In Good Conscience

Published: October 9, 2017

By Jim Lichtman
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Jeff Flake is the junior U.S. Senator from Arizona whose recent book, Conscience of a Conservative, has received some harsh criticism, mostly from conservatives.

“A Book by A Fake Conservative with No Conscience.” – The Tennessee Star

“Jeff Flake is no Barry Goldwater. He’s a sellout Liberal.” – Conservative Review Editor-in-Chief Mark Levin

Here’s part of a note addressed to Flake from George W. Bush after the former president had watched Flake’s speech to a Muslim mosque after candidate Trump announced a ban on all Muslims entering the U.S:

Dear Jeff,

I saw your speech to the mosque in your state. I was deeply moved by your remarks. Moved by your leadership, your thoughtful tone, your reminder of the importance of religious freedom and your warm humor. Thank you for your voice of reason in these unreasonable times…

Flake may be seen as a thorn in the side of his Republican colleagues, but after reading his book, he reminded me of the kind of conservatism my parents favored: thoughtful limits on government and a commitment to the ideas and values that have shaped and sustained the country. However, what many in his party clearly don’t like is his obdurance to the new order of destructive populism led by Donald Trump – the most recent incarnation of a slick salesman who could sell snake oil to snakes.

The book’s argument is the clearest case yet, against the current state of angry populist demagoguery.

“When populism runs into realism, when disruption runs into democracy, when indecency runs into decency, we are left with no choice but to seek refuge in principle, resort to the truth, and return to the conservatism that has been the stabilizing ballast of our republic since its founding.

“The alternative,” Flake writes, “is to become further unmoored from principle and reality, to give in to our worst impulses, to fight every fight no matter how petty, and to continue headlong into ruin. …

“We must embrace a conservatism that recognizes once again that other Americans are not our enemies.

“We must recognize that government and the process by which we go about electing our leaders ought never be mistaken for entertainment, or graded for its entertainment value or its ratings. …

“We must reject the politics of the nasty, the punitive, and the fact-free, and reassert a conservatism of high ideals, goodwill and even better arguments.”

Do I agree with everything Flake believes in?

No. But I trust that, at his core, we share a common set of ideals, the notion that we must work together, not denigrate with attacking Tweets, rallies filled with hate speech and words that deliberately goad our enemies closer to another needless war.

“We have given in to the politics of anger,” Flake makes clear, “the belief that riling up the base can make up for failed attempts to broaden the electorate. These are spasms of a dying party. Anger and resentment and blaming groups of people for our problems might work politically in the short term, but it’s a dangerous impulse in a pluralistic society, and we know from history that it’s an impulse that, once acted upon, never ends well.”

In a chapter entitled, Note to Selves: Country Before Party, Flake, quoting James Madison, reminds us that no matter who sits in the White House, “ ‘in republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates,’ by which he meant that the members of Congress stand for election just as the president does, and they serve at the pleasure of no one but the people from whom their authority is derived. …

“Servile partisanship,” Flake emphasizes, “can cause you to act in ways that you might not otherwise act. In our time, misplaced loyalty has cause some conservative members of Congress to declare that they serve at the pleasure of the president, which Mr. Madison would have found quite surprising. A Republican president name Roosevelt had just the idea of putting a president in his place.”

Teddy Roosevelt’s words – from an editorial written in 1918 – should stand as a reminder of who we are and what we, as citizens, should stand for:

“The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation, as a whole.

“Therefore,” Roosevelt writes, “it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly as necessary to blame him when does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”

If all of us – conservative, liberal, independent, whomever – can agree on those words, all of us, not just officials in Washington, can and should sit down and listen to each other and commit to a practical constructive dialog on the issues without senseless division and name-calling.

Up Next: My response to a reader e-mail regarding my commentary on Las Vegas.


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