The Internet and cable TV wags had a field day recently when Oklahoma's rookie Tea Party Rep. Markwayne Mullin lamented that the nation's four branches of government aren't working together.
You read that correctly. Four. Four branches. It wasn't a misquote. Mullin, a United States congressman, one of our nation's elected elite, flunked Civics 101. Spectacularly.
Maybe he and Guvner Goodhair -- Texas' Rick Perry -- should get together, remove their shoes and socks, and go to cypherin'. Perry could help Mullin count to three (the actual number of U.S. government branches) and Mullin could help Perry locate that elusive third federal agency he would abolish (if only he could remember its name).
Look, we all misspeak. Some, more often than others. Now, I've never met Mullin. I only know what's in his resume, including that he evidently is a successful plumber (I had a mechanical bypass at an early age, so I'm impressed by almost anyone who can deploy a wrench to actually fix something). I also know what he's said on the campaign trail and done in his first year in Congress.
And it's what he's said and done as a candidate and as a Congress critter that sets off alarms -- not the fact he somehow imagined a fourth branch alongside executive, legislative and judicial.
Mullin, you see, mirrors the bizarre mindset of those Oklahomans schooled (brainwashed?) by Fox Noise, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Co. They wrap themselves in yellow "Don't Tread On Me" flags and fancy themselves as America's super-patriots, ever vigilant against jack-booted federal oppression.
It's a fantasy, of course. These are some of the same folks who believe unequivocally that President Obama is a Muslim ... who was born in Kenya ... and is a socialist/Communist hell-bent on seizing everyone's guns and imposing a dictatorship.
Mullin's worldview is not unique in Oklahoma's congressional delegation. Reps. Jim Bridenstine of Tulsa and James Lankford of Edmond are products of the same alternate universe that despises government, rejects science (think: evolution and climate change) and sees little connection between taxes and public services.
What's ironic, though, is this: Oklahoma is in the upper half of the 50 states when it comes to sucking on the federal teat. If it weren't for Uncle Sugar, we'd be suffering a severe case of Mississippi envy.
Think about it.
Where would Oklahoma be without its largest single employer, Tinker Air Force Base? Lawton without Fort Sill? Enid without Vance Air Force Base?
Tulsa without the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or the Port of Catoosa? Oklahoma City without the Federal Aviation Administration?
Norman without the National Weather Center? McAlester without the Army Ammunition Plant?
Like it or not, Oklahoma's economic vitality depends to a great extent on federal largesse. And that's why it's a serious problem when three of your state's five U.S. House members have tea bags dangling from their Revolutionary War hats.
You see, the day is going to come -- sooner , rather than later if the teabaggers get their way -- when the federal budget knife more closely resembles a chain saw than a scalpel.
The Base Closure Commission will reconvene and Tinker, Fort Sill, Vance, and Altus will be on the chopping block, just like military installations in other states.
It is not Oklahoma's God-given right to host these magnificent facilities, significant job-creators that fuel the state's economy (think about all the private-sector jobs that service these government installations). They are located here because, once upon a time, we had serious political clout in Washington.
We elected Rhodes Scholars like Carl Albert whose brilliant mind and political savvy enabled him to rise to the top of Congress as House Speaker.
We elected visionary businessmen like Robert S. Kerr who became the Uncrowned King of the Senate (and for whom the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System was named).
We elected real heroes like wheat farmer Henry Bellmon, a Marine who survived Iwo Jima to become a two-term governor and U.S. senator known for his willingness to put the greater good above his personal ambition, no matter the political cost.
Maybe congressmen like Mullin will rise to the occasion. Maybe he will grow in office. Bellmon certainly did.
So far, there is scant evidence to think so. Mullin's utterances in a recent telephone Town Hall suggest he is an ideologue -- neither a problem solver nor a visionary.
At one point, Mullin refused to believe a constituent when she told him she'd signed up for the Affordable Care Act via the new online exchange. Mullin, of course, despises ObamaCare so her story couldn't possibly be true -- the signup, he asserted, "isn't happening."
"It absolutely is," she retorted.
Yes, it is. It hasn't been easy. The exchanges clearly weren't prepared for the crush of people who want to see if ObamaCare can help get them insured -- or help save them money in the newly competitive marketplace.
In Mullin's mind, the technological glitch reflects a failure of an ill-conceived system that must be scrapped. Seriously? What does he think when Apple rolls out a new iPhone or iPad and can't handle the first-week demand? Chances are, he'd hail that as wildly successful. Oh, the hypocrisy.
But sticking a thumb in a constituent's eye -- in effect calling her a liar -- wasn't even the worst of it.
Consider this jaw-dropper from Mullin: "There are a lot of programs out there that if people need medical help they can get it ... There are a lot of hospitals out there that do the work for free."
Earth to Mullin: Free?
Yes, there are free clinics that offer some basic, limited health care services. But when it comes to health care for the uninsured, the real heavy lifting is being done by hospital emergency rooms.
And the notion that hospitals "do the work for free" is so preposterous that it suggests Mullin resides in a parallel universe.
Here's the reality Mullin doesn't seem to understand (even though he represents in eastern Oklahoma some of the state's poorest residents): A prime reason that nearly 700,000 Oklahomans don't have health insurance is because they can't afford it.
I'm not proposing Oklahoma only send Rhodes Scholars to Washington. But let's face it: we'll never have the built-in clout of mega states like California, Texas or New York. So we must be smart about who we send to Washington.
Mullin's inability to grasp even the basic economics of health care suggests he isn't up to the task.
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