and respect for the place. If Markwayne Mullin has concluded there’s honor in government, honor in public service, good on him. If Democrats can’t beat him in the 2nd District? Tough.
It’s how democracy gets done.
For more from Barry, read his summer reflections.