Tom Coburn leaves a lonely place lonelier

Coburn has always had a gift for honesty. He didn’t need consultants to tell him how to be a senator. He had the white hair, all-American accent and a doctor’s wisdom of life and death, his vocation before politics. He talked to the president frequently but didn’t brag about it. His colleagues — fellow Republicans and Democrats — liked to have him around, even though he could be a thorn in both sides. He was often the first to be asked to join the various bipartisan “Gangs of.”

His Washington home was the model for the Amazon.com Inc. satire “Alpha House,” yet he didn’t sign his conservative roommate Senator Mike Lee’s manifesto calling for defunding Obamacare, because he thought it was the wrong way to go. When I asked him who among his colleagues he would drive across the country with, he said Senator Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat with whom he’d formed the gang on immigration. What a buddy movie that would make…

Reporters don’t get to choose the senators they cover, but you can choose who you ask over to dinner. He was the most ego-free, funny and sensible person you could meet — and not just by the low standards of the current Congress. It helped that he was a country doctor from Muskogee (4,000 babies delivered) and that he preferred to be called Dr. Coburn. He admitted that his mother-in-law, Mamie, liked my political positions better than he did and he asked me to write her a note. When a new senator, Democrat or Republican, arrived in town, Coburn always stopped by for a visit because, he said, Washington is such “a lonely place.” Come the end of the month, it will be even more so.