This isn't a day-to-day question when observing the Oklahoma Legislature. It's more like hour-to-hour, if not moment-to-moment.
Just a few minutes in the state Capitol's August legislative chambers will erase any high-minded notion of two great deliberative bodies conducting the people's business.
What all too often happens these days is that a loud-mouthed, intellectually challenged, far-right cabal browbeats the saner majority into submission, common sense be damned.
All it takes is for some wingnut to invoke the specter of "ObamaCare" or "growing government," "Nanny State" or "Islam" and... and...
Spines turn to jelly. Butts pucker. Hearts race.
Classic example: State Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, recently presented House Bill 2582, a measure aimed at creating a new program in which Oklahoma's long-term caregivers would be fingerprinted as part of a national background check.
A no-brainer, right? Our Legislature is all about law-and-order. And who wouldn't want to protect our most vulnerable citizens -- those in nursing homes, assisted living centers and receiving at-home care?
Better yet, it would be paid (almost entirely) by a $2.75 million grant from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services -- in fact, it wouldn't cost the already lean state budget anything.
Uh, oh. What's the source of the money? The federal government? Is this part of ObamaCare? Hell, no, we won't take it. Damn federal overreach!
Boom! A simple, smart bill -- requested by the state Department of Health -- went down in flames because members of the Republican majority were afraid they could be attacked politically for sucking on the federal teat.
Earth to the scared-of-your-own-shadow majority: That federal grant is our money. It's part of what Oklahomans already paid in federal taxes.
Yes, you certainly can argue about whether it's an appropriate use of your federal tax dollars. But that's a matter to be discussed with your Congress and Washington policymakers.
Here's the reality: If Oklahoma turns it down, someone else would take it.
I don't know about you, but I haven't seen many of the anti-federal government, Tenth Amendment-waving crowd railing against all the federal dollars flowing into our state's military installations which just happen, of course, to be among our state's largest employees.
In fact, word last week that Tinker Air Force Base would be losing about 600 jobs because of federal budget cuts nearly sent the anti-fed-frothing U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe into apoplexy.
Nor have I heard complaints about all the federal dollars flowing to our highways and bridges, our airports, our lakes and waterways... you get the picture.
When HB 2582 failed on a 48-44 vote in the House, you could almost see McDaniel -- and those legislators firmly planted in reality -- sag in despair.
In normal times, the fingerprinting program would be a God-motherhood-apple pie slam dunk. Not in the 2012 session -- even though 14 Republicans, including Speaker Kris Steele, joined Democrats in supporting the bill.
Fortunately, McDaniel was able to revive the measure later -- and it was approved 65-28. Sadly, there's no guarantee it won't face similar demagoguery in the state Senate.
"This fingerprint system will ensure the safety of our frail and elderly citizens by helping screen people who work in nursing homes, assisted living centers and state agencies," McDaniel said.
"The system will have access to records nationally, so that no matter where a potential employee is coming from, we can check their background. It will help ensure that no one with a criminal background is put in a position to victimize elderly Oklahomans. We have the support of AARP and many of the employers that will be affected."
Of course, this wasn't the first time since Republicans won veto-proof majorities in both legislative houses and claimed all 11 statewide offices that they've cowered to the ultra-right set.
It was only last year, remember, when Gov. Mary Fallin accepted, then abruptly rejected a $54.6 million federal grant to help set up a health insurance exchange under the president's Affordable Care Act.
No, the governor decided, we'd rather pay for it ourselves. Twice.
What she didn't tell you -- and what didn't sink in with most Oklahomans -- is this: Her decision meant Oklahomans would pay twice to set up the exchange (which lawmakers put on hold pending the outcome of federal court challenges of "ObamaCare").
Our "leaders" kissed off $54.6 million in tax dollars that Oklahoma taxpayers already sent to Washington -- meaning tax dollars sent to the treasury in Oklahoma City eventually will have to be used instead to set up the exchange.
Let's be honest: People are just people. Political cowardice always has been in greater supply than political courage.
There are only four faces on Mount Rushmore, after all.
But wouldn't self-respect demand that you stand against the demagoguery of the unhinged?
A disagreement over principle is one thing. Being stampeded by someone who resides in an alternate universe -- an un-reality -- is something else entirely.
The fact is, it scares the hell out of mainstream conservative elected Republicans that they'll get a primary challenge from the wingnut and Tea Party right.
That's how we ended up with "Personhood" and other phony-baloney wedge issues on this year's legislative agenda. Mainstream Republicans are scrambling to inoculate themselves from a primary challenge.
It's not going to work. First, the likely challengers rarely accept reality-based facts. Second, Oklahoma's mainstream Republicans have too often revealed their political cowardice -- they can be bullied easier than the proverbial 95-pound weakling on the sandy beach.
Somewhere there must be a list of demagogic buzzwards and phrases guaranteed to send reality-based Republicans scurrying into the dark recesses in mortal fear of the ultra-right rats.
The GOP majority better come up with a sure-fire pesticide -- and soon -- or they may soon find themselves on the endangered species list.
And Oklahoma will be headed even faster down the rat hole.
--Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; www.okobserver.net
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