Stillwater News Press

Opinion

February 19, 2014

JIM HIGHTOWER: What about Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts

STILLWATER, Okla. — In “The Wizard Of Oz,” Dorothy assessed the odd things she was experiencing and said to her little dog, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Lately, Sen. Pat Roberts has gained a new understanding of what Dorothy meant. The Kansas Republican has been in the U.S. Senate for 18 years, was in the House for 16 years before that, and was a congressional aide before that. So he’s been away for a long time, and now that he’s running for another six-year senate term. Roberts has learned that the Kansas he thought he was from — a state of relatively moderate, Eisenhower-style Republicans — has become the Political Land of Right-Wing Oz.

A rabidly extremist, Koch-headed, tea party Republicanism has taken hold of the GOP’s primary process and blown out the moderates. The upshot for Roberts is that a hard-right core of Republican voters are now howl-at-the-moon lunatics who demand ideological purity over everything else. Worse for Pat, they’ve put up one of their own to run against him in the August primary.

But, by Gollies, the senator is fighting back! Unfortunately, though, he’s not doing it by standing on principle and refusing to be intimidated by crazies. Instead, Roberts has put on his crazy pants, altered his beliefs, and is dancing like a fool with the ideologues. He recently opposed the very farm bill he helped write. Also, he joined the certifiably goofy Ted Cruz of Texas in the silly political stunt that shut down the government of the USA last October. And he has even become part of the tinfoil hat club by voting against a United Nations treaty to ban discrimination against people with disabilities.

Come on, Pat, you’ve been in Congress for 34 years, you’re 77 years old, and you’re getting a gold-plated pension for the rest of your life. Is six more years in the senate really worth selling out people with disabilities — and selling out your own integrity?

But Roberts’ re-election problem is not merely that a big chunk of his home base constituency has abruptly changed and is trying to yank the comfy rug of incumbency out from under him. Even worse politically, is that Roberts himself has drifted over the years, creating a great distance between him and the home base — both figuratively and literally.

It turns out that the senator from Kansas doesn’t actually ... you know ... live in the Sunflower State. Instead, he and his wife have lived in a Washington suburb for years. While a house in Dodge City is listed as his official residence, it’s a rental property that he has long owned, but never lived in. When Roberts does do an overnighter in the “home state,” he stays in hotels or with a couple of campaign donors whose home is on a country club golf course.

Now facing his far-right tea-party challenger, Roberts has not only skittered to get even more “righter” than the challenger, but he’s also scampering around the state as: “SuperKansan!” He’s begun paying $300 a month for his room in that country club house (now listing it as his official voting residence), and suddenly he’s everywhere, having visited 72 of the state’s 105 counties in the past year. No doubt he’ll be riding a wheat thresher, singing the state song and wearing a straw hat with tea bags hanging from it before this election is over.

Who does he think he’s fooling? If your political principles are that malleable, your sense of place is that mobile and your desire to cling to office is that desperate, you’re not representing anyone but yourself — and you shouldn’t be elected to anything.

Jim Hightower is a populist columnist and former commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture.

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