Via the Examiner, a grim postscript to the news this morning. Here’s the thing about Coburn: He means it. No matter the subject, from government waste to his personal affection for Obama, he seemed congenitally incapable of BSing people the way the average politician routinely does. Twice he pledged to serve a fixed number of terms in Congress, once as a House member and again as a senator, and he kept both promises. The other day he said he supports a constitutional convention to remake government in key structural ways. With any other pol, I would have wondered if he was on the level; with Coburn, given his track record and his palpable contempt for D.C., you don’t need to wonder. I always got the sense from him that he was still a private citizen at heart and was doing this job not for the power but because he genuinely felt duty-bound to help the country if he could. He could take it or leave it, so now he’s leaving it. For that reason, I think, there’s always been something anachronistic about him, even though we all understand that there probably weren’t many private-citizens-at-heart back in “the golden days” of American democracy either. It’s just our luck, with so much deadwood in the Senate, we lose the one guy whom people really could trust. Terrible.
All of this is to say that, when he claims his retirement isn’t being driven by the recurrence of cancer, I believe him. I don’t think it’s the cancer that’s forced him out. I think he really has lost all hope that Congress in its current and foreseeably future incarnations can solve America’s problems. When he says we should “change” everyone in Washington, I don’t think he means changing their attitudes; I think he means throwing every last one of the bums out and starting over. That’s what makes the clip, short as it is, so relentlessly grim. When the most honest man in Washington tells you that he’s given up, it’s hard to see why the rest of us shouldn’t give up too.