What does a politician owe the public? What does he owe his conscience? These questions have come up lately, particularly with regard to Jeff Flake, the Republican senator from Arizona. I wrote about him here.
Flake and another Republican senator, Bob Corker of Tennessee, have been blunt about what they see as the deleterious effects of Donald Trump on the Republican party, the country, and the world.
A third Republican senator has taken issue with them — if not with what they said, then with the fact that they said it. Here is John Thune of South Dakota: “I think that there are always going to be differences of opinion and disagreements, and that’s true in any family. But I just think it’s better if you can keep those in-the-family feuds and fights within the family.”
Not to go all Joe McCarthy on you, but this statement does not sound very American to me. It sounds more like the Mafia, and the code of omertà: silence. You keep your mouth shut. You serve the family and its don (or, in this case, Don).
Obviously, there are prudential considerations. There are times to hold your fire, for the sake of something greater.
But is there ever a time to speak out? Ever a time to stand on principle? Ever a time even to risk — hold on to your socks, now — reelection?
Years ago, I heard a joke on Capitol Hill, that is not really a joke: “What’s the most important goal of any congressional office? The reelection of the member.”
Now and then, you have to ask, “Siamo o non siamo?” Are we or aren’t we? (You will find this expression in André Aciman’s timeless memoir.)
To frame the question another way: Mice or men?
On Twitter the other day, I said that I had long been critical of Jeff Flake — but I felt I had to praise him, when I regarded him as praiseworthy. Otherwise, I would hold my manhood cheap.
From the Trump army, this unleashed a thousand d*** jokes.
I should know better than to allude to Shakespeare in the present political and cultural environment. A prudential person would allude to Sheriff Joe, Kid Rock, or another of our thought leaders.
When Reagan lost the state of Minnesota in 1984, WFB drew on an old line: “Did you ever try to tell a joke in Minneapolis?”
But seriously, there are some people who feel they must say what they believe — even if it means losing holy reelection — in order not to hold their manhoods cheap. I admire them for it, political agreements or disagreements quite aside.
P.S. Earlier this month, Trump bragged about causing stocks to fall. He put it this way: “Health Insurance stocks, which have gone through the roof during the ObamaCare years, plunged yesterday after I ended their Dems windfall!”
Real American lives — and real American pensions — are involved in this matter. What would conservatives say if a Democratic president exulted in causing certain stocks to “plunge”? We’d be all over him like ugly on ape, right? We’d rip him six ways to Sunday, right?
If a president has an “R” after his name, must there be omertà? Nuts to that. This is America.