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April 26, 2014 12:23 PM What Passes for Sanity in Oklahoma

By Martin Longman

Sometimes things leap off the page and smack you in the face. That’s what happened to me while I was reading about the Republican primary in Oklahoma to replace retiring Senator Tom Coburn. You may know Coburn as Dr. No. The obstreperous obstetrician (as The Economist dubbed him) earned his moniker for his willingness to place holds on nominees and bills, as well as his tendency to refuse his consent for moving countless motions to proceed. Nonetheless, Coburn could be a creative legislator. He actually had many amendments accepted in the crafting of the Affordable Care Act, and he famously teamed up with Sen. Barack Obama to pass the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006. He was, in other words, somewhat good at his job. While he liked to appear on camera and could spout inane talking points as efficiently as Sen. Ted Cruz, he actually took his job responsibilities seriously.

There’s a chance that Rep. James Lankford might follow in that mold. But I think there is almost no chance that state House Speaker T.W. Shannon will. In fact, things are so insane in Oklahoma that what passes for “moderate” is Lankford calmly talking with constituents about Benghazi and the Fast & Furious program. Watch:

Tea party celebrities Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee descended here on Thursday night to anoint their candidate to replace retiring Republican Sen. Tom Coburn: Republican former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon.
By embracing Shannon, they are leaving behind Rep. James Lankford, the fifth-highest-ranking member of the House GOP leadership, who is also bidding for the last two years of Coburn’s term. Lankford could be forgiven for thinking he had a shot at such prominent endorsements, since he rode the tea party wave of 2010 to a seat in the House. But the conservative glitterati think Shannon is a true believer and that Lankford has disappointed them by voting to raise the debt ceiling and joining Speaker John Boehner’s team.

Okay, so Lankford is a RINO because he didn’t want the country to default on its debts and he actually agreed to take on some leadership responsibilities in Congress. Got it.

“These are our warriors in the United States Senate,” Palin said at a “Liberty Rally” for Shannon, pointing to Cruz and Lee. “We’ve got to send them some reinforcements. And Oklahoma’s contribution to that worthy effort is T.W. Shannon.” “You can tell a lot about a man by the friends he keeps. What do you think of my friends?” Shannon, flanked by his new allies, said to 15 seconds of applause from the hundreds in the audience…
…And though no mention was made at the rally of Lankford, there were several veiled attacks on the sophomore lawmaker’s ties to Washington. Palin said she’s “not afraid of going on a little RINO hunt,” while Cruz was more direct, casting Shannon as an ally in the combative Senate Republican lunches that the Texas senator has joked require a food taster, lest an enemy poison him.
“I am supporting T.W. Shannon because he has the courage of his convictions to look the party bosses in the eye and say: ‘I don’t work for you. I work for the people in Oklahoma,’” Cruz said at the rally, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was used as a bogeyman to deafening boos and repealing Obamacare was presented as a real possibility.

It sounds like these folks are equal-opportunity haters. It sounds like Mitch McConnell would be greeted with the same deafening boos reserved for Harry Reid. Quite the freakshow.

By contrast, a modestly saner reality:

A few hours earlier and a few miles up the road in Bartlesville, where oil derricks dot sprawling cattle ranches, Lankford took questions from several dozen Republicans about Benghazi, Fast & Furious and government fraud in a far more subdued atmosphere.
Lankford recounted his continued battles with the Obama administration and his efforts to combat welfare fraud but warned against “celebrities” who go to Washington to pose for the cameras instead of delving into the issues — a shot at those backing Shannon.
Lankford wants to gut Obamacare but said the best way to make progress is “four yards and a cloud of dust,” not always Hail Mary passes. He told one attendee that while he had issues with the IRS, abolishing it was not realistic. And his biggest applause lines came after he celebrated Attorney General Eric Holder’s cancellation of an Oklahoma event on Thursday — and when he pitted his battles as ones against Democrats, not Republicans.
“I am not running against T.W. and Randy [Brogdon],” Lankford said. “I’m running against Harry Reid.”

According to a recent poll, Lankford has already blown a commanding lead. It’s probably because he doesn’t throw enough bombs (Hail Marys) to the good people of Oklahoma. He’s getting out-crazied. He’s getting out-crazied despite the fact that he’s out there every day talking about goddamned Benghazi and a gun scandal that’s five years past its prime.

And, you want to know what else is insane?

The Republicans are touting Mr. Shannon as a diversity choice because he’s bi-racial and part Native American.

The election of the biracial Shannon would deliver the national GOP a major image boost and a rebuttal to the party’s struggles with minorities and youth, marking the first time two black Republican senators served simultaneously.
“Instant celebrity,” said former Republican Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating.
“The Democrats accuse us of not embracing diversity? Oh, my goodness. He is it. He is the whole package. Oklahoma, you’ve been so lucky to have him,” Palin said at the rally, seconds after cracking to awkward laughs: “I still can’t pronounce his name. Ta-herer-wuhn. So I’m glad you go by T.W.” (His full name is Tahrohon Wayne Shannon.)

Yes, because the best way to “embrace diversity” is to tell Tahrohon that you thank God he doesn’t use his unpronounceable first name. This works well for Indians of the Asian variety, too.

For a long time, I thought that Tom “Dr. No” Coburn was the most annoying member of the Senate. That’s no longer even close to being the case. And it’s probably about to get worse.

Martin Longman is the Web Editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune. He has worked as a community organizer for ACORN/Project Vote and as a political consultant for Democracy for America.

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