In a July 10 appearance in Paepcke Auditorium for the 2019 Sandra Day O’Connor Conversation former Arizona Senator Jeff Flake reflected on the origins of a politics of personal destruction and potential remedies for this contemporary affliction of the American soul. Flake, who served one term in the US Senate and before that twelve years in the House, portrays himself as a true conservative who, like his role model Barry Goldwater, is interested in the human spirit and the economic conditions under which it can flourish. The current occupant of the White House, Flake said is not a conservative but a nationalist. President Trump’s appeal to the worst traits of his constituents are undermining the potential for compromise in Congress. The current situation did not begin in 2016, Flake said, but dates back to the 1990’s when members started to go home to their districts each weekend, rather than spending time together in their off hours in Washington. “You can’t hate your fellow member of Congress if you know the name of his children,” Flake noted by way of illustration.
Flake also talked about the value of local politics. Coming from a rural town in Northwest Arizona, Snowflake, where he is a fifth generation member of a community in part named for one of his ancestors, he knows how important reputation and compromise can be in creating a politics of empathy and practical solutions. That is why his new CBS series is called Common Ground: for the kind of dialogue he thinks is missing in the Nation’s capital, but is alive and well in places around the nation.
Flake reflected on what he learned in boyhood on the F-bar ranch, the same kind of upbringing that Justice O’Connor credits with shaping her independent and determined personality. Many of the ranch hands at the F-Bar were from Mexico and went back and forth for work. A few remained in the US, became citizens, and they and their children remain. All contributed to the community. One effect of the rigid policies now in effect at the border, said Flake, is that more people are bringing their families with them because of the risk associated with travel back and forth. In addition, the “push” factors of lawlessness and gang violence in the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador mean that the migrants are more frequently refugees who cannot return home safely.
Under questioning by Meryl Chertoff, Executive Director of the Justice & Society Program, Flake also spoke about his role in the confirmation hearing of Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the earlier failed nomination to the Supreme Court of Judge Merrick Garland by President Obama. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Flake played a role in both nominations. Notably, Flake fully expected that Garland would get his hearing, and be confirmed—in a lame duck session before a Hilary Clinton presidency.
The Sandra Day O’Connor Conversation is generously supported by Foley & Lardner LLP; Garfield & Hecht, PC; Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP; Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP; and Ambassador C. Boyden Gray. The next Sandra Day O’Connor Conversation will take place July 9, 2020, details to follow.