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Senator Snowball

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Hey, James Inhofe is dead!

By now, you may have more or less forgotten Senator Snowball. After all, the Senate Republican caucus has become so infested with fascists and half-educated dimwits that the bar for pure and total lunacy is awful high. People seen on the edge of respectability ten years ago are now nearly moderates in comparison with what Fox News and Donald Trump has wrought.

But that’s not a reason to forget just how awful James Inhofe was and how much he damaged this nation for living.

Born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1934, Inhofe grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Congrats to Iowa for purging him early on, not that the Hawkeye State has exactly covered itself in glory this century. He went into the Navy after high school and then on to the University of Tulsa. But he didn’t graduate in 1959 as he claimed. He just flat out lied about this early in his political career. In fact, he didn’t graduate until 1973. I don’t really care if a politician has a college degree per se, but lying was part and parcel of the Inhofe bit. Anyone who has to lie about this is already a suspect human being.

After he dropped out of college, he worked in business. He was in aviation for a bit, then in real estate, and then worked in insurance, where he rose to become president of Quaker Life. Interestingly, while not exactly lying about his Navy service, he never really mentioned it either. Probably this is because he never saw combat, even though he did learn to fly while in the Navy. But for a right-winger, his unwillingness to ever mention or admit he was in the military is interesting, if nothing else. In any case, his flying career can basically be summed up by the many times he ignored FAA regulations on landing his plane, including a 2011 incident when he landed on a closed runway in south Texas that was covered with a giant “X” visible from the sky and which had airport personnel on it and the 2016 incident where he landed in bad weather and skidded off the runway and into nearby brush. He was as good a senator as he was a pilot.

As he rose in the business world, Inhofe started turning his attention to state politics. In 1967, he ran for the state house as a Republican. At this time, the transition of the Republican Party to the White Man’s Party was only just beginning. Inhofe would offer Oklahoma whites any form of white support that the Dixiecrats would, but there was a lot of residual support for the party of Treason in Defense of Slavery a century earlier. But in some districts, Republicans could now win and Inhofe had one of those. He won that year and served a single term in the state House before going on to the illustrious Oklahoma Senate. He stayed there for four terms, from 1969 to 1977.


But Inhofe had much higher ambitions. He wanted power. So in 1974, he ran for governor of Oklahoma. As Nixon’s Southern Strategy had taken off by this time, he got a lot of support from statewide and national Republicans who wanted to see if a Republican could win statewide in that very conservative state. Gerald Ford, a man far, far, far more conservative than the public memory of him, came to Oklahoma to campaign for Inhofe. However, regardless of his district, Inhofe was still in a Democratic state. The time wasn’t right yet. He got absolutely crushed by David Boren, who was the perfect Democrat to win against someone like Inhofe, not that it would matter today if someone like Boren ran. Democrats are almost as nonexistent in Oklahoma today as Republicans in 1922.

But Inhofe wasn’t going to give up. In 1976, he ran for Congress. He won a tough primary against Frank Keating, but again lost in the general, this time to James Jones, not a particularly notable Democrat, though Bill Clinton later named him ambassador to Mexico. But he did become mayor of Tulsa in 1978. That was a tight race but from then on he was pretty much guaranteed to win reelection. The Southern Strategy had advanced after all. Southern whites, slowly but surely, put aside their former antipathy to the Republican Party for their current and long-existing antipathy toward Black people, liberals, homosexuals, feminists, environmentalists, and anyone who seemed to threatened white Christian supremacy. Someone like Inhofe was ripe and ready to take advantage to this.

In 1986, Jones decided to run for the Senate. That opened up his seat in the House again. Inhofe once again ran. He won another tight race for the primary. But this time, he won the general election. Oklahoma was always a hard-right state and now it identified that as being with the Republican Party. He would win reelection three times. None of these were blowout wins. The Democratic Party still had holdover appeal, especially when someone like Bill Clinton was at the top of the presidential ticket. He never got more than 56 percent of the vote, but he always won.

Inhofe was initially too far to the right for Reagan. Or more accurately, Reagan was too far to the left for Inhofe. He immediately identified as one of the biggest conservatives in Congress. He voted against Reagan’s budget in 1986 because it didn’t tick any of Inhofe’s two preferred boxes. The first was lower taxes. The second was more defense spending. Even though Reagan was all about both lower taxes and higher defense spending, this particular budget didn’t move those goals forward enough so Inhofe was outraged and basically thought Reagan was acting like some kind of Democrat.

When right-wing terrorists bombed the Oklahoma City Federal Building in 1993, one of the worst terrorist attacks in American history and one that people such as Inhofe really don’t want to talk about because it wasn’t done by scary Arabs, he was immediately contacted for comment. He stated that he didn’t think there would be many deaths since these were government workers and so at 9:00 in the morning would be slacking off drinking coffee somewhere else rather than dying on the job. Nice guy there.

But when Bill Clinton said, correctly, that the bombing was because of the rise of right-wing terrorism in this nation, Inhofe screamed in outrage over the president “politicizing” the tragedy. Of course, this did not hurt him with Oklahoma voters. Sure a bunch of them had just died. And they had family members who died. Or friends. Or friends of friends. When 168 people die, it’s a constellation of loss. However, like with the Trump administration’s disastrous handling of Covid-19 many years later, or for that matter, the endless gun massacres that plague this violent nation, we learned here that such losses, even when done with a specific ideological objective, do not move the political needle at all. Inhofe could be as offensive as he wanted because it was in the interest of most Oklahoma voters’ ideology to deny why this happened and find a reason to blame Democrats for it.

Despite his openly insulting the victims, Inhofe took advantage of the Oklahoma City bombing for his political career. In 1994, David Boren, who was now a senator, decided to resign to become president of the University of Oklahoma. As we all know, the 1994 elections were catastrophic for Democrats. In fact, this is the first time I remember being depressed about politics, as I was in college and paying attention. He finished Boren’s term and then won his first full term in 1996. When Inhofe won his Senate race in 1994, he did so on a basic campaign platform that would appeal to Oklahomans—“God, guns, and gays.” And let’s just say that he was not pro-gay. Inhofe appealed to the worst in Oklahomans. It always paid dividends.

Inhofe became oil and gas’ favorite man in the Senate. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for them. For example, in 2015, he introduced a bill that would have shifted all regulation over fracking from the federal government to the states, making it super easy for the gas industry to buy access and exceptions to regulations. He was well paid for all of this of course, receiving probably a million or more in donations from the oil and gas industry over the years. It also meant his biggest enemy was the environmental movement. In 2002, Inhofe compared the Environmental Protection Agency to the Gestapo for….marginally making the oil industry not pollute so much? Oh also, EPA head Carol Browner was….Tokyo Rose!

Of course, for Republicans this was great so when they took the Senate that fall, Inhofe became chair of the Committee on Environment and Public Works. This was catastrophic. See, for a long time, many decades really, the environmental community figured that if they could muster the science and the experts that politicians on both sides of the aisle would listen to them. Even during the Reagan years, this was often true. But that movement failed to see what was coming, the increased dominance of people such as Inhofe in the Republican Party, who simply didn’t care about the science. So Inhofe and allies just closed off the possibility of getting anything done in the Senate for greens. To this day, environmentalism remains a dead letter in Congress if Republicans control any part of the government, now including the Supreme Court. I am sure a death bed Inhofe gave a grim reaper smile when he found out that the Roberts Court had overturned the Chevron doctrine in June 2024.

If Inhofe is remembered for anything by the general public, it was his “herpty derpty it’s snowing here in DC so climate change is a lib conspiracy” speech, replete with the snowball brought onto the Senate floor. He thought climate change was just hilarious, thus the snowball. He stated, “With all of the hysteria, all of the fear, all of the phony science, could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetuated on the American people? It sure sounds like it.” OK Jim, sure.

For this, among other things, I once called Inhofe “arguably the dumbest person to sit in the Senate for a long, long time.” Amusingly, this quote is the lead for Inhofe entry at RationalWiki.[1] Now, I stand by the statement mostly. Inhofe was a stupid, stupid man. However, that comment doesn’t really hold up to the test of time because the Republican Party really came to value stupidity as its central ideological point. People like Marsha Blackburn or Ron Johnson, not to mention Kirsten Sinema, genuinely very dumb human beings, managed to surpass Inhofe. And then there’s Tommy Tuberville. Good Lord, now that is a dumb person. It’s a sad nation where Inhofe isn’t the stupidest person in your governing bodies. In any case, Inhofe’s own granddaughter challenged Grandpa Dumbass directly the next time she saw her, saying that climate change was real and asking why he would not listen to science and help save the world. Inhofe’s response to his own granddaughter was to say that teaching science in schools was brainwashing.

Inhofe didn’t exactly get less insane on climate change over time. Instead, he became a huge conspiracy theorist , thinking it was manufactured by a global cabal to overturn America and capitalism. In 2012, he “wrote” a book called The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. The basic argument, if one wants to call it that, is that humans can’t change the climate because God wouldn’t let them. Alrighty. He would continue on this path the rest of his career, denouncing climate change from the Senate floor, misrepresenting the work of scientists, lauding other conspiracy theorists, and all around just being a complete idiot. He compared the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to a “Soviet style trial” and he said that the environmental movement reminded him of the Third Reich. Etc. Ad nauseum. Voters in Oklahoma ate this up, what with the lib owning and all. I could go on about Inhofe’s embarrassing statements on climate change, but why make this entire obituary about the same thing.

Inhofe was not only stupid. He was also evil. When the news about the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib came out, Inhofe was furious…that people didn’t think that was fine. In 2005, in part because of the disgust at the treatment of these poor prisoners, who Inhofe thought were a bunch of terrorists not that he had looked into it at all because he was stupid, lazy, and racist, Congress passed the Defense Treatment Act. It passed overwhelmingly. Only nine senators voted no. Of course, Inhofe was one of the nine.

When John McCain died in 2018 and Donald Trump petulantly only lowered the flags to half mast for two days, Inhofe said that McCain was his “hero,” but then blamed him for the whole situation because the dead senator didn’t love Donald Trump enough. Specifically, he stated St. John of Arizona “disagreed with the President in certain areas and wasn’t too courteous about it.” Can’t have that in your cult of personality!

Inhofe also had weird bugs up his butt about various issues. One of them was Western Sahara, where he got really invested in the independence movement from Morocco and even blocked the nomination of Trump’s ambassador to that nation over the issue. Less surprisingly, Inhofe was a big guy in the “immigrants should speak English” nonsense, which was passed as an amendment to the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, but since that never became law, I guess that’s one silver lining. Inhofe consistently thought immigrants were super scary. After the gun nut whacko shot up the country music festival in Las Vegas in 2017, Inhofe said the reason was that Las Vegas was a sanctuary city against Trump and Stephen Miller’s ethnic cleaning campaigns. Yeah, that made a lot of sense, about as much as his snowball. Of course the guy who did it was a white dude with high powered weapons, someone who would have made a perfect consistuent for Inhofe.

Inhofe was also a massive homophobe. Human Rights Campaign routinely gave him a 0% in their voting scorecard, which made him happy. He helped lead the fight to ensure that James Hormel, the openly gay man Bill Clinton nominated to be ambassador to Luxembourg, would never be confirmed by the Senate. He routinely used homophobia in his political campaigns, tainting any Democrat with the scary homos. He opposed allowing gays in the military by saying that troops would not fight for gay comrades, though of course we know that is not true. Inhofe famously said that he would never hire a gay staffer, though when one was outed in 2004, Inhofe did not fire him. Of course as transgender rights became a bigger issue in American life after transgender troops in the military. He did so by asking the critical question of where transgender troops would use the bathroom. Smart guy here, real genius.

Finally, what did race and racism mean to Jim Inhofe? In 2009, The Atlantic gave us two quotes from Inhofe that sum up his whole approach to life and politics. Let’s just use them. The first is his defense of Trent Lott’s love fest to Strom Thurmond in 2002, when Lott said that the nation would have been better off if the arch-segregationist Thumond had won the presidency in 1948:

“In an effort to honor the life and service of Strom Thurmond, Senator Lott made some comments that he probably wishes he had phrased differently. I do not believe Senator Lott meant to be malicious or racist with the comments he made. I believe he was merely honoring a great American on his 100th birthday […] I do not believe he harbors racist sentiments in his heart.”

Huh.


The second quote came in 2009, over Sonia Sotomayor’s “Wise Latina” speech. Inhofe said:

“There is no other way you can interpret [Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” speech]. She thinks that a woman with her experience can make a better conclusion than a white male and to me, I consider that racist.”

I think we are done here.

James Inhofe was an awful person with awful policies who made the nation worse through his time in politics.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.


[1] https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Jim_Inhofe

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