Tom Coburn messed up, but not in the way you think.
From the Plumline:
I asked the reporter who wrote the Tulsa World story, Randy Krehbiel, to send over a full transcript of what Coburn said, which he graciously did. Krehbiel taped the episode. Asked if he thinks Obama’s policies show he wants to destroy the country, Coburn said:
“No, I don’t… He’s a very bright man. But think about his life. And think about what he was exposed to and what he saw in America. He’s only relating what his experience in life was…
“His intent isn’t to destroy. It’s to create dependency because it worked so well for him. I don’t say that critically. Look at people for what they are. Don’t assume ulterior motives. I don’t think he doesn’t love our country. I think he does.
“As an African American male, coming through the progress of everything he experienced, he got tremendous benefit through a lot of these programs. So he believes in them. I just don’t believe they work overall and in the long run they don’t help our country. But he doesn’t know that because his life experience is something different. So it’s very important not to get mad at the man. And I understand, his philosophy — there’s nothing wrong with his philosophy other than it’s goofy and wrong [laughter] — but that doesn’t make him a bad person.”
Sargent concludes that:
I think what Coburn means here is that African Americans are more likely to need such programs than whites are, and by his own lights, Coburn actually thinks he’s being charitable to Obama here. He’s essentially saying that Obama’s life experience quite naturally dictated that he would view the safety net as a good thing, because it helped poor African Americans.
I agree with Sargent’s basic assessment, but Where Coburn is wrong — and substantially so — is that it wasn’t Barack Obama who took advantage of so-called “dependency” programs like Medicare or food stamps, it was his mother. And she was white. In fact, white women benefit disproportionally from things you wouldn’t guess: like set-asides in contracting and affirmative action. So Coburn should revise his statement to read, “most Americans” at some point benefit from the social safety net, which is why most Americans value things like Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid, and don’t want them gotten rid of.
Coburn’s attempt at being paternalistic toward Barack Obama, with whom he supposedly shares a warm personal relationship, backfired because he made the age-old mistake of thinking that only black people use “entitlements.”