The Corner

Politics & Policy

James Lankford’s Abdication of Responsibility

Sen. James Lankford (R., Okla.) attends a hearing with the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, on Capitol Hill, September 16, 2020. (Anna Moneymaker/Reuters)

How should a free people expect to be treated by our “public servants”? What do our elected representatives owe the people who put them in office?

Edmund Burke, in his 1774 speech to the electors of Bristol, put it bluntly: “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays you instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

In short, freeborn, self-respecting citizens deserve to be told the truth by their representatives, no matter what it is. And politicians who shrug the responsibility to tell their constituents the truth aren’t serving them; they’re holding them in contempt.

My home-state senator, James Lankford of Oklahoma, was speaking on the Senate floor last night — in the midst of absurdly challenging the certification of the election in Arizona — when the chamber came under assault by a mob, a mob that was aided and abetted by every politician who refused to resolutely say what was true, as many times as it needed to be said, about the reality of what happened on Election Day. Lankford didn’t get to finish that speech, more’s the pity. It would have been nice to have him fully on the record.

A few days ago, however, in an op-ed in my hometown newspaper, the Tulsa World, Lankford wrote, “If you randomly catch any 10 Oklahomans on the street today and ask them if there was at least some voter fraud in the November election, my suspicion is a majority of them would say yes.”

I don’t argue that’s not the case. I don’t argue that there aren’t doubts about the election here in Oklahoma. But a courageous man, one who cared about his duty to his fellow Oklahomans, could have spent the last two months traveling the state, meeting with his constituents — especially those who doubted the outcome — to alleviate those concerns, forcefully debunk conspiracy theories, and build faith in the outcome of the presidential election, however disappointing it may have been to the majority of Oklahomans.

Would Lankford have paid a political price for that? Maybe. It might have made him some enemies. It might have drawn a primary challenge. Instead, Lankford chose ignominy. Instead, Lankford chose the easy way out. Instead, Lankford chose political expediency.

His mealy-mouthed retraction of his objections last night — once riot police had cleared the Senate chambers of the mob of vandals that had stormed the Capitol — was the perfect coda to his pusillanimity. “Obviously the [electoral] commission that we have asked for is not going to happen at this point,” Lankford sheepishly told his colleagues late Wednesday night. “And I understand that, and we’re headed towards . . . the certification of Joe Biden to be the president of the United States.”

Here’s the truth: No fact pattern concerning election fraud, the election’s result, or his constituents’ concerns had changed in the intervening hours — only Lankford’s calculations regarding whether such a challenge benefited him politically. The junior senator from Oklahoma couldn’t have looked more ridiculous.

James Lankford had the right to object last night to the certification of the Electoral College vote. But he had a duty not to. He had a duty to tell the truth, the whole truth, to Oklahomans, not pander to them. He had a duty to lead. James Lankford shirked that duty. He treated his fellow Oklahomans with contempt.

Oklahomans shouldn’t forget it.


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