Jeff Flake, Politics and More Important Things

Politics was never the most important thing in life.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 24: Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill after announcing he will not seek re-election October 24, 2017 in Washington, DC. Flake announced that he will leave the Senate after his term ends in 14 months.

By Kathryn Jean Lopez Published on October 28, 2017

“(The) (c)reme de la creme of Washington, D.C. insiderdom.” That’s how a newspaper columnist described Kate O’Beirne, the Washington editor of National Review and a panelist on CNN’s Capital Gang about 20 years ago, when I first started working at NR. I thought of that as Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake announced his decision to not run for re-election. I thought of Kate, who died this spring, because politics was never the most important thing in life. That’s what endeared her to people with serious political power: She’d remind them of more enduring things.

How We Change The World

When Flake went to the Senate floor on Tuesday, he said: “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.” He continued: “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.”

A lot of Flake’s ire was implicitly directed toward President Donald Trump, his supporters and the circus surrounding them. But there’s a lot more that Flake’s decision says, including this root principle: Our politics is only ever going to be as good as our culture. And our culture is only ever going to be as good as we demand it to be. And we make demands on our culture not just by picket signs or grand statements and impassioned commentary, but by what we spend our time and money on. There’s a complicity that goes beyond sitting senators.

And letting your opinion be known of the president isn’t enough. Because while he is president now, and he does happen to be coarse and seemingly erratic, he was elected in spite of those things — and for some people, because of those things.

The most important part of Jeff Flake removing himself from the senatorial scene, it seems to me, is what it says about Washington, D.C. insiderdom: It’s not how we’re going to change the world.

More Important Things

There’s a new book by Bishop Robert Barron in which, at one point, he talks about “the genius” of Pope Francis. “Don’t begin with the true or the good, begin with the beautiful, and it leads you to the true and the good … begin with … the kind gesture.” He continues: “We all think of the Church as giving laws, wagging fingers and clarifying sexual ethics, but in the great tradition … the project begins with beatitude, with happiness, with joy.”

Help us champion truth, freedom, limited government and human dignity. Support The Stream »

And while that’s not a political project, if it fuels people in politics, people commenting about politics and the people voting, you could see how things could start to look better. Instead of a constant war between the media and the White House and the constant barrage of acrimony and argument, we could be aspiring to work together, to have a debate, yes, but ultimately to respectfully listen, consider and strive for the common good.

In To Light a Fire on the Earth, Bishop Barron writes: “We no longer dare to believe in beauty, and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness.”

I think it’s fair to say that most Americans today don’t think of any of these words in association with politics. Which is why Sen. Flake is leaving and why we must do better. It’s something beautiful we’ll fight for and rally behind and become better people for. Remembering that and coming together around it requires more beautiful standards, ones that don’t come from politics but from our choices on a whole host of even more important things.


Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at             

Print Friendly
Comments ()
The Stream encourages comments, whether in agreement with the article or not. However, comments that violate our commenting rules or terms of use will be removed. Any commenter who repeatedly violates these rules and terms of use will be blocked from commenting. Comments on The Stream are hosted by Disqus, with logins available through Disqus, Facebook, Twitter or G+ accounts. You must log in to comment. Please flag any comments you see breaking the rules. More detail is available here.
  • Chip Crawford

    “We must do better” … Signal words for a scolding analysis, almost always mispremised. With all due respect, ma’am, I think you have missed it here rather badly. One of the most significant political upheavals occurred last November. I venture to offer that it came at the behest of focused prayer from a listening God. Wait – I did not say Mr. Trump is a Godsend in his own right. However, I will say that his errant behavior can be a shiny object if you allow that. Messrs. Flake Corker and McCain, among others, have allowed that. Meanwhile, massive amounts of the damage done to our nation’s interworkings by Mr. Obama have been rolled back. Right thinking people, many of them God fearing, are now in places of governance at the highest levels, outlaw agencies such as the EPA has become are being checked. Solid principles, laws and practices have been and will be implemented. Runaway socialism in all its disguises has temporarily been checked. Much more. We would all do well to give proper value to these actual occurrences and reflect on their significance to our very freedom. Oh, yes, the Flakes … there will always be those – the inoffensive, upstanding ones, who will not be able to shift to the work of the reordering and righting of the national ship, but will be distracted by unpleasant to them lesser elements. Again, not everyone gets it. But thank God, it is underway.

    • lighthouseseeker

      Yes, thank you. You spoke to my sensibility of sensibleness. Trump isn’t “nice”, “polite”, “gentle”, I suppose I could go on. I’ve nearly thrown up sometimes thinking of things he’s said to other people, ie in the presidential candidate debates, cringe, cringe, but he’s got the battle-sense, the drive, the guts to go for what we need here today. I am praying that he “get it done”.

      • Chip Crawford

        So much has been put in place for needed adjustment and reordering. We must pray. I feel God has given us all a window by some things he has done. We must work while it is still day …

        • lighthouseseeker

          Yes, prayer and thanksgiving are in order. Thanks for your comeback!

  • Linda

    Jonah Goldberg in the National Review writes:
    It really is amazing. The people most likely to mock “snowflakes” and ask if you’ve been “triggered” have the most Pavlovian responses to criticism of Trump. They can’t seem to handle hearing anyone pointing out Trump’s personal, ideological, political, or managerial failings. To use their lingua franca, it is the stuff of “butthurt.” I don’t think there’s a single reason for this. It’s more like an arsenal of psychological defense mechanisms. Off the top of my head: There’s the kneejerk anger at having it pointed out that your hero is out of his depth and that all of your assurances of superhuman skill and winningness were so much naïve piffle. There’s the blind tribal fury of saying things that lend aid and comfort to liberals. And we can’t leave out the discomfort, particularly acute among those with a long record of claiming ideological purity, of having the extent of their capitulation exposed. Which brings us to the enabling. Everyone understands Trump can’t help himself. The rest of us, therefore, should make allowances for that and not provoke him. “You should have known Dad would fly off the handle!” So Trump is held to one standard and everyone else to another. Ted Cruz is right that the Republicans have work to do. But who has taken his eye off the ball more than anyone else in Washington? Hint: It’s not Jeff Flake, it’s not Bob Corker, and it’s not Ben Sasse. It’s most emphatically not Mitch McConnell, who gave Trump his biggest win — Justice Gorsuch — and who is doing yeoman’s work to get conservatives on the lower courts. It’s the guy who’d rather fight Gold Star families and rant about the NFL. It’s the guy who talks about revoking licenses for the press and talks about Confederate generals as “our heritage.” But just as there’s no reasoning with Dad when he gets into the Dewar’s, there’s no talking Trump out of his Twitter when he gets into one of his “moods.”

    • Chip Crawford

      Yes, Jonah has especially had trouble with Trump all along. Pointing out the obvious is not very helpful though, and this is about his 100th rehashing. And it doesn’t take away from the implementation of the policies that many deem vital. But if you don’t like or agree with those, it’s a total wash all around. I can see that.

      • Linda

        So because Jonah Goldberg points out the blind allegiance of Trump devotees, it means he isn’t supportive of vital conservative policies? Wrong.

        • Chip Crawford

          Your leaps are unjust and inaccurate. Blind allegiance is rarely the case and everyone who doesn’t castigate Trump is not a “devotee.” On your side, there is such a thing as blind hate, which doesn’t see beyond that. It doesn’t serve Jonah nor you. I notice Jonah has not had an article on here lately, nor have I seen him contributing on news programs for quite a while. He used to be very popular in that capacity. If his recent articles have been as blasting as this, it is easy to see why he is being passed over for more reason. By the same token, your sour comments on this board are very seldom affirmed with a vote, and you receive a great deal of protest rebuttal. You misrepresented my comment to be something I was not saying. Dirty pool, madam. I certainly endeavored to show courtesy to you in my response. And we are all allowed to respond to comments here, so please take note of that as well. Thank you !

    • Hmmm…

      I, too, am disappointed with Jonah. The above represents a definite downturn in his writing. Many leaders, including Cabinet members, severely dislike the president’s tweeting and rank pettiness in spats, but know how vital are his actions on behalf of the country. Paul Ryan said no when a reporter asked him if he went along with the small side of DT, but we’ve learned to live with it. Marco Rubio, who was belittled like many others by Trump, hates the small stuff like everyone else, but says for the good of the country, he supports the strong agenda. They are choosing to go forward with what matters the most rather than be stalled out by the lesser. DT pays a price for his stubbornness in retaliating on petty things, but I do think he should stand up to more serious assaults. GW let too much pass, in my opinion, which ended up looking like he couldn’t defend against it. That was wrong. The ones who are leaving over it should. It takes a tougher hide than that to get done what must be done and what must be undone these days.

Don’t Let a Pit Become a Grave
James Robison
More from The Stream
Connect with Us