Tag Archives: Jeff Flake

“A Path I’m Not Willing To Take”

By this time, any American even minimally interested in politics is aware of the speech made a week or so ago by Senator Jeff Flake. Flake took to the Senate floor to announce that he would not be running for re-election, because in the party of Trump, such a campaign would require him to go down “a path I’m not willing to take.”

Vox reported on the speech and its reception.

“Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused as telling it like it is when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified,” he said, referencing President Trump. “And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy.”

Flake’s remarks were met with a standing ovation from those in the room, including Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Bob Corker (R-TN), who have both made their fair share of biting comments about the president.

The Huffington Post was among the numerous outlets reporting on Flake’s denunciation of “Trumpism.”

“It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end,” he said.

In a stunning takedown of President Donald Trump, Flake pleaded with his colleagues to “respect each other again in an atmosphere of shared facts and shared values” and called the president’s behavior “outrageous” and “dangerous to democracy.”

“I will not be complicit or silent,” Flake said. “When the next generation asks us, ‘Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up?’ What are we going to say?”

It was a great speech. But–as many others have pointed out–it wasn’t accompanied by meaningful action. Flake has obediently voted for virtually all of the measures supported by Trump and Ryan, and worse still, he isn’t going to stay and fight.

The other two Republican Senators who have spoken out–Bob Corker and John McCain–are also leaving the Senate. It raises the question why Republicans who plan to run for re-election (many of whom we know to be equally appalled by Trump) aren’t speaking publicly.

I think we know the answer to that question. It’s what is known as a lack of cojones–not to mention integrity– when contemplating the current GOP “base.” The number of Americans who identify as Republicans keeps shrinking, but those who remain include most of the voters who still support Trump. The radicalization of the party’s base has gone so far, it has eclipsed even Senators whose own opinions lie on the far edge of sanity.

A superficially unrelated article, also from Vox, provides a window into the “thought process” (a generous description) of that base.

“We’ve had this view that the voters were with us on conservatism — philosophical, economic conservatism,” said conservative intellectual Avik Roy in an interview with Zack Beauchamp. “In reality, the gravitational center of the Republican Party is white nationalism.”

The article looked at a phenomenon called “rolling coal.” The New York Times reported  on it in 2016; it’s the name given to the practice of modifying a truck’s diesel engine “so that it spews thick, toxic black smoke in order to … well, to be obnoxious.”

Entire dissertations could be written about rolling coal. Even more than Trump’s ascension, it seems to perfectly capture a moment in time, an inarticulate yawp of protest from angry white men. They feel disdained and overlooked and they will blow thick black smoke in your face until you pay attention….

What FOX and talk radio have been teaching the right for decades is that native-born, working- and middle-class whites are locked in a zero-sum struggle with rising Others — minorities, immigrants, gays, coastal elitists, hippie environmentalists, etc. — and that the major institutions of the country have been coopted and are working on behalf of the Others.

There’s much more in the article, and I encourage you to click through and read it, but its relevance to the silence of so many GOP elected officials is in its description of the hostility of a significant percentage of today’s Republican base. These are voters who don’t care about policy, or civility, or traditional Republican positions. They can’t define conservatism.  They just want to stick it to those “others.” In the immortal words from Network, they’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore.

And they frighten–and cow– Senators and Representatives for whom job security is more important than the country, the public good or self-respect.

 

Those Republican “Moderates”

I have frequently noted how far today’s GOP has traveled since my days as an active Republican. I’m not alone, of course, in describing the differences between the party of Eisenhower and even Reagan, and today’s radical Rightists–Facebook posts routinely include surprising quotes from former Republican presidents, and one recurring item contrasts the party’s 1955 platform with the party’s more recent–and far more “anti-government” iterations.

One result of this steady move rightward is a change in meaning of the term “Moderate.” Republican elected officials are now considered moderates if they refrain from explicitly racist and sexist rhetoric, occasionally smile, and exhibit social skills.

Before awarding a “moderate” label to today’s politicians, however, it is instructive to visit Nate Silver’s blog, where he tracks how often every member of the House and Senate votes with or against Donald Trump, who–whatever he is–is certainly no moderate.

Demonstrating how utterly meaningless the “moderate” label has become, the blog contains an excellent example from central Indiana’s Fifth District. Representative Susan Brooks is often favorably compared to some of our more outlandish and vocal elected troglodytes; she is certainly more pleasant in public. She is intelligent, and she discharged her prior government service (as a Deputy Mayor and U.S. Attorney) with competence.

Whether her voting record reflects her political philosophy or her desire to avoid being primaried is an open question. What isn’t in question is the utter lack of moderation in that voting record.

Here is the summary from Silver’s blog:

Trump score
How often Brooks votes in line with Trump’s position
Trump margin
Trump’s share of the vote in the 2016 election in Indiana’s 5th District minus Clinton’s
Predicted score
How often Brooks is expected to support Trump based on Trump’s 2016 margin
Trump plus-minus
Difference between Brooks’s actual and predicted Trump-support scores
97.6%
+11.8
88.6%
+9.0

As the scores indicate, her support for Trump exceeds what the demographics of her district would predict. (A list of the specific votes follows the reproduced chart on the  website.)

Lest I be accused of picking on Brooks, let me acknowledge that she is only one example of a supposed “moderate voice” whose actions fail to match their public demeanor. Jeff Flake is an example of someone who has gotten laudatory press for his recent book criticizing Trump, but when it came time to vote on the ACA’s “skinny repeal,” he obediently fell into line. John McCain regularly earns plaudits for being a “maverick,” but McCain has been only slightly more likely than the average senator to vote against his party.

As usual, Paul Krugman cuts to the chase:

When we look at the degeneration of American politics, it’s natural to blame the naked partisans — people like Mitch McConnell, with his principle-free will to power, or Ted Cruz, with his ideological rigidity. And Trump has, of course, done more to degrade his office than any previous occupant of the White House.

But none of what is happening right now would be possible without the acquiescence of politicians who pretend to be open-minded, decry partisanship, tut-tut about incivility and act as enablers for the extremists again and again….

Consider, for example, Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia — whose state has benefited enormously from the Affordable Care Act. “I didn’t come here to hurt people,” she declared not long ago — then voted for a bill that would quadruple the number of uninsured in West Virginia.

Or consider Rob Portman of Ohio, who cultivates an image as a moderate, praises Medicaid and talked big about the defects of Republican health plans — but also voted for that bill. Hey, in Ohio the number of uninsured would only triple.

There are only two Republican Senators one can truly label moderate and principled–Collins and Murkowski. If there are any genuine GOP moderates in the House, they sure don’t come from Indiana.