AN OPEN LETTER TO TOM COBURN

Posted in Rants on October 9th, 2009 by Ed

Sen. Coburn,

We non-Senators can only imagine what it is like to live in the shadow of the senior Senator from your state, Jim Inhofe, given that he is widely recognized as the biggest idiot in the Senate. Surely your mind works overtime concocting ways to steal some attention from that intellectual black hole clad in a cheap suit, and thus I am not surprised that you thought it would be a good idea to be "that guy" – the guy who tries to curry favor with rubes who wallow in their own stupidity by taking a political whack at National Science Foundation funding every couple of years. "Haw haw!", they will exclaim as they slap their obese, diabetic hands together with enough force to dislodge a few pieces of Cheeto from the sticky morass surrounding their gaping maws, "You tell 'um, Tommy!"

Obviously I have a direct interest in your Senate amendment cutting political science funding from the NSF (or as you cheekily call it, political "science" – were you up all night thinking of that one or did you get to bed around 4, 4:30?) but were I not your reasoning would still be alarming in its creativity. Please note that none of the usual positive connotations of "creativity" apply here. Your logic is creative in the same sense as the Oklahoma City courthouse bombing.

Let me draw your attention – which I'm sure has wandered in the preceding 45 seconds, waylaid by polysyllabic words – to a specific component of your "argument" before I attempt a retort:

The largest award over the last 10 years under the political science program has been $5.4 million for the University of Michigan for the “American National Election Studies” grant. The grant is to “inform explanations of election outcomes.” The University of Michigan may have some interesting theories about recent elections, but Americans who have an interest in electoral politics can turn to CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, the print media, and a seemingly endless number of political commentators on the internet who pour over this data and provide a myriad of viewpoints to answer the same questions.

Senator, you have a fundamental misunderstanding of political science. But the category of "things Tom Coburn fundamentally misunderstands" is about as exclusive as the admissions criteria to Oklahoma State. The idea that we and the talking heads on television are interchangeable or do the same thing speaks not to the uselessness of political science but to your lack of intellectual curiosity and willingness to accept the vein-bulging ranting of Glenn Beck as explanatory of political phenomena. Finding answers means finding evidence, not shouting a handful of competing "theories" into a camera and letting Americans pick the one they think sounds best.

I have no interest in trying to explain to you what political scientists do and why it is valuable other than to summarize it with a single, brief example. What we do, Senator, is try to provide answers supported by empirical evidence – re-read those last two words, because they are the important part – for the millions of your fellow citizens who look at you and wonder, "How in the hell does a dipshit like this get elected to the Senate?" And the kind of taxpaying citizens who want an answer to that question are the same ones who aren't willing to accept the illiterate rantings of talk radio hosts as an explanation. They want an answer based on research, data, and tests of falsifiable hypotheses. That's where we come in. That's why we use the staggering sum of $91 million over ten years (That must be, what, half the Federal budget? Three-quarters?) to do work you are not only unwilling but, let's be frank, unable to understand.

I applaud your courage, as it is not easy to be William Jennings Bryan in a modern Scopes Trial. It takes real courage to expose yourself to this level of humiliation in furtherance of your heartfelt commitment to fiscal prudence. Most of all, it takes wisdom; wisdom to listen to the suggestion of whichever 23 year-old staffer, still smarting over the F he received on his Legislative Politics research paper for writing a half-assed pastiche of opinion and sub-Hannity rhetoric, proposed this gambit. Recognizing genius is a form of genius itself, Senator.

Regards,
Ed __________
Department of Political Science
University of (far better than any school in Oklahoma)

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