GOP Sen. Coburn Extends Olive Branch of the Year

Remember the charges last summer that civility in Washington is dead? Not so. Just ask GOP Sen. Tom Coburn, who at a town-hall meeting over the weekend in Oklahoma had some choice words for the Foxerati. After a woman explained her fear of being thrown in the slammer if she didn’t buy health insurance, Coburn took her and his gossip-spreading partisans to task. “The intention is not to put any one in jail,” he said. “That makes for good TV news on Fox but that isn’t the intention.” Taking a jab at Fox in front of a conservative audience is risky—even political suicide to get on the behemoth network’s bad side—but Coburn kept going. Not only is Fox at times inaccurate, but Nancy Pelosi, the person Republicans have spent the most time vilifying, is actually “a nice person.” Huh? “How many of you all have met her?” he asked the crowd that we can only imagine had its jaws on the floor.

No word yet on how GOP Central will handle Coburn’s remarks. On the one hand, it's hard to argue they're not true. Partisans on both sides have noted Pelosi’s nice demeanor, despite her sometimes disagreeable policies. And look no further than funnyman Jon Stewart for examples of ways Fox exhibited what Stephen Colbert would call “truthiness” during the health-care debate (not to say that the other cable guys haven’t occasionally stepped in it too). But on the other hand, a huge portion of the GOP’s electoral strategy depends on painting Democrats and their policies as the biggest evils in the world, with no exception.

Coburn faces reelection this year in a race he’s still leading, but could become close this summer. Which makes his comments a complete gamble. Either he’s working to paint himself as an elder statesman who can cut through partisan bickering to shape good policy. Or he’s just allowed his primary opponent, Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry, to accuse him of secretly being on the other team. Trying to be fair and balanced has never been so tricky.