Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Praying for More Than a Partisan Victory

A recent annoyance with Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) was expressed here when Coburn objected to a unanimous consent request by fellow Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) that would have commenced with the reading of Sanders' amendment to the health care reform bill, a reading that had been dispensed with in every other case of a health care reform amendment being introduced and coming to the floor of the Senate for a vote. Coburn's objection resulted in Sanders retracting his amendment as a way of stifling Coburn's stalling attempt.

Of all the things that Tom Coburn was allowed to say on the floor of the Senate, no statement was more scarily egregious as his suggestion that concerned, anti-health care reform Americans should pray that a member of the United States Senate not be able to make it to the final vote. It's one thing to hope that as a party you have the votes to block the passage of legislation, it is another thing to hope that one of your colleagues can't make the vote especially in a body that includes a member over 90, three in their 80s and 23 members in their 70s.

After Coburn made his reprehensible suggestion that Americans use prayer for the partisan purpose of preventing the passage of legislation, Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) came to the floor looking for Coburn to ask of Coburn what was meant by his ridiculous statement. When Durbin was not able to reach Coburn, by phone or on the floor, Durbin took a moment to discuss his disgust with Coburn's comments:

It was not lost on Senator Durbin, nor should it be lost on the majority of reasonable Americans, that the United States Senate includes a handful of elder statesmen, the eldest being Senator Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia), and those elder statesman have been quite busy in recent weeks. Not only have the octogenarians of the Senate (Akaka, Inouye and Lautenberg) had to vote late at night as the Senate has considered key health care legislation and spending bills, nearly each weekend for over a month has been dedicated to floor speeches and quorum calls that have required their presence. Aside from attending to his duties as a senator, Byrd has had a rough year that included many stays in the hospital, one that resulted in a serious staph infection. Clearly, Byrd's health is fragile and as we all saw in the passing of Senator Kennedy this year, the U.S. Senate can change awfully quickly. Praying for the demise of a colleague is despicable.

It is one thing to silently hope that a Democrat breaks with their party and votes against the health care reform you've grown to despise, it is another to say publicly that you think Americans should be praying for your colleagues' demise. If the latter is worse than the former, I don't know where the following video of an anti-reform caller admitting to having followed Coburn's suggestion falls on the spectrum of detestable actions:

Yes, that caller is asking Senator Barrasso (R-Wyoming) if he prayed hard enough as his colleague Senator Coburn had asked. Yes, that caller is emotional about the prospect that his praying, with or without Barrasso's, backfired and resulted in something horrible happening to Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) that left him unable to vote. As I said, I don't know where this call and Coburn's suggestion of prayer falls on spectrum of detestable actions, but I suspect this makes many Americans furious and that others find this as sickening as I do.

Those on the right may say that we "liberals" are taking this whole thing too seriously and Coburn didn't mean it the way we are interpreting it. That might have been semi-believable until this C-SPAN video went viral. We watched the August recess turn into right wing hysteria, too, you know. We've long abandoned civility in our political discourse.

We are a divided nation composed of two sides that sling mud, hurl accusations and force partisanship into places it need not be. It is one thing to oppose health care reform and entirely another to do what Senator Coburn did just over a week ago in the United States Senate. It is no longer scary to wonder what those on the right, not even the fringe, but conservative, religious members of the Republican and Libertarian parties, would do if violent acts were suggested to them. If they are willing to pray for the demise of a politician, where does their obedience end?

It is no coincidence that Sarah's Vowell's wisdom appeared here yesterday. Indeed, a belief is very dangerous and it is clear from this C-SPAN caller and Barrasso's complete calmness in response to it exactly why: Those on the right will do nearly anything to further their cause; they will lie, scream, and evidently pray for the defeat of their opponent, by any means necessary.

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