The State Chamber’s decision to close an October political forum to the public and press is un-American and un-democratic.
The decision may also show the deeply entrenched partisan nature of the business organization, which apparently takes orders from Republican political operatives.
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, a Republican, and his opponent in this year’s election, state Sen. Andrew Rice, a Democrat, were scheduled to appear at an October 14 forum sponsored by the chamber. Rice, pictured right, canceled his appearance when he learned it was an exclusive, members-only event.
Past chamber political forums were open to the public and media, and some were even televised, according to an article by the Associated Press.
But not this year. Inhofe’s campaign manager, Josh Kivett, said the Inhofe campaign requested the event be closed to the public and media, according to the Associated Press, and Matt Robison, a chamber officer, said the event was closed to the public to allow for a “frank discussion. “ He told the Associated Press that no one put pressure on the chamber to close the forum to the public, but this contradicts Kivett’s remarks.
Robison did not respond to an email I sent him about the issue. In the email, I asked Robison these questions: “Did the Inhofe campaign contact you or any other chamber office and ask that the forum be limited to chamber members? When did the Inhofe campaign contact the chamber? Who contacted the chamber from the Inhofe campaign about the forum on this issue and how exactly was the request made? Why is the chamber breaking with the recent practice of allowing the press and public to attend these types of forums?”
Rice’s campaign manager, Geri Prado, put it this way: "Unfortunately, Jim Inhofe wants to campaign the way he works in the Senate — behind closed doors, unaccountable and away from the public.”
That is certainly true. Why is Inhofe, who leads in the polls and campaign fundraising, afraid to appear in an open forum? But the larger issue is this: The chamber’s decision is clearly an attempt to deny Oklahomans the basic information they need to make informed voting decisions. By default, the chamber’s decision implicitly condones secret government and secret elections. This is an acute moral violation of basic American principles. It is the continuing and appalling neoconservative rejection of basic democratic ideals.
Ironically, many Oklahomans would contend Inhofe’s outrageous comments about climate change, the Iraq occupation and cultural wedge issues have hurt the state’s image and thus hurt economic development here. But extreme right-wing ideology here has always trumped basic pragmatism even when it comes to creating jobs for people and improving the state’s quality of life.
In the state’s best interest, economic and otherwise, the chamber should reconsider its anti-democratic decision and open the forum to the public and media.
(In the coming weeks, Okie Funk will set the record straight when it comes to U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe. This blog will be publishing an open-ended series “The Case Against Jim Inhofe.” The series will comment on Inhofe’s political and business escapades, from his earlier lies about when he graduated from college to the insurance company he ran into insolvency to his dirty campaign tactics. It will show how Inhofe has consistently hurt the state’s image. It will focus as well on Inhofe’s atrocious record on economic, health, energy, environmental, military and government spending issues. Here are the installments published before this post: Part I: “Rice Gains Ground on Inhofe," Part II: “Character Issue Follows Inhofe,” Part III: “When Inhofe Talks, People Cringe.”)
(A different version of the below post was first published May 7, 2007.)
"Our intelligence system has said that we know that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction -- I believe including nuclear. There's not one person on this panel who would tell you unequivocally that he doesn't have the missile means now, or is nearly getting the missile means to deliver a weapon of mass destruction. And I for one am not willing to wait for that to happen."--Jim Inhofe on Meet The Press, 2002)
U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe's bizarre comments last year on the Iraq occupation completely contradicted what he said during the time period leading up to the invasion.
In a Tulsa World article (“Vice President Visits Tulsa: Cheney, Inhofe blasted Democrats’ plan for Iraq,” April 27, 2007), Inhofe claims the reasons for the gruesome Iraq occupation initially had nothing to do with finding weapons of mass destruction. Inhofe actually blamed the press for the so-called “mischaracterization.”
This was not simply political spin on Inhofe's part. This was a calculated lie by an angry warmonger intent on rewriting history to cover his errors and misjudgment.
Here’s what Inhofe said, according to the article: "The whole idea of weapons of mass destruction was never the issue, yet they [reporters] keep trying to bring this up.” That's right. His argument is that weapons of mass destruction were never used as "the issue" for the country's invasion of Iraq.
But this is what Inhofe himself said on Meet The Press in 2002: "Our intelligence system has said that we know that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction -- I believe including nuclear. There's not one person on this panel who would tell you unequivocally that he doesn't have the missile means now, or is nearly getting the missile means to deliver a weapon of mass destruction. And I for one am not willing to wait for that to happen."
Here’s what President George Bush said on March 3, 2003: ““Our mission is clear in Iraq. Should we have to go in, our mission is very clear: disarmament.”
Here’s what the president said on March 22, 2003: ““Our cause is just, the security of the nations we serve and the peace of the world. And our mission is clear, to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.”
(The above Bush quotes were taken from the Think Progress blog.)
We can’t forget then Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations before the war in which he claimed the evidence was clear Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The whole idea behind Powell’s speech was to convince a skeptical world that Hussein had such weapons and could possibly use them. Powell said he now regrets making the speech.
Here’s what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said about the Iraq invasion in 2003: "Let us be very clear about why we went to war against Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein's regime posed a threat to the security of the United States and the world. This was a regime that had pursued, had used, and possessed weapons of mass destruction."
Inhofe must think Oklahomans are too stupid to get online and find the facts or read a credible newspaper about the issue. The state’s press has done a miserable job challenging Inhofe’s bizarre statements. His bizarre statements should be a major issue in the press here.
Is there not a reporter at one of the big, corporate newspapers in the state who has the guts to challenge Inhofe’s? Will the editors not print the truth? This reporter would be backed by thousands of Oklahomans and millions upon millions of Americans and world, citizens who are sick of Jim Inhofe and his lies about the war and global warming.
The issue also shows how Bush and his supporters like Inhofe cannot be trusted to tell the truth about Iraq. The right-wing war machine disavows historical accuracy, and it manipulates the masses with cultural wedge issues.
When you can’t trust your United States Senator to tell a simple truth about an issue as important as a military invasion and subsequent occupation and when your local media will not hold important politicians accountable for obvious lies, then democracy is threatened. People throughout the country are realizing this and are now working outside the corporate media system to bring about real change.
Meanwhile, Inhofe has recently launched attacks ad against state Sen. Andrew Rice, his opponent in his reelection bid. As expected, these ads are as credible as his distortions on Iraq.
(In the coming weeks, Okie Funk will set the record straight when it comes to U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe. This blog will be publishing an open-ended series titled “The Case Against Jim Inhofe.” The series will comment on Inhofe’s political and business escapades, from his earlier lies about when he graduated from college to the insurance company he ran into insolvency to his dirty campaign tactics. It will show how Inhofe has consistently hurt the state’s image. It will focus as well on Inhofe’s atrocious record on economic, health, energy, environmental, military and government spending issues. Here are the installments published before this post: Part I: “Rice Gains Ground on Inhofe," Part II: “Character Issue Follows Inhofe.” )
There are few states in this country that suffer more from image problems than Oklahoma.
From the lingering memories of the Dust Bowl to decades-old poverty to the perception of its residents as uneducated hicks, Oklahoma gets kicked around as a butt of jokes, and, as a result, it often gets passed over for economic development.
Although Oklahoma has made some progress in the last decade to change its reputation, one leader in particular continues to harm the state when it comes to its basic image. That leader is U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, a Republican whose outrageous, public statements taint us all with the “hick” label.
Some in the GOP will argue that Inhofe is only colorful and obstinate, that the state’s image matters little to economic development. But that argument is undercut by former and contemporary state leaders—in the private and public sectors—who have consistently realized how important public relations can be to a state like Oklahoma. Even with its now thriving energy sector, the state is part of a larger global business community. The state must welcome different types of people with different types of views and skills or our standard of living and quality of life will suffer.
Yet we know this: When the intolerant 73-year-old Inhofe opens his mouth, people cringe and Oklahoma suffers.
I think it is fair to argue Inhofe is one of the most despised American politicians in the country’s history. Oklahomans have continued to elect him to office for a variety of reasons, but outside the state and throughout the world he is loathed as a dangerous kook. Certainly, George Bush, the most unpopular president in modern history, beats out Inhofe in terms of disapproval rankings, but Oklahoma’s senior Senator’s antics have long made him seem like an angry, stubborn fool to much of the world.
Here are just three examples of how Inhofe has embarrassed the state and, in the process, damaged its image:
(1) Inhofe is perhaps best known for his outrageous comments on global warming, which he calls the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” No one can fault Inhofe or anyone for reasonable skepticism about any issue, but this statement goes well beyond rational consideration. It is a statement of paranoia and conspiracy, not of a rational leader. The scientific community overwhelming believes global warming exists, and it has presented much evidence to support it. Inhofe, meanwhile, has continued the rhetoric. He has compared people who believe in global warming to Nazis. He has acted boorish and hateful to former Vice President Al Gore, who won an Academy Award for his movie, An Inconvenient Truth, which is about global warming. (Watch this video clip.) All this bating, ridiculous rhetoric has made Inhofe seem like a fool. This directly reflects on the state.
(2) Inhofe once disparaged gay and divorced people on Senate floor. On June 6, 2006, in an act of narcissism, Inhofe pointed to an oversized photograph of his family and said, “As you see here, and I think this is maybe the most important prop we’ll have during the entire debate, my wife and I have been married 47 years. We have 20 kids and grandkids. I’m really proud to say that in the recorded history of our family, we’ve never had a divorce or any kind of homosexual relationship.” Inhofe’s actions were widely mocked in the blogosphere and media. Some felt his remarks proved his mental instability. What type of person bases his pride, his self-worth, on the sexual orientation or marital status of family members? Oklahoma has long possessed one of the highest divorce rates in the country. Gay people here, such as Corporation Commissioner Jim Roth, have contributed greatly to the state’s recent efforts to change its image. Inhofe makes the state’s residents seem narrow-minded and foolish.
(3) On May 11, 2004, in response to the atrocities committed by American soldiers against prisoners at Iraq’s infamous Abu Ghraib prison, Inhofe said, “…as I watch this outrage -- this outrage everyone seems to have about the treatment of these prisoners -- I have to say, and I'm probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment.” He went on to blame politics for how we even discovered the pattern of Bush-sanctioned torture. Inhofe, a staunch supporter of Bush and the Iraq occupation, was more outraged by the publicizing of the events than the events themselves. The problem is not the torture, then, but the revealing of the torture, according to Inhofe’s warped logic. This goes along with Inhofe’s support of the Bush agenda to make government as secret as possible. Oklahomans, meanwhile, are made out to be callous hicks filled with ridiculous political conspiracies.
There are more examples, for sure. Inhofe once suggested that God allowed the September 11, 2001 attacks because the United States did not give enough support to Israel. In 2002, Inhofe said, “One of the reason I believe the spiritual door was opened for an attack against the United States of America is that the policy of our government has been to ask the Israelis, and demand it with pressure, not to retaliate in a significant way against the terrorist strikes that have been launched against them." As David Corn wrote then, “Inhofe's remarks are reminiscent of the ravings uttered by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson days after the awful attacks. The pair accused the ACLU, abortion rights advocates, feminists, gays and lesbians, and People for the American Way (a liberal interest group) of degrading the nation and thus pissing off God.”
Inhofe faces reelection this year, and he currently leads in polls. Part of the problem is the right-wing corporate media in Oklahoma, led by The Oklahoman, will not report extensively about Inhofe’s gaffes and their effect on the state’s image. The newspaper serves as a propaganda ministry for extreme Republican ideology.
Inhofe’s opponent, state Sen. Andrew Rice, has promised to promote the state’s image and serve as a rational and welcoming ambassador for Oklahoma. Rice has a healthy skepticism about issues and politics, but he will express it intelligently and without absurd theater, either from the left or the right viewpoint. That alone should be enough for Oklahomans to vote for Rice.