Many conservatives have been scratching their heads as Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn has embraced the possibility of tax increases to help deal with the federal debt-limit dilemma.
In profiling Coburn, the latest Newsweek reminds conservative readers of better days.
In the autumn of 2005, before he’d been in the Senate a year, Coburn took to the floor of the chamber and did something that freshmen senators did not do—he delivered a speech roundly critical of a senior Republican colleague’s pet project. The senator was Ted Stevens of Alaska, and the project was a $233 million earmark for “the bridge to nowhere”—the very symbol of wasteful pork spending.
That speech helped to galvanize anti-earmark sentiment inside Congress and beyond. Coburn supported the fledgling “Porkbusters” movement, popularized by University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds, the blogger known as Instapundit. Reynolds believed in the persuasive power of ridicule, and Coburn helped to provide the movement with the ideal weapon—a law pulling the curtain back on who was stuffing pork into which legislation. “Coburn was very involved in the embryo of the Tea Party movement, the Porkbusters movement,” says Reynolds. “I would say that Coburn was Tea Party before there was a Tea Party.”
Coburn says that he deeply admires the movement (“I think the Tea Party is one of the best things that ever happened to this country”), but he has not publicly associated himself with it, as some, such as Jim DeMint and Michele Bachmann, have. This is partly because Coburn believes that politicians tend to exploit such forces, but it is also because Coburn’s natural role is as a dissident, rather than a move-ment leader.