For too many years, Senators Jim Inhofe and James Lankford worked on behalf of corporations with occasional breaks to exhaust the Congressional Record with reams of anti-choice legislation.
But time and again during the coronavirus epidemic, Inhofe and Lankford have said the “quiet part” out loud, and their lockstep disdain for Oklahoma workers is on full display.
On May 13, the second day in which new COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma exceeded 110 patients, Inhofe participated in a Zoom conference with Tulsa Regional Chamber in which he said the $600 unemployment benefit was too generous.
“It’s totally unacceptable to have people at a place where government is paying them more than working,” Inhofe said. “That’s against everything we stand for. We’re going to do everything we can to keep that from happening.”
Tulsa Regional Chamber is apparently a preferred venue for Oklahoma’s senatorial delegation to display their reptilian sub-dermis. Just two weeks before, Lankford made similar comments implying that workers are being lazy during the pandemic.
“There were a lot of complaints even at $600 a week because we knew that would exceed what a lot of people’s normal average income was for those months, and [it would] be very difficult to get people to come back to work,” Lankford said.
OpinionFrom George Lang, our lead opinion columnist
Both senators sound like Dickensian villains, but they illustrate the fundamental problem with their pro-business-at-all-cost philosophy.
First, Inhofe is right. It is “totally unacceptable to have people at a place where government is paying them more than working.” If a company pays people less than they make from government benefits in a pandemic, then it is doing it wrong. Pay people a living wage instead of ladling out thin gruel in the workhouse.
Second, I refuse to believe that people are staying home because it is more profitable.
This is Reaganite anti-worker propaganda that is way past its sell-by date. Businesses understandably want to return to normalcy, but that will not happen with blunt force.
All of this points to the fallacy of conservative thought on the pandemic. Lankford and Inhofe are not only toadying for corporations, they are propping up an American president who has grown bored with COVID-19.
“Vaccine or no vaccine, we’re back, and we’re starting the process,” President Donald Trump said during a May 15 press briefing. “In many cases, they don’t have vaccines, and a virus or a flu comes and you fight through it.
“And if we do, we’ll really be a big step ahead,” he said. “And if we don’t, we are going to be like so many other cases where you had a problem come in, it will go away at some point. It will go away. It may flare up, and it may not flare up. We’ll have to see what happens.”
Well, we have already seen what happens when you treat a problem by not treating the problem. Coronavirus metastasized in our body politic because Trump ignored the advice of epidemiologists.
Now that roughly one-third of all COVID-19 global deaths have taken place in the United States, Trump wants to move on, pretend that nothing is wrong and get people back to work, death or no death, and Inhofe and Lankford are standing alongside him, scythes in hand.
An overwhelming majority of Americans favor continuing social distancing measures to stem the spread of the virus, as do scientists and clinicians.
In contrast, Elon Musk threw a fit on social media this week over the effect California’s stay-at-home orders have had on his Fremont Tesla plant.
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, fresh off a maskless tour of Dillard’s and Lifetime Fitness, salivated over the prospect of attracting the plutocrat’s Tesla operation to Oklahoma, where Musk’s operation could ostensibly thrive in a regulation-free libertarian utopia.
Lankford, Inhofe, Stitt and Trump all failed us by not acknowledging the dangers of COVID-19 early and then advocating for “reopening” Oklahoma and the country at large when smarter people told them it was a terrible idea. If they had all acted in January instead of slouching toward a response in mid-March, Oklahoma businesses would probably be in better shape.
So, if you are running an Oklahoma business and are concerned that you cannot get your workers back on the line, blame Inhofe and Lankford. They did nothing for you, and now they want to do less than nothing for us.