By Robert Novak
© 2003 WorldNetDaily.com
In the nearly half century that I have been observing the Washington scene and writing and talking about it, I doubt anything has delighted me more than Dr. Tom Coburn of Muskogee, Okla., telling the congressional establishment to go stuff it.
It happened early in 1998, as Coburn was beginning his third year as a member of the House of Representatives. He had always intended to maintain his medical practice while serving in Congress. From the start, he had returned home every weekend to Muskogee to deliver babies – 200 of them in the first three years.
Since 1997, however, the House Ethics Committee had been pondering a complaint, filed by colleagues, that Coburn was violating House rules. After a year's procrastination, the committee ruled that delivering babies was a "fiduciary" relationship – akin to practicing law or selling insurance and real estate. Thus, his colleagues ruled, Coburn was in violation of a 1989 law restricting outside income by members of Congress.
That decision did not faze Dr. Coburn in the slightest. "I'm not going to abide by what they've said," he said. "If I can't resolve it I won't be here, period." He went on to declare: "I'm going to continue practicing medicine regardless of what they say." Faced with that determination, the House ethicists backed down.
It would not have broken Coburn's heart if he had returned home to Oklahoma in 1998. That would have advanced his timetable by three years. He had pledged to serve only three two-year terms, which meant 2000 would be his last year in Congress. That pledge and his refusal to abandon his medical practice makes Coburn the purest citizen legislator that I have ever seen in a Congress dominated by long-serving professional politicians.
That is why this revealing book is so important for Americans, who should understand the corruption of their national legislative branch. Tom Coburn's story is the modern version of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." In the melodramatic climax of the Frank Capra movie, the idealistic young "Sen. Smith" (played by Jimmy Stewart) appears to have won an ill-defined victory over corrupt special interests. Real life is more complicated. Coburn left Washington, intrepid and vindicated but unable to really change the status quo on Capitol Hill.