Listening to the Conservative intelligentsia discuss the surprise announcement by GOP Senator Jeff Flake that he will not be seeking re-election in 2018 is troubling. These are smart people- and yes I will concede that there are some conservatives who are smart people- and they should know much better than to be taking his decision as something noble. It is not. It is cowardice dressed up as some kind of brave act of political martyrdom. I’m calling bullshit.
Jeff Flake is not bowing out of the Senate based on principle regardless of all of that high-minded American idealism speechifying he put on today. He is ducking a fight- a fight that he was afraid he was going to lose. He should be fighting for the good of his home state as well as the soul and the honor of his party right now. But instead he is going to quit just when his state and his party need him most. I’m a committed progressive and I have enough insight into conservative politics to know that the country needs more Jeff Flakes and NO Roy Moores.
In case you have lost track, Roy Moore is the Alabama cartoon character that crazy conservatives are about to send to the Senate. Moore breathes fire and spews hate and he used that to beat out Luther Strange- the establishment candidate endorsed by Donald Trump. Among many other lunatic stances he takes, Moore thinks being gay should be punishable by law- ’nuff said.
And that is who Jeff Flake is leaving his party to. Make no mistake about it, the GOP is in a race to the bottom right now and Flake refused to even try to throw on the brakes. He’s just going to jump out of the car and let it crash and burn. You can call that many things but a profile in courage is not one of them. Nor is it a stance on principle. That speech he gave today should have been his campaign speech rather than a preview to a 14 month long farewell address.
Many men learn sometime in their teens that there are times in life when you just have to be willing to get into a fight and take a beating on principle. You may even know that a loss is the likely outcome. But you fight the fight anyway and knock out as many teeth, black as many eyes, and bust as many lips as you can before you are counted out. The point is to build something inside of yourself AND your opponent through that process. Yes, you lost the fight. But if you inflict enough damage on the opponents, they will not be itching to tangle with you again. Nor will anyone who witnessed the battle. They’ll think twice or maybe even thrice before they climb into that ring with you again. Should there be a rematch, both of you know what is coming and so it becomes about commitment to the cause. By going all out in the fight you will have earned a respect that you can never gain through negotiation or calculation. That was the unfortunate route that Jeff Flake chose and it could have been avoided with the proper inspiration and introspection. And that brings us to the late, great Paul Newman.
One of the greatest scenes in the history of American cinema was in Cool Hand Luke. Paul Newman’s titular character is taking a savage beating in a boxing match in the prison yard and refuses to quit. Knock down after knock down after knock down- and Luke continued to pick his skinny body off the dirt and fling himself against the large and imposing body of George Kennedy’s “Dragline.” “Stay down. You’re beat.” Dragline counseled in a tone that was half menace and half magnanimous. Luke leaned in close to Dragline’s ear and said calmly “You ‘gon have to kill me.” And that was that. As the beating went on the other prisoners began to walk away- unable to watch the brutality anymore. Eventually, even Dragline himself walked away- leaving Luke staggering around the yard in a blind and battered stupor.
We all recall that in the very next scene, Luke solidified himself as the undisputed champion of that prison chain-gang- a leader in the hardest place on earth to become a leader. And the one crowning him as the leader and filling the role of most faithful supporter was Dragline. He was so moved by Luke’s determination that he knew there had to be something inside of him even bigger and stronger and more enduring than that skinny body could ever reveal.
What this means to Arizona’s political future and that of the entire Republican party is that the negotiation and calculation being made by men who were elected to lead is that it is better to run away than to fight. Senator Flake is actually following the lead of Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee who announced earlier this month that he was not seeking re-election. And like Senator Flake, Corker made a lot of noise about what is so wrong with Donald Trump and the sour turn in American politics in general and the GOP in particular. That is fine, gentlemen, but you really don’t expect us to believe that you can “better serve” the interests of your people or advocate for the country as some high-paid political consultant or law-firm lobbyist. Again, I’m calling bullshit. This is when you lead people in the right direction.
Right now, both of these guys hold one of only 100 votes that exist in this country in the United States Senate. Unless either of them is elected president, they will NEVER have that much power and influence to wield again. And right when they really needed to use all of the fight they have in them- they have chosen flight instead. If you guys want to punk out- just punk out. Don’t try win an Oscar for best actor while doing it. That is only for the characters who fight.