Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tom Coburn Should Read the Poem "No Man is an Island" Before Talking About Budget Cuts and the Tornado Disaster in Oklahoma

When I was in middle school, my home town was hit by a devastating tornado. We were fortunate. While my neighborhood was without power for almost 10 days, and many homes were destroyed, the loss of life--considering the power of the tornado--was relatively low.

The destroyed houses, fallen trees, and crushed cars are sights that I will never forget. But the impression that stayed with me the longest, and was formative for my belief that government can--despite Ronald Reagan's argument to the opposite--do good, were the droning sounds of Army helicopters, big green trucks full of marines and supplies, the hundreds of utility workers from all over New England and New York, and those big men from the Connecticut State Police who manned the perimeter around Hamden and New Haven that hot summer day and night.

Within an hour after the tornado hit our "first responders" were present and getting down to business; our tax dollars did some good that day. In 2013, I doubt the federal and state assistance would have come as quickly, in force, or efficiently.

My well-wishes and positive energy go out to the good people of Moore, Oklahoma. So much loss and destruction: they will need the support of all Americans in rebuilding their lives and community.

Oklahoma's Republican Senator Tom Coburn is a reminder that abstract public policy matters have real life implications for people's lives. Discussions about cutting the state and federal budget in the interest of trimming "waste" means that you fire people and put them out of their homes. Cutting down on money for disaster relief and infrastructure means that people die in an emergency and the country has poorly maintained roads, railways, and bridges which is both an impediment to economic growth, and creates difficulties in properly supporting communities when they are in crisis.

Tom Coburn is a member of the Austerity neo liberalism coven. While people suffer, he is more interested in expounding on the gospel of budget cuts in response to disaster relief for the people of Moore, Oklahoma than in adhering to a rubric wherein the social compact is precisely a promise that the State will provide proper support for its citizens in dealing with disasters and other matters outside of their immediate control.

Bodies remain unburied. Yet, Tom Coburn is treating a disaster as an exercise in accounting.

He is also a hypocrite. Coburn has supported aid for his state in times of trouble in the past while opposing similar programs for other communities.

Austerity and neo liberalism are morally unconscionable policies not just because of how the logic of profit maximization is used to destroy the legitimacy of the public commons and the social safety net by transferring the State's resources (i.e. the people's tax money) to the private coffers of elite policy makers and their agents. The immorality is of a different nature: the Tom Coburns of the world do not have to deal with the material consequences of their own policies. In all, this is a breach of trust between citizens and their elected officials.

When the Barons of Austerity and privatization have no need for public services such as police, fire departments, schools, hospitals, and in this case disaster relief, they are immune from how their policy prescriptions hurt and destroy the lives of real people.

Members of the elite ruling class like Tom Coburn have no need for federal aid in times of crisis because they are rich. Men such as Tom Coburn do not need to worry about the common or civic good because they live in their own parallel public of the beltway, the policy wonks, think tanks, insular apparatus of the political party system, plutocrats, interest groups, lobbyists, and gated communities.

In all, the Social Darwinism which is Austerity and neo liberalism in practice suggests that those of us who are impacted by disasters, be they natural, or man-made as in the case of the Great Recession, only have ourselves to blame for a lack of preparedness.

If a person has neither the resources or expertise then from this perspective one has only themselves to blame. There, the victims of disasters are viewed as somehow lazy or have violated the American ethics of thrift and preparedness. And as we saw with Hurricane Katrina, this sense of who are the deserving and undeserving of assistance is magnified by the twin lenses of race and class in America.

Some may call my belief in "good government", and its auxiliary concepts "the common good" and the social compact, a bit "romantic" and "nostalgic." Given the vicissitudes of Austerity-era America with its paradoxes of record wealth and profit for the most wealthy, and devastation for the working class and poor, a bit of political imagination and idealism may be precisely what is necessary to force mobilization and change.

To right his mind, ethics, and civic priorities, I suggest that Tom Coburn should read the poem No Man is an Island by John Donne:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

As Tom Coburn reflects upon how the people of Moore, Oklahoma are suffering, perhaps John Donne's poem will spark a sense of civic responsibility from him. Maybe, No Man is an Island will serve as a reminder for the Austerity barons in both the Tea Party GOP and the Democratic Party of how public servants ought to be bounded by the virtues and obligations of community, belonging, and service to all Americans.

It is okay to dream from time to time. Is it not?


Miles_Ellison said...

I wonder if the federal relief aid for this disaster is going to be held up in Congress like the Hurricane Sandy aid for NY & NJ was. Silly question. Oklahoma has way more right wing crackpots. Bring your umbrella, because the hated fedral gubmint is about to make it rain like Pac Man Jones in a Vegas strip club.

chauncey devega said...

Red State America is stuck on the government tit; but their people and representatives keep talking about cutting the lifeline.

Miles_Ellison said...

This has me pondering the many dimensions of irony and hypocrisy.

Constructive_Feedback said...

My Dear Friend Chauncey DeVega:

Was I watched Chris Hayes last night (well actually a recording of last night's show this morning) he actually CREDITED Senator Coburn for being CONSISTENT in his stance.

You see, Coburn is demanding OFF-SETTING CUTS IN SPENDING in support of the Relief Spending.

He wanted this for Sandy Relief.
He wants this for his home state.

Unless Coburn has changed his stance since yesterday (in opposition to spending w/o offsets) - what are you talking about sir?

Its the OTHER Republican Senator of Oklahoma that is the hypocrite - per Chris Hayes - the man who displaced your friend Ed Schultz.

chauncey devega said...

Coburn in the past has supported money for his state and not for others. My ultimate point is that there is something deeply and ethically problematic about such an austerity approach.

What brought you out of from under the dusty carpet again? You had been hiding as of late.

sam enderby said...

My what "dear" friends you have. Coburn, an obstetrician who favors the death penalty for abortion-ists, stands on his high-hatted honor as a fiscal schmo who has yet to admit that his holy deficit has been reduced by almost (or more?) one-half since Obama's been in office and yet can't find it within himself to offer aid and comfort without strings attached to his own constituents - so he can boast later when another catastrophe will need our government's "non-binding" attention, "look what a principled guy I am"- A medical dr who has forgotten what it is to be a doctor in the first place- and a politician who has forgotten why people elect you to office in the first place- Along with his brain-dead partner, Inhofe, a hater of manunkind.