Category Archives: Politics

Of flintlocks and atom bombs

Considerable time and energy is spent in this country speculating about what the founders of this great nation would do or think or say if they were alive today. It is an interesting exercise and not without merit, but more often than we care to admit a futile one.

The thirteen colonies had a total of population of about 2.5 million, spread out over 375,000 square miles in 1776. Today we have more than 315 million people on 3.7 million square miles. In size, we’ve grown 10-fold; in population,  126-fold.

Technologically, we live in a world that we can barely imagine, never mind what George Washington or James Madison might have envisioned. They lived in a time of flintlock muskets and quill pens; we in an era of atom bombs and iPads.

Washington warned us to beware of foreign entanglements, good advice for a small, weak, young nation far removed from the center of the political and economic universe, much harder for a large, wealthy country from which the rest of the world takes its cues.

The concept of limited government and self-sufficiency is one thing when people are spread thinly across a seemingly endless continent with no one to answer to except themselves, something else when we are elbow-to-elbow, each of our actions infringing in some way large or small on our neighbor. We all hate rules and regulations, but the world is also a different place than it was 248 years ago, or even 50 or 100 years ago.

What would the founders say? Another trap of this line of thinking is that the founders disagreed as much as we do today. From Alexander Hamilton to Patrick Henry, they’re opinions stretched the limits of political thinking. One thing that probably can be said is that they talked, they discussed, they searched for commonalities to keep the ship of state afloat. They had ideals, but they were not necessarily idealists. Their biggest disagreements were, at their roots, economic.

It is proper to look to the founders for advice and insight. But it is also proper to recognize the world has changed, and so have we.

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Henry Bellmon’s one-cent’s worth

One of the most important political debates in Oklahoma history occurred in Tulsa during the 1962 gubernatorial campaign.

The Democratic nominee, W.P. Atkinson, had survived a brutal primary and runoff in which he defeated former Gov. Raymond Gary by just 900 votes. Atkinson was a real estate developer who more or less built Midwest City after Tinker Field — now Tinker Air Force Base — was located on farmland east of downtown Oklahoma City in the run-up to U.S. entry into World War II. Atkinson was the mortal enemy of powerful Daily Oklahoman publisher E.K. Gaylord.

Gaylord found an ally in Republican candidate Henry Bellmon. Bellmon, a Noble County farmer, had revitalized the Oklahoma GOP. As state chairman, he pushed the party’s boundaries beyond the country club set that had dominated it for so long. He ventured into small towns and rural counties that had not had a Republican Party organization in decades, if ever.

A key component of Atkinson’s platform was a one-cent sales tax increase. During a highly-anticipated debate in Tulsa, Atkinson was asked by newsman Phil Dessauer what he would do if the Legislature refused to give him the increase. Atkinson replied that he supposed he would just have to go after waste, corruption and abuse.

Dryly, Bellmon wondered why Atkinson would not go after waste, corruption and abuse first.

Bellmon might have won the election anyway. Tax increases are never popular, and Atkinson was being hammered daily in The Oklahoman. And, as Bellmon had discerned, the state’s political foundations were shifting. But in political lore, that brief exchange in Tulsa is remembered as the turning point in an election that brought Oklahoma its first Republican governor.

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Three counties could decide Oklahoma’s next U.S. Senator

The Republican primary coming up June 24, and the runoff likely to follow, could be Oklahoma’s most important election in a decade. The supposed frontrunners, T.W. Shannon and James Lankford, are young men who could easily represent the state in Washington for the next quarter century. Sure, there will be a general election in November with two other names on the ballot, but the Republican primary is the election that matters.

And it will be largely decided by just three of Oklahoma’s 77 counties.

Oklahoma, Tulsa and Cleveland counties account for nearly half of the state’s 860,000 registered Republicans. Add Canadian County and the total goes above 50 percent.

Notwithstanding early strength in the northern tier of counties, the Oklahoma GOP has always been an urban party. It is one reason it had so much difficulty in the the first sixty years of statehood. Up until about 1970, a Democrat could win a statewide general election without carrying Oklahoma or Tulsa counties. Those days are long gone.

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June 2, 2014

Heard much discussion today about the exchange of five Taliban prisoners for Bowe Bergdahl, an American service member who went missing in 2009 and has apparently spent most of that time a prisoner. There are solid arguments all around, but one of the things that strikes me is the decision the authorities had to make. To say no would have been to sign Bergdahl’s death warrant. By saying yes, the administration may have signed the death warrant’s of future terrorism victims.

These five exchanged prisoners are supposed to spend the next year in Qatar custody. It will be interesting to see what happens to them.

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