Good Speech, Senator Flake, But Where’s the Beef?

Sen. Jeff Flake’s opposition to President Trump is all words and little action, but he is at least willing to go farther than any of his colleagues. He went on the Senate floor today an excoriated the administration for their untruthfulness, comparing them to dictatorships around the world. His speech is worth a read.

The part that strikes me most was when Flake talked about the Russia probe. He not only took the president to task for referring to the investigation as a “hoax,” but he pointed out that there hasn’t been a single cabinet meeting to discuss how to protect the country from future interference in our elections.

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.

Flake’s speech leaves me feeling empty. If Trump is such a treat to democracy, why did Flake help him weather the political storm he is in by voting for the tax bill? If the president is utterly failing and leaving a serious lapse in the defense of our country, why should he be allowed to remain in office?

Flake didn’t actually provide any guidance in this speech. He said to his fellow senators “let us resolve to be allies of the truth—and not partners in its destruction.” But how are they supposed to be partners in supporting the truth while the leader of their party is bent on its destruction? Surely it isn’t by helping him sign bills. It can’t be by carrying out half-hearted investigations of the Russian matter.

I don’t want to look a gift-horse in the mouth, but this pony ain’t up to snuff. I’m glad that Flake vigorously defended the press and that he explained why the Russia investigation is about more than making excuses for losing an election. I’m always supportive of anyone who wants to extol the value of honesty and the destructiveness of lies. I agree that our institutions are under siege and need to be defended even if they also need reforms.

But the one thing that needed to be said didn’t get said.

In Shakespeare’s dramatization of the events, Brutus explained to the Romans why he killed Julius Caesar:

If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of
Caesar’s, to him I say, that Brutus’ love to Caesar
was no less than his. If then that friend demand
why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer:
—Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved
Rome more. Had you rather Caesar were living and
die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live
all free men? As Caesar loved me, I weep for him;
as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was
valiant, I honour him: but, as he was ambitious, I
slew him.

We have more civilized procedures for removing a leader who has become a threat to our form of government, but it should be obvious that it does little good to stand up in the Senate and say that someone wants to turn us all into bondsmen and smash the free press if they then go back to work the next day and help that person achieve their legislative agenda. Either the threat is real and must be urgently addressed or it’s not real and Sen. Flake is engaging in hyperbole.

So, yes, this was a fine speech. But words without actions aren’t impressive. Flake won’t tell us what we should do, what his fellow senators should do or even what he intends to do. The next time Sen. Flake gets incensed enough to make a big speech on the Senate floor, he should have some answers to those questions. And he should stop voting with the president on anything that might strengthen his position.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.