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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Sen. Coburn: It's about principles, not power

The following is a partial transcript of comments and responses by Sen. Tom Coburn to the College Republicans at George Washington University:

SEN. COBURN (13:30): In practice, Republican politicians behave pretty much the same as Democratic politicians—they can't resist spending money. The main difference is the Democrats seem to be willing to raise taxes to pay for theirs, and the Republicans seem to be willing to let you pay for it—the next generation.

We've heard plenty of talk about reforming Medicare and Social Security to make them sustainable for the future, but the only action we've seen is Medicare Part D—the thing I talked about before. The politically expedient move rather than the tough move based on visionary leadership of what's great for our country in the future.

The American people agree with Republican thought, but they demand that the actions match the words. And this next election cycle is going to be another watershed year in our country like 1994.

The American people are listening again; they're awake; they're paying attention. They do that every now and then in looking at the government. They participate in a higher level. Well, the attennas are up, and if the Republican party wants to stay in power, it'll start matching its action to its words. That means that the things have to change, and they have to change in a big way.

The long term consequence is the nation's going to be plunged into a fiscal crisis from which it's hard to imagine a recovery unless we have such visionary leadership.

Think about China, the European Union, and even India when we have an unfunded liability for Medicare of $37 trillion right now, an unfunded liability for Social Security of $10 trillion. That's more unfunded liability than the nation's private net worth.

In other words, we owe more already on what's coming in Medicare and Social Security than the whole value of every asset in our country.

American people are listening; they're looking for leadership. Leadership doesn't mean you win. It means you put forth the ideas to solve the problems. And the paradox in politics that I've found is it's ok to not win; what is not ok is to not fight to win. And that's the problem today that we face as a party is we have to have people willing to fight—willing to stand up and take on the status quo.

So, if you believe American ideas are better for the world—ideas like liberty and justice for all, personal responsibility and individual rights, then you need to work for a Republican party that actually lives up to the principles that it proclaims. And I hope that you will do that.

STUDENT (25:30): Senator, you emphasized personal responsibility and personal accountability a lot in your speech in maintaining a positive vision for where we want to carry forth the country with our nations leaders.

I just was wondering if you could speak a little about—recently there's been a lot of accusations back and forth about certain Republican leaders and certain things with cronyism with positions up in government.

And I was just wondering, how—amid these accusations—how can we maintain a positive vision, especially for the Republican party so that these accusations and other issues won't really affect us in 2006 and 2008?

COBURN: Well, let me answer you real directly: It's OK if the Republicans lose control, for our country in the long run, because one cycle won't make a difference, two cycles won't make a difference. The fact is, the American people are going to recognize what people stand for, and you see more and more people not vote party than vote person.

Oklahoma when I ran was 60% Democrat; my first congressional seat was 80% Democrat; I was elected with 53% of the vote. I would say the most important thing is— those kind of things have been going on for years in party politics.

You know, I don't know how much of that is true. But that fact is, as our loyal opposition, no matter who they are, whether it's us in the minority, or the Democrats, when we stoop to that to gain political power, it speaks more about those that are stooping than it does about the very people that've been accused.

The point is, we ought to be reconciling. We ought to be saying, "That's not the way to run our country. The way to run our country is through positive vision: 'Here's what I will do; here's what I do believe, and hold me accountable.'"

The press is an integral part of that—of holding us accountable to do what we said we would do. Every person that serves in Congress that I know—they're great people. You know, they really do love our country. But they have divided loyalties. And I put a limitation on myself. I did it in the House, and I did it because I didn't want to be—

Have y'all ever read about the pursuit of The Inner Ring by C.S. Lewis? Ever read any of his stuff? This pursuit of power that you continue to try to get to the next level and the next level—and it's about you. It's kind a like peeling an onion when you finally get there, and you've completely peeled an onion—you've taken every layer off, what do you have? Nothing.

So this pursuit for the power of being in the inner circle—in the inner ring— When all's said and done in life, that's not it. There's no peace; there's not joy in that.

So putting limits on yourself in life to say, "I want to limit myself so I don't fall into that trap of saying, 'The most important thing is for me to get reelected.'" Do you realize there's hundreds of thousands of people in this country that can do a better job in the Congress than the Congress that's sitting today? Think about that—hundreds of thousands of people across this land.

So, this idea that we're so important is what drives that partisanship and that attack. And the press loves the attack. You know, it's meat. "Let's go watch you and him fight."

It's not about what's best for our country, and it's really not about what's truthful. If it's 'what about truthful' you'd wait until the court case comes out or the FCC investigation's finished or the hearings are finished, and then you find out what it is. But that's all you hear about—all you read about.

So, it's about the fight; it's not about truth. And what we need to do is recognize the value of that. And I think that stuff's been going on for years because we're human, and people are going to make mistakes. I don't know if they have been or not, but I don't think they're important. I don't think it's important at all.

What's important is, where do we go from here? How do we fix all the big problems that are in front of our country? And how do we do that where we bring everybody together, Republicans and Democrats, independents of all minds and thought and say, "Don't we really want a secure, wonderful, growing, successful America in the future?"

That's what I want. I want opportunity for my grandkids. I've got four grandkids, and I want the same kind of opportunities for them that've been available to me.

So, I think it's important for you to pay attention when you're reading and hearing that stuff. Look below it. What's it really about? It's about the pursuit of power. That's just something that the dog's gnawing on the bone on. The fact is the meat's already gone and we'll find out—the truth'll come out, and we'll get to see it.

It's kinda like Iraq right now. The reports coming out of Iraq on the press are atrocious compared to what's really happening. For every one decent story that's actual, you'll have 10 or 12 that slant it in such a negative way. War is terrible. But the fact is, we have to win there. And as the press drives the support away from the American public, what they're really doing is hurting our country.

QUESTION (36:45): I'm wondering how you see the reduction in partisanship that you were talking about before—how you believe that should go on.

COBURN: I think you lead it by example. I'm partisan for issues, but not about party. I'm partisan for principles. But partisanship— what you see today with partisanship is about attacking personal—it's about going after individuals, going after what they said.

You know, how many of you all have ever said something you wish you could get the words back? Yeah, every one of us is human. The fact is, it's what's in here that really counts, and I think the way you model—not bipartisanship. What you ought to be modeling is "How do we work the best way together for the good of our country?" And that's not by making the other person look bad.

You know, it's the old deal when your mother told you when you point your finger because when you're pointing your finger you have three pointing back at you. And the fact is, partisanship to me is childish. It's hurtful. Most of the time it's a half truth. A half truth is a whole lie. If you just think about the principles of—

The reason for partisanship, remember the motivation behind partisanship is for gain—for power gain. Why can't ideas and principles win? I think if we had leadership based on that where if you had leaders on both parties that say, "We commit to non-partisanship. We're going to fight over the ideas, fight over the principles, and whoever wins wins. Let's let the American people know."

One of our biggest problems in Congress is the American people don't know enough about what goes on up here. The wonderful part of C-SPAN, for example, covering the Congress and covering committee hearings is great for the American people to see.

But we need more of it. We need listings of the votes. We need a comparison paper every week. "Here's what Coburn said; here's what he did." Holding us accountable. And if you do that in both parties, what you're going to do is you're going to see people get down to work of solving the problems rather than work to try to gain power to solve the problems.

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