In which I defend Tom Coburn

I am no great fan of Tom Coburn's. I find his particular brand of social conservatism unpalatable, to say the very least, and I have not found myself on his side very often. However, I am going to rouse myself from my nesting to post a defense of him.

I was listening to Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me yesterday with the Critter. (For the record, while I am probably doomed to be one of "Those Parents" [I really hope I won't be, but who am I kidding?], I was listening for my own enjoyment, and not for the sake of molding his little brain into NPR-listener erudition. Well... not entirely.) And they made a lot of hay over this exchange in the Sotomayor confirmation hearings between Judge Sotomayor and Sen. Coburn:

SOTOMAYOR: “If I go home, get a gun, come back and shoot you, that may not be legal under New York law because you would have alternative ways to defend...”

COBURN: “You'll have lots of 'splainin' to do.”

SOTOMAYOR: “I'd be in a lot of trouble then.”

Now, when I heard that Coburn had told Sotomayor that she'd have some "'splainin'" to do, a la Ricky Ricardo, I was horrified that anyone could be so tone-deaf and insensitive. What did he do next, I wondered, ask if she lived la vida loca? Hilariously awful, thought I.

But then, I actually watched the video (available via the above link), and it's not as bad as I would have thought. "You've got some 'splainin' to do" is a well-worn pop culture reference, and one that is used without racial connotation by most people. I think it was, perhaps, inadvisable for Coburn to address the first Latina Supreme Court nominee using the mispronounced formulation of the famously Cuban Ricardo, but the exchange appears to have been good-humored and I don't think Coburn intended any racial inflection.

So, much as I dislike Coburn, I think Wait, Wait was being unfair, and I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt. This once.


  1. I don't know. The "some 'splainin' to do" is a well-known pop culture reference, but the whole point of it is a joke about a Hispanic accent. Originally and often done affectionately, but I don't think it's without racial connotation.

  2. Perhaps I'm being overly generous, but I still get the impression that Coburn meant it innocuously.

  3. I'm familiar with the phrase but it would never even occur to me to think of it as a racial thing. for whatever that's worth.

  4. I used to direct and perform improv comedy. A lot of that work is letting the unconcious mind throw out whatever it comes up with -- leading to stuff that is shocking and hopefully funny.
    Which is OK if that's what people are paying for. The problem here Coburn got himself into is that he was trying to improvise funny. Unfortunately for him, somehwere in the back of his head was probably the little tape saying "Don't make fun of latinos, don't make fun of latinos" and the brain immediatly associated over to "I Love Lucy."
    OK on stage, not so good when you're a senator. I don't think he /meant/ to be racist, but I think it was probably dumb to say as a senator interviewing a candidate for the Supreme Court of the United States.

  5. Do you think it was a dumb as a candidate for the Supremes drawing an analogy involving shooting a US Senator?

  6. Oh, John, What a (deliberately?) obtuse question. It is patently obvious from the exchange that Sotomayor is discussing a legal abstraction, and is simply making the point more accessible. She makes it very, very clear (to humorous effect) that she is in no way discussing actually shooting the Senator.

  7. It is humorous to suggest shooting a Senator? I think we may have different ideas about what is funny.

    Somehow, saying, and I quote, "If I go home, get a gun, come back and shoot you...", endquote, seems quite a bit like discussing shooting the Senator. I don't joke around about shooting people, because it really isn't funny to make light of such things. I'm not really interested in a potential Supreme joking around about shooting people either. It demonstrates a lack of judgement to do so in a confirmation hearing. IMHO, YMMV.

  8. There is a fine point here in that the context provided in a video is different from that in an audio, which is different again from a written transcript.

    I haven't watched it, myself, but body posture alone between two individuals can have more to do with something being regarded as insulting or not.

    Personally, my context of "Lucy, you've got some 'splainin' to do" is linked to Richard Dreyfuss uttering the line in the movie "Stakeout", since I've seen that a few times but only seen a half dozen "I Love Lucy" episodes. The line itself is so embedded in social consciousness I don't think it's even linked to the original Ricky in many people's minds.