In Praise (Mostly) of Tom Coburn

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Senator Tom Coburn, conservative Republican from Oklahoma, is cutting short his second term, resigning two years early at the end of the current Congress.

Coburn is a great example of how individual Senators can matter. He is, for the most part, a rare breed -- an honest budget-cutter. Unlike those who use small-government rationales to attack programs they oppose while abandoning such principles for programs they support, he genuinely wants a radically smaller government.

Now, I have to mention his war on social science, and political science in particular. As a political scientist (albeit one who has never applied for National Science Foundation funding) I not only opposed his position, I thought singling out one tiny spending program for attack basically put him in demagogue territory. I also think his support for term limits and amateur legislators is badly misguided (a position I base, in part, on good research from political scientists!). Unlike most, Coburn lived his principles on term limits, but they're still misguided.

Still, I applaud Coburn's pragmatic streak, typified by his opposition to Ted Cruz's government shutdown plan, and his interest in policy on everything from the deficit to abortion, even when I think he got things badly wrong. There are plenty of Members of Congress who vote with their party and otherwise sit around waiting until they can cash in. Coburn was never one of those. From what I could see, he has taken the job of being a Member of Congress seriously. Overall, he's been a valuable politician, and he'll be missed.

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