So on the same day President Obama releases his birth certificate, our august state House gives a thumbs up to legislation that would force future presidential candidates to submit such documentation in order to compete in Oklahoma's primaries.
Making the world safe for democracy?
Hardly. It's more a case of never let the facts stand in the way of a good conspiracy. Or more precisely: Never miss an opportunity to stoke the fires of ignorance, bigotry and/or fear if you think it can help you politically.
Even loopy Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer was lucid enough to veto a similar "birther" measure in her state -- all it does is arm those who seek to portray your state as a cuckoo's nest, inmates in charge of the asylum.
The Okie version of Birther Mania, Senate Bill 91, now volleys back to the state Senate where it's hard to imagine it won't be approved, proven facts about Obama's birthplace be damned. Thus, the real question becomes: WWMD -- What will Mary do?
Gov. Fallin's spokesman, Alex Weintz, says she's taken no position on the proposal, preferring to wait until (if ever) it reaches her desk -- and in what form -- to make a decision.
It's no great revelation that political nuttiness abounds in our land: More than a third of Oklahomans surveyed last fall, for example, said they believe Obama is Muslim, even though he professes Christianity. Even more bizarre: 45 percent of adult Republicans said in a recent national poll they believe Obama was born in a foreign country -- and 22 percent said they weren't certain.
But the ever-presence of Tin Foil Hatters among us makes it no easier for the state's legislative leaders to steer the ship of state through a political minefield, created by this often bizarre, parallel universe.
They'd never say it publicly, of course, but it was easier for the leaders of the state's GOP legislative majority when Democrat Brad Henry controlled the veto pen. Henry, in tandem with enough Democrats to sustain his vetoes, could save Republicans from the worst excesses of their increasingly noisy fringe.
Now legislative leaders have to decide on a case-by-case basis whether they'll fade the heat or risk open revolt. In the case of SB 91, House Speaker Kris Steele was publicly lambasted for allegedly blocking a vote on the measure.
"Despite the wishes of the House Leadership, who were quietly trying to keep SB 91 off of the House Calendar, we were successful in getting the Presidential Birth Certificate bill one step closer into becoming law," said David Tackett, executive director of Oklahomans for Liberty, a Broken Arrow-based group.
Tackett insisted -- as did the bill's House sponsor, Rep. Sue Tibbs, R-Tulsa -- the legislation has nothing to do with questions about Obama's birthplace. So we're to believe it's mere happenstance that no one saw the necessity of such a requirement during the state's first 103 years? That it's only now -- when we have our first black president who just happens to have a Kenyan-born father and a un-Anglo-sounding name -- that it's a prudent requirement?
What's even more preposterous is this: Not a single House Republican voted against SB 91. Even worse, 13 House Democrats voted for it.
I get it: Republicans have proven themselves adept at pinning Democrats between a-rock-and-a-hard-place on myriad phony, baloney issues. I can see where this was an easy out for some Ds: Why give the GOP another wedge issue with which to pummel you in the next campaign? Obama's unpopular in Oklahoma, even among many registered Democrats.
They won't punish you for throwing him under the bus.
Don't be so sure. The Internet message boards were full of vitriol last week aimed at Rep. Chuck Hoskin, D-Vinita, whose comments in The New York Times on the birther bill were widely deemed less-than-supportive of his party's incumbent president and 2012 standard-bearer. The Times reported:
Democrats in Oklahoma, meanwhile, were divided. The minority floor leader in the House, for example, Chuck Hoskin, said he would probably vote yes. Asked in an interview whether he was concerned about embarrassing the leader of his own party, Mr. Hoskin said he thought Mr. Obama's failure to win over Oklahomans in 2008 was the real embarrassment.
"The current president failed to carry even one of the 77 counties," he said. "Which is more embarrassing -- to have a law passed requiring a birth certificate, or not being able to win one of 77 counties?"
An online petition was launched, calling for Hoskin's removal as minority floor leader. Democratic leaders insist Hoskin's comments were taken out of context by the Times and he ended up voting against SB 91 -- one of 13 House Democrats to do so.
Something else to consider: There are indications that voters are beginning to prefer "real" Republicans as opposed to Democrats who position themselves as Republicans-lite.
In the 2010 congressional midterms, for example, 24 of the 58 members of the conservative, Blue Dog Democratic caucus were defeated for re-election. Republicans even knocked off several incumbent state lawmakers in southeastern Oklahoma's traditionally Democratic stronghold known as Little Dixie.
Even the state's magic political name -- Boren -- almost wasn't enough to save Blue Dog Democrat Dan Boren in Oklahoma's 2nd Congressional District.
So what are grounded (in reality) politicians of both parties to do?
First, don't attempt to placate the wing nuts. It only encourages them when they're tossed a few scraps. I suspect Fallin, for one, will live to regret her decision to bow to pressure from the far right and reject $54 million in federal funds to help set up a health insurance exchange. What's next? Secede from the union? War against the evil Uncle Sugar?
Second, don't just stand in silence, bowing your head and shuffling your feet. Lead, damnit! Push back -- speak the truth about the Birther, Tenther, et al nonsense. When all your constituents hear is the parallel universe's take on the issues of the day, they'll end up assuming it must be true -- unless you set the record straight.
Third, don't assume you can manage this unmanageable group. Republican leaders were all-too-happy to reap the electoral rewards of the wing nuts' oft-bogus campaign rhetoric because it solidified their grip on state government power. Now they're dealing with the reality that many of those on the fringe don't play by the same rules, resulting in a head-butting, short-tempered session in which open revolt seems possible almost daily.
Honorable members of both parties -- whether conservatives, moderates or liberals -- must stand against extremism, debating the issues on real, provable facts, not an alternate reality by those who think two-plus-two-equals-four is a federal conspiracy.
We owe our children and grandchildren and all future generations more than to remain silent.
Don't think we can't lose this country. We can.
Mea culpa! In a recent column, I erred on the breakdown of Republican and Democratic lawmakers whose districts include the seven state parks targeted for closing in August because of state budget cuts. According to the state Tourism Department, two of the parks are in districts served by both a GOP senator and representative; one by both a Democratic senator and representative; and four by a lawmaker from each party.
--(Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; okobserver.net)
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