Jeff Flake

American politician
If we compromise the truth for the sake of our politics, we are lost.

Jeffry Lane Flake (born 31 December 1962) is an American Republican Party politician who served as a the US Senator from Arizona from 2013 to 2019, earlier serving in the US House of Representatives from 2001 to 2013. He is known as a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, but generally voted in line with Trump's positions on legislature.

QuotesEdit

 
Between the mighty and the modest, truth is the great leveler.
 
No longer can we compound attacks on truth with our silent acquiescence. No longer can we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to these assaults on our institutions.
 
I can tell you when and where I would be broken. Is if I were to say that the path to reelection is to embrace the President's policies that I disagree with and to condone his behavior, which nobody should condone. That would be a broken man who does that.
 
In our own country, from the trivial to the truly dangerous, it is the range and regularity of the untruths we see that should be cause for profound alarm, and spur to action.
  • Jake Tapper: Sarah Palin and Breitbart are saying things along the lines that Trump broke you. What's your response to that?
    Jeff Flake: I'm still standing. No, there are other things in life than politics. And I can tell you when and where I would be broken. Is if I were to say that the path to reelection is to embrace the President's policies that I disagree with and to condone his behavior, which nobody should condone. That would be a broken man who does that, so I feel good about where I am.
    • Exchange between CNN reporter Jake Tapper and Flake after his announcement that he would not run for re-election in 2018 on 24 October 2017

Conscience of a Conservative (2017)Edit

Conscience of a Conservative : A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle (2017); the title of this work is derived from The Conscience of a Conservative (1960) by Barry Goldwater, which is quoted by Flake in the Preface: "The conscience of a conservative is pricked by anyone who would debase the dignity of the individual human being. Today, therefore, he is at odds with dictators who rule by terror, and equally with those gentler activists who ask our permission to play God with the human race."
  • But in the tweeting life of our president, strategy is difficult to detect. Influencing news cycles seems to be the principal goal; achieving short-term advantage, you bet. But ultimately, it's all noise and no signal. And in the absence of preparation and a well-considered strategy — especially when one is moving global chess pieces — volatile unpredictability is not a virtue. We have quite enough volatile actors to deal with internationally as it is without becoming one of them.
    • p. 6
  • But it is one thing to keep your adversaries or your "near-peer" competitors off balance with strategic unpredictability and quite another to keep the American people themselves similarly at a loss as to what exactly is going on, which is now a daily occurrence, to say nothing at all about the vexation on the part of many of our traditional allies all over the world. I began writing this book after returning from a trip to Mexico City on a one-senator diplomatic mission to calm and reassure the nation to our south — a vitally important friend and trading partner — that all will be well, that America is still America. But is it?
    • p. 6
  • The meetings with Mexican officials were planned before the election, but they took on even greater significance after Trump's win. But even before the election, it was obvious that my party had taken a sharp turn away from the conservative principles that have defined it for nearly a century and that I have tried to uphold for my entire life. And the animating question of how this had happened to my party already seemed to be a profound problem for our democracy, and one badly in need of a solution. I write this book because we as conservatives — and conservatism itself — are in crisis.
    • p. 6
  • By any honest assessment of where we are as a party, without a major course correction, we are simply on the way out. The demographic picture of America is rapidly changing, and we have to change with it. George W. Bush got 56 percent of the white vote, and won. Mitt Romney got 59 percent of the white vote, and lost. Every four years in this country, the electorate gets about two percentage points less white; as an increasingly old and increasingly white party, we are skidding with each passing election toward irrelevance in terms of appealing to a broad electorate. We hold out our hand, expecting our share of nonwhite votes, and yet we give these Americans too few reasons to come our way. Instead, we demonize them, marginalize them, and blame them for our country's problems. We all knew of this before the last election, but we quickly set it aside for the sugar high of populism, nativism, and demagoguery. The crash from this sugar high will be particularly unpleasant.
    • p. 8
  • We have given in to the politics of anger — the belief that riling up the base can make up for failed attempts to broaden the electorate. These are the 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.
    • p. 8

Speech on not seeking another term in the U.S. Senate (2017)Edit

 
Leadership does not knowingly encourage or feed ugly or debased appetites in us. Leadership lives by the American creed, "E pluribus unum." From many one. American leadership looks to the world and just as Lincoln did, sees the family of man.
Full transcript, The New York Times (24 October 2017)
  • At a moment when it seems that our democracy is more defined by our discord and our dysfunction than by our own values and principles, let me begin by noting the somewhat obvious point that these offices that we hold are not ours indefinitely. We are not here simply to mark time. Sustained incumbency is certainly not the point of seeking office and there are times when we must risk our careers in favor of our principles. Now is such a time.
    It must also be said that 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. In this century, a new phrase has entered the language to describe the accommodation of a new and undesirable order, that phrase being "the new normal."
  • We must never regard as normal the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals. We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country, the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms and institution, the flagrant disregard for truth and decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have been elected to serve. None of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal. We must never allow ourselves to lapse into thinking that that is "just the way things are now." If we simply become inured to this condition, thinking that it is just politics as usual, then heaven help us.
    Without fear of the consequences and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe or palatable, we must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal.
    They are not normal.
    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. Such behavior does not project strength because our strength comes from our values. It instead projects a corruption of the spirit and weakness.
    It is often said that children are watching. Well, they are. And what are we going to do about that? 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. With respect and humility, I must say that we have fooled ourselves for long enough that a pivot to governing is right around the corner, a return to civility and stability right behind it.
  • What happens if stability fails to assert itself in the face of chaos and instability? If decency fails to call out indecency? Were the shoe on the other foot, we Republicans — would we Republicans meekly accept such behavior on display from dominant Democrats?
    Of course, we wouldn't, and we would be wrong if we did. When we remain silent and fail to act, when we know that silence and inaction is the wrong thing to do because of political considerations, because we might make enemies, because we might alienate the base, because we might provoke a primary challenge, because ad infinitum, ad nauseam, when we succumb to those considerations in spite of what should be greater considerations and imperatives in defense of our institutions and our liberty, we dishonor our principles and forsake our obligations. Those things are far more important than politics.
  • I'm aware that there's a segment of my party that believes that anything short of complete and unquestioning loyalty to a president who belongs to my party is unacceptable and suspect. If I have been critical, it is not because I relish criticizing the behavior of the president of the United States. If I have been critical, it is because I believe it is my obligation to do so. And as a matter and duty of conscience, the notion that one should stay silent — and as the norms and values that keep America strong are undermined and as the alliances and agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters — the notion that we should say or do nothing in the face of such mercurial behavior is ahistoric and, I believe, profoundly misguided.
  • Acting on conscience and principle in a manner — is the manner — in which we express our moral selves and as such, loyalty to conscience and principle should supersede loyalty to any man or party. We can all be forgiven for failing in that measure from time to time. I certainly put myself at the top of the list of those who fall short in this regard. I am holier than none.
    But too often we rush … not to salvage principle, but to forgive and excuse our failures so that we might accommodate them and go right on failing until the accommodation itself becomes our principle. In that way and over time, we can justify almost any behavior and sacrifice any principle. I am afraid that this is where we now find ourselves.
  • When a leader correctly identifies real hurt and insecurity in our country, and instead of addressing it, goes to look for someone to blame, there is perhaps nothing more devastating to a pluralistic society. Leadership knows that most often a good place to start in assigning blame is to look somewhat closer to home. Leadership knows where the buck stops.
    Humility helps, character counts. Leadership does not knowingly encourage or feed ugly or debased appetites in us. Leadership lives by the American creed, "E pluribus unum." From many one. American leadership looks to the world and just as Lincoln did, sees the family of man. Humanity is not a zero sum game. When we have been at our most prosperous, we have been at our most principled, and when we do well, the rest of the world does well.
  • I will not be complicit or silent. I've decided that I would be better able to represent the people of Arizona and to better serve my country and my conscience by freeing myself of the political consideration that consumed far too much bandwidth and would cause me to compromise far too many principles.
    To that end, I'm announcing today that my service in the Senate will conclude at the end of my term in early January 2019. It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative, who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, who is pro-immigration, has a narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican Party, the party that has so long defined itself by its belief in those things.
    It is also clear to me for the moment that we have given in or given up on the core principles in favor of a more viscerally satisfying anger and resentment. To be clear, the anger and resentment that the people feel at the royal mess that we've created are justified. But anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy.
    There is an undeniable potency to a populist appeal by mischaracterizing or misunderstanding our problems and giving in to the impulse to scapegoat and belittle — the impulse to scapegoat and belittle threatens to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking people. In the case of the Republican Party, those things also threaten to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking minority party.
  • We were not made great as a country by indulging in or even exalting our worst impulses, turning against ourselves, glorifying in the things that divide us, and calling fake things true and true things fake. And we did not become the beacon of freedom in the darkest corners of the world by flouting our institutions and failing to understand just how hard-won and vulnerable they are.
    This spell will eventually break. That is my belief. We will return to ourselves once more, and I say the sooner the better. Because we have a healthy government, we must also have healthy and functioning parties. We must respect each other again in an atmosphere of shared facts and shared values, comity and good faith. We must argue our positions fervently and never be afraid to compromise. We must assume the best of our fellow man, and always look for the good.
    Until that day comes, we must be unafraid to stand up and speak out as if our country depends on it, because it does.
  • I will close by borrowing the words of President Lincoln, who knew more about healthy enmity and preserving our founding values than any other American who has ever lived. His words from his first inaugural were a prayer in our time and are no less in ours. "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break the bonds of our affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell again when touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
    Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.

Farewell speech to the U.S. Senate (2018)Edit

Full transcript at Politico (17 January 2018)
  • I rise today, to talk about the truth, and its relationship to democracy. For without truth, and a principled fidelity to truth and to shared facts, Mr. President, our democracy will not last.
    2017 was a year which saw the truth — objective, empirical, evidence-based truth — more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government. It was a year which saw the White House enshrine "alternative facts" into the American lexicon, as justification for what used to be known simply as good old-fashioned falsehoods. It was the year in which an unrelenting daily assault on the constitutionally-protected free press was launched by that same White House, an assault that is as unprecedented as it is unwarranted. "The enemy of the people," was what the president of the United States called the free press in 2017.
    Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies.
    It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase "enemy of the people," that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of "annihilating such individuals" who disagreed with the supreme leader.
    This alone should be a source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president's party. For they are shameful, repulsive statements.
    And, of course, the president has it precisely backward — despotism is the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot's enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy. When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn't suit him "fake news," it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press.
  • Those of us who travel overseas, especially to war zones and other troubled areas around the globe, encounter members of U.S. based media who risk their lives, and sometimes lose their lives, reporting on the truth. To dismiss their work as fake news is an affront to their commitment and their sacrifice.
    According to the International Federation of Journalists, 80 journalists were killed in 2017, and a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists documents that the number of journalists imprisoned around the world has reached 262, which is a new record. This total includes 21 reporters who are being held on "false news" charges.
  • Here in America, we do not pay obeisance to the powerful — in fact, we question the powerful most ardently — to do so is our birthright and a requirement of our citizenship — and so, we know well that no matter how powerful, no president will ever have dominion over objective reality.
  • A major difference between politicians and the free press is that the press usually corrects itself when it gets something wrong. Politicians don't.
  • No longer can we compound attacks on truth with our silent acquiescence. No longer can we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to these assaults on our institutions. And Mr. President, an American president who cannot take criticism — who must constantly deflect and distort and distract — who must find someone else to blame — is charting a very dangerous path. And a Congress that fails to act as a check on the president adds to the danger.
    Now, we are told via twitter that today the president intends to announce his choice for the "most corrupt and dishonest" media awards. 'It beggars belief that an American president would engage in such a spectacle.
    But here we are.
  • 2018 must be the year in which the truth takes a stand against power that would weaken it. In this effort, the choice is quite simple. And in this effort, the truth needs as many allies as possible. Together, my colleagues, we are powerful. Together, we have it within us to turn back these attacks, right these wrongs, repair this damage, restore reverence for our institutions, and prevent further moral vandalism.
    Together, united in the purpose to do our jobs under the Constitution, without regard to party or party loyalty, let us resolve to be allies of the truth — and not partners in its destruction.
    It is not my purpose here to inventory all of the official untruths of the past year. But a brief survey is in order. Some untruths are trivial — such as the bizarre contention regarding the crowd size at last year's inaugural.
    But many untruths are not at all trivial — such as the seminal untruth of the president's political career — the oft-repeated conspiracy about the birthplace of President Obama.
    Also not trivial are the equally pernicious fantasies about rigged elections and massive voter fraud, which are as destructive as they are inaccurate — to the effort to undermine confidence in the federal courts, federal law enforcement, the intelligence community and the free press, to perhaps the most vexing untruth of all — the supposed "hoax" at the heart of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.
  • To be very clear, to call the Russia matter a "hoax" — as the president has many times — is a falsehood. We know that the attacks orchestrated by the Russian government during the election were real and constitute a grave threat to both American sovereignty and to our national security. It is in the interest of every American to get to the bottom of this matter, wherever the investigation leads.
    Ignoring or denying the truth about hostile Russian intentions toward the United States leaves us vulnerable to further attacks. We are told by our intelligence agencies that those attacks are ongoing, yet it has recently been reported that there has not been a single cabinet-level meeting regarding Russian interference and how to defend America against these attacks. Not one. What might seem like a casual and routine untruth — so casual and routine that it has by now become the white noise of Washington — is in fact a serious lapse in the defense of our country.
  • Let us be clear. The impulses underlying the dissemination of such untruths are not benign. They have the effect of eroding trust in our vital institutions and conditioning the public to no longer trust them. The destructive effect of this kind of behavior on our democracy cannot be overstated.
  • Every word that a president utters projects American values around the world. The values of free expression and a reverence for the free press have been our global hallmark, for it is our ability to freely air the truth that keeps our government honest and keeps a people free. Between the mighty and the modest, truth is the great leveler. And so, respect for freedom of the press has always been one of our most important exports.
  • Not only has the past year seen an American president borrow despotic language to refer to the free press, but it seems he has in turn inspired dictators and authoritarians with his own language. This is reprehensible.
    We are not in a "fake news" era, as Bashar Assad says. We are, rather, in an era in which the authoritarian impulse is reasserting itself, to challenge free people and free societies, everywhere.
    In our own country, from the trivial to the truly dangerous, it is the range and regularity of the untruths we see that should be cause for profound alarm, and spur to action. Add to that the by-now predictable habit of calling true things false, and false things true, and we have a recipe for disaster. As George Orwell warned, "The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it."
  • The question of why the truth is now under such assault may well be for historians to determine. But for those who cherish American constitutional democracy, what matters is the effect on America and her people and her standing in an increasingly unstable world — made all the more unstable by these very fabrications. What matters is the daily disassembling of our democratic institutions.
    We are a mature democracy — it is well past time that we stop excusing or ignoring — or worse, endorsing — these attacks on the truth. For if we compromise the truth for the sake of our politics, we are lost.

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