Senator Jeff Flake, R-Arizona gave a speech yesterday at the US Senate. It was a terrific speech. Here’s how he started:
I rise today with no small measure of regret. Regret because of the state of our disunion, regret because of the disrepair and destructiveness of our politics. Regret because of the indecency of our discourse. Regret because of the coarseness of our leadership. Regret for the compromise of our moral authority, and by our, I mean all of our complicity in this alarming and dangerous state of affairs. It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.
Well, who could argue with that? He comes across as a decent man, a man of conscience, a conservative in the best sense of the word. I’ve seen interviews with him, and I’ve read his book, cheekily titled Conscience of a Conservative. The title he may have stolen from Barry Goldwater, but those ideas are now mainstream conservatism. It’s the disgust with the Presidency of Donald Trump that’s, sadly, kind of unique. But back to his speech:
Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified. And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy.
Preach it brother! Amen! Absolutely! And when I say ‘brother,’ I mean that in a religious sense; Flake’s LDS. And his speech isn’t just an attack on Trump. It’s also a call to action:
When the next generation asks us, why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up? What are we going to say? Mr. President, I rise today to say, enough. We must dedicate ourselves to making sure that the anomalous never becomes the normal.
Great. That’s fine. We don’t want the anomalous to become the normal. Couldn’t agree more. I just want to know this:
Why haven’t you done anything?
And why are you leaving?
Here’s an example. Betsy DeVos was confirmed at Secretary of Education back in February. It was perfectly obvious from her confirmation hearing that she was spectacularly unqualified for the job. She was the wife of a major Republican donor, who has spent her time trying to privatize the American education system. She demonstrated repeatedly that she knew absolutely nothing about the most pressing education issues of the day. And she was confirmed 51-50, with the tie-breaking vote cast by Vice-President Pence.
And Jeff Flake voted for her. He voted ‘yes’. He made normal, in other words, Trump’s sensationally anomalous choice for his cabinet.
Okay, that’s unfair. Flake is a big school-choice guy, a charter school guy. Maybe he agreed with her on education issues, and was willing to overlook her, ahem, idiosyncracies. And that vote was a long time ago. So what about yesterday? The Senate voted on a measure that would have made it harder for ripped-off citizens to sue the banks or credit card companies that cheated them. The one recourse people have under such circumstances is to sue, either individually or through a class-action suit. Credit card companies want people to use binding arbitration instead, because they usually win those. The Senate was voting on the measure. So, easy vote: Wall Street vs. consumers. And two Republicans voted against the banks, joining all 48 Democrats. Jeff Flake was not one of them. Trump wanted it, and Flake voted with Trump. Again, Mike Pence broke the tie. 51-50.
So, again, the anomalous becomes the normal. And Jeff Flake’s anti-Trump rhetoric starts to look pretty empty, pretty self-serving.
And, all right, let’s suppose Flake really would now like to oppose Trump on principle, that he wants to join the fight against normalizing anomalies. Then why not stay in the Senate? Because Jeff Flake’s big speech was essentially a farewell address. He’s quitting. He’s leaving the Senate.
I get that Trump hates him, and that Steve Bannon is willing to spend ten million dollars of Robert Mercer’s money to defeat him. Flake’s main concern seems to be all that support flowing to his primary challenger. He, understandably, does not want to humiliated by a primary defeat.
But it’s not like his opponent is some juggernaut. She’s Dr. Kelli Ward, an ER doc from Lake Havasu City. She’s probably a very good doctor. And she may not be quite as nuts as she sometimes appears. She appeared on Alex Jones’ show, where she suggested that John McCain may be trying to kill her. Kind of; Jones said it, she just didn’t contradict him. She hosted a town hall meeting about chemtrails. Though she hasn’t said where she stands on the chemtrail issue, she clearly took that particular conspiracy theory seriously enough to hold a town hall on it. So, no, it’s not entirely fair to call her Chemtrail Kelli. But she also sees political advantage to cozying up to conspiracy theorists.
What does she stand for? I went on her website, and guess what: if Trump’s for it, so is she. Border wall, tax cuts for rich guys, no gun control at all, for anything.
Remember, Steve Bannon is an insurrectionist. He’s pro-chaos. He wants desperately unqualified people in the cabinet and Congress; he’s trying to rush us towards something akin to the Second Coming. He likes creative destruction. That’s why he supported (and we may be stuck with), Roy Moore for the US Senate. Moore’s crazy. Bannon likes crazy.
More to the point, Flake isn’t crazy. At least, he’s not-crazy enough to understand what a disaster Donald Trump’s Presidency has become. He is, at least, competent, and a decent guy. He’s massively conservative, and if I could vote in Arizona, I’d vote for his likely opponent, Kyrsten Sinema. She’s a liberal Democrat. Who he would probably beat.
What bothers me most, though, is him not even trying. What troubles me is the suggestion that active opposition from someone as extreme and bizarre as Steve Bannon might scare Flake off. Or that he doesn’t seem to think he can beat a Trumpite like Kelli Ward.
Flake’s speech seems to suggest that an actual conservative (whatever that is), can’t support Donald Trump in good conscience, and that the Republican party needs to disassociate themselves from Trumpian policies and politics. Great. Good start. But he’s not going to do anything about it. And that, frankly, strikes me not as conscience, but as cowardice.