Why Jeff Flake is No Flake

The scurvy scourge (?!?) of bipartisanship has returned to the nation's not-quite-paper-of-record. From the Wash Post:

Exploiting a deep well of voter revulsion over partisan gridlock in Washington, Sen. Barack Obama is promising to do something that has not been done in modern U.S. politics: unite a coalition of Democrats, Republicans and independents behind an agenda of sweeping change....

In Washington, bipartisanship for decades has been synonymous with compromise and incrementalism....

Obama is promising something very different, what skeptics call an oxymoron: sweeping bipartisan change.

"I think the American people are hungry for something different and can be mobilized around big changes, not incremental changes, not small changes," Obama said Saturday night. "I think that there are a whole host of Republicans, and certainly independents, who have lost trust in their government, who don't believe anybody is listening to them, who are staggering under rising costs of health care, college education, don't believe what politicians say. And we can draw those independents and some Republicans into a working coalition, a working majority for change."

The voice of reason in the story is Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who notes:

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said bipartisanship tends to produce the worst that Washington has to offer -- transactional politics where lawmakers scratch one other's backs without regard to the bigger picture. Pork-barrel spending goes unchallenged because members of both political parties know that by objecting to one project, they jeopardize their own, Flake said.

"Partisanship is underrated. There is a time and place for it, and more time and place than we realize," he said.

You said it, brother. Whole thing here.

If you're desperate for bipartisanship, then remember the Medicare prescription drug benefit and No Child Left Behind, and a thousand other feel-good legislative acts that passed in the just-passed age of bitter partisanship. Note too that the big "bipartisan" successes of the Clinton years, ranging from NAFTA to welfare reform to balanced budgets, were the result of hyper-partisan campaigns and arm-twisting, not any calls to buddy-buddy change.

In 2006, Flake, who does propose annually a bipartisan bill to end the Cuba embargo, explained in reason why the Republicans don't deserve libertarian votes: "There's nothing we've done as Republicans that ought to make libertarians excited about our record." No wonder, then, that the GOP purged him from his post on a big committee in January '07.

Slate's Jack Shafer pours some cold water on bipartisanship too, noting the advantages of its opposite number:

Gridlock was built into our political system to prevent the hasty passage of laws based on someone's good (or bad) intentions. (When Congress does nothing, at least it does nothing wrong.) Political rifts are wonderfully useful. Just as branches of government are supposed to watch other branches, political candidates are supposed to check and balance those they oppose.

In our Feb. 2007 issue, reason prophesied "what to expect from the long-awaited, much-anticipated return of gridlock."

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  • Russ 2000||

    We need Glake to run for President. Then the joke that libertarians are flakes will be so old no one will even care about such lame counterpoints anymore.

  • Russ 2000||

    Glake, or Flake, take your pick.

  • Brett||

    Thanks for this. Been a Flake fan for some time. A Flaker, if you will.

  • ||

    "sweeping partisan change ..."

    That's scary fucking language.
    The proper reaction to anyone who talks like that is the same for anyone who does nothing but quote the Bible in conversation:
    Put on hand on your wallet, the other around your balls, and back away slowly.

  • ||

    er, "sweeping BIpartisan change..."

  • ||

    Flake is a great guy. Him and Tom Colburn are pretty much the only Republicans who ever tried to do something about spending before the 2006 elections.

    As far as bi-partisianship, it is always warmed over feel good government spending. I can't think of a bi-partisian bill, other than maybe the 1986 tax reform, that was ever any good. Whenever a politician says "we need to end partisianship", what he is really saying is "my opponents need to give up and give me what I want."

  • Bingo||

    Reason: What policies could a GOP-run Congress enact that would appeal to libertarians?

    Flake: At this late date? Adjournment.


    Hahahaha, much love to you Mr. Flake!

  • ||

    Flake and Obama are both right, and don't contradict each other.

    By talking about sweeping bipartisan change, he's moving away from the transactional sausage making.

    I want a Hawaiin pizza.

    I hate ham. I want a mushroom pizza.

    OK, let's compromise and get mushroom and pineapple.

    vs.

    OK, let's get Chinese.

  • Brett||

    I'm hungry all of a sudden.

  • ||

    Uh, pizza analogies are technically against the law, joe.
    :-)

  • ||

    "By talking about sweeping bipartisan change, he's moving away from the transactional sausage making."

    What is Obama's sweeping change Joe? Honestly, it looks to me like he is advocating the same policies Democrats have been advocating for years. I don't see any new ideas there. Obama's idea of bi-partisianship seems to be "okay everyone who disagrees with me start voting the way I like."

  • javier||

    I think he should try for the senate even though I know the establishment is against him. I think he could be a younger, more articulate version of RP without the baggage (that i know of) or being scene as a kook, in about 8 to 12 years.

  • ||

    Great example, John!

    I can't think of a bi-partisian bill, other than maybe the 1986 tax reform, that was ever any good.

    In the 80s, the Republican position was "let's slash taxes across the board, and give special breaks to big business." The Democratic position was "let's raise marginal tax rates to raise revenues, and give special tax breaks to orphans and kittens."

    They could have compromised on tax breaks for kittens, orphans, and big business, while raising overall rates a little, but Reagan and O'Neil thought outside the box, and raised the revenue they needed by eliminating tax favoritism.

    That is a sweeping bipartisan change, of the kind Obama is talking about, in contrast to the sausage-making Flake decries.

  • ||

    First you must admit that such a thing exists, John.

    It's a paradigm for how to accomplish things, not a list of policies, that Obama is talking about.

    Anyway, you would delcare anything that came out of Obama's mouth that differs from the GOP platform as the same policies Democrats have been advocating for years, so I'm not going to lose any sleep.

  • ||

    Well, javier, we'd need an old Republican Senator from Arizona to leave first.

    Hmmm....

  • ||

    No Joe. I said I thought the 1986 tax bill was the excpetion to the rule. If Obama has all of these new great ideas I would like to hear them. What are they? What are his proposals that incorporate the good ideas of both sides in the way you describe the 1986 tax bill? I am open to listen to them and would like to hear them. But until I see some concrete proposals, all of his talk of "bipartisianship" is just empty language.

  • ||

    "There's nothing we've done as Republicans that ought to make libertarians excited about our record." No wonder, then, that the GOP purged him from his post on a big committee in January '07.

    Somebody, anybody, explain again why the Republicans are more sympathetic to libertarians than the Democrats. Pretty please. I haven't been to college, so I can't discern it.

  • charlie||

    It's great that Flake's "libertarianism" extends to things like opposing earmarks and the Cuban embargo, but he doesn't seem to worry much about killing foreigners in Iraq or upholding habeas corpus. He voted for the truly odious Military Commissions Act -- which retroactively legalized torture and granted immunity to American officials who may have committed war crimes -- so forgive me for calling "bullshit" on Mr. Flake's alleged commitment to peace, freedom, and apple pie.

  • ||

    "Sen. Obama, in exchange for partial privatizing social security, what would you like from us?"

  • Brett||

    Obama seems in general in favor of more transparency (bill with Coburn, I believe?), which is a good thing.

  • ||

    John,

    In 1986, Reagan and O'Neil and their people didn't go into the room with a finished product laid out, as you are demanding from Obama. Reagan went in with the Republican position, and O'Neil went in with the Democratic position.

    It's about the process and the attitude.

  • Drink!||

    It's great that Flake's "libertarianism" extends to things like opposing earmarks and the Cuban embargo, but he doesn't seem to worry much about killing foreigners in Iraq or upholding habeas corpus. He voted for the truly odious Military Commissions Act -- which retroactively legalized torture and granted immunity to American officials who may have committed war crimes -- so forgive me for calling "bullshit" on Mr. Flake's alleged commitment to peace, freedom, and apple pie.

    Excellent, a libertarian fundamentalist, excommunicating someone for the heretical idea of being interested in the liberty of non-Americans.

  • charlie||

    Excellent, a libertarian fundamentalist, excommunicating someone for the heretical idea of being interested in the liberty of non-Americans.

    Give me a break. I'm not trying to excommunicate anyone here. I just don't think opposing aggressive, illegal war and upholding the right of habeas corpus is too much to ask of someone claiming to represent libertarianism.

  • charlie||

    And further, if libertarians can be open-minded about the issue of preemptive war and violating the Geneva conventions, then maybe I'm the one using the wrong label...

  • Bingo||

    Good point, joe, Reagan was very much a pragmatist and so is Obama. It's funny that the GOP is looking for "the next Reagan" and Obama certainly shares more personality characteristics with him than the GOP frontrunners.

  • Ray||

    It's great that Flake's "libertarianism" extends to things like opposing earmarks and the Cuban embargo, but he doesn't seem to worry much about killing foreigners in Iraq or upholding habeas corpus. He voted for the truly odious Military Commissions Act -- which retroactively legalized torture and granted immunity to American officials who may have committed war crimes -- so forgive me for calling "bullshit" on Mr. Flake's alleged commitment to peace, freedom, and apple pie.

    So he's one of those religious, anti-choice, anti-gay, pro war, pro-torture, nationalist libertarians. Isn't there a word for that? (con-something or other?)

  • Help me out here||

    Reagan went in with the Republican position, and O'Neil went in with the Democratic position.

    And Obama's position is... what exactly?

  • ||

    I'll buy into Obama's vision of change if he gives me what I want. So will some people in Iowa. I await this new world of no sausage making.

  • kinnath||

    Libertarianism needs someone like Flake to build experience in the US House or Senate, then bag the govenorship in a populus state. The presidency is possible from that position.

  • Drink!||

    My point was not that a libertarian should support an agressive, illegal war, but that many people, included some self-described libertarians, do not believe that Iraq was such a war. We can debate the merits of that position, but by dismissing Flake based merely on his support for the war, you are essentially declaring him a "heretic" against your libertarian fundamentalism.

    I browsed the text of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Could you provide a cite for your assertions? I only found a few sections dealing with torture. One, section 948r - excludes statements obtained by torture from considerations by military commissions, unless offered against someone accused of torture.
    Another, Section 950v, makes torture an offense that can be prosecuted by military commissions. The other main one, in Section 6 of the Act, makes some changes to the War Crimes provisions of the US Criminal Code, that are merely definitional, as best I can tell from a close reading.

    The habeas issue is troubling, but it only applies to non-US citizens and the interpretation is well within the scope of previous Supreme Court decisions. It's probably not a bill I would have voted for, but I fail to see how it is "truly odious".

  • RBM||

    I for one don't want more agreement in Washington; I just want more civility and honesty. As for joe's pizza example and the value of compromise: Compromise and pragmatism are only valuable in instances in which it's more important that *something* be done than the *right thing* be done. Most often legislative compromise ends in multiple projects that no one really needs.

  • Geezer||

    Exploiting a deep well of voter revulsion over partisan gridlock in Washington

    Journalists have been referring to this "voter revulsion over partisan gridlock" for as long as I can remember. (I first voted back in the '70s!)

  • R C Dean||

    It's a paradigm for how to accomplish things, not a list of policies, that Obama is talking about.

    You're describing an empty vessel, joe. Washington accomplishing more things, in and of itself, is at best neutral. It kind of matters what is going to accomplished.

    Really, how is what Obama is pushing any different than Bush's "New Tone"?

    I just don't think opposing aggressive, illegal war and upholding the right of habeas corpus is too much to ask of someone claiming to represent libertarianism.

    Its possible to think the war was the right strategic decision and be opposed to erosions of domestic civil rights. Hell, some of us think that hunkering down in a defensive position rather than adopting a more forward strategy is more likely to damage domestic civil rights in the long run. Try not to run the two together.

    As for whether the war was "illegal." It was authorized by Congress. Sure, the language used didn't include the magic words "declare war", but I think it met the Constitutional requirement. I find it amusing that the people who insist on literalism on this issue tend to be much more flexible when reading the rest of the Constitution.

  • Translator||

    Washington accomplishing more things, in and of itself, is at best neutral.

    = optimist

  • ||

    I don't want to pay for other people's pizza, and I'm not sure Congress has the legal authority to make pizza.

  • ||

    Somebody, anybody, explain again why the Republicans are more sympathetic to libertarians than the Democrats. Pretty please. I haven't been to college, so I can't discern it.

    Overall, you're right, J sub D. The only difference I can discern is that there are a handful of libertarian Republicans in Congress. If there are any libertarian Democrats in Congress, and I've somehow missed them, please name them and what lib views they hold on both economic and social issues.

  • javier||

    i'm not too familiar with gov. warner whom is advertising on the right hand side here. Is he trying to say he is at least sympathetic towards libertarians?? anyone know his credentials??

  • RBM||

    Congressional pizza making (and just about anything else) is constitutional under McCulloch v. Maryland.

  • ||

    Somebody, anybody, explain again why the Republicans are more sympathetic to libertarians than the Democrats. Pretty please. I haven't been to college, so I can't discern it.

    I don't think they are now, but I believe the Republicans were more sympathetic to libertarians in the past.

    Reagan cut taxes in the 80's and Welfare Reform was enacted in the 90's due to the efforts of the Republican led congress (I know Clinton signed it, but he promised to 'fix' it just as soon as a Democrat majority was elected back to congress).

    During those two decades, what did the Democrats offer? More taxes and a more expansive reach of the federal government.

    I will concede the point that the Republicans have not done much to make libertarians smile in this decade.

  • R C Dean||

    Washington accomplishing more things, in and of itself, is at best neutral.

    = optimist


    Hey, I said "at best neutral".

  • LarryA||

    "I think that there are a whole host of Republicans, and certainly independents, who have lost trust in their government, who don't believe anybody is listening to them, who are staggering under rising costs of health care, college education, don't believe what politicians say. And we can draw those independents and some Republicans into a working coalition, a working majority for change."

    But I bet he doesn't have a clue in what direction people "who have lost trust in their government" want things to change. I have a feeling Obama's "bargain" will be something like, "If you'll vote 'yes' on government health care, we'll vote 'yes' on gun control."

    Put one hand on your wallet, the other around your balls, and back away slowly.

    One of my hands is going to be on my concealed handgun. The other will be busy communicating via universal hand gestures.

  • ||

    During those two decades, what did the Democrats offer? More taxes and a more expansive reach of the federal government.

    I will concede the point that the Republicans have not done much to make libertarians smile in this decade.


    That pretty well sums it up, LK. With the RP fiasco, I'm megadiscouraged about politics in this country right now. I'll bounce back, but I'm not as resilient as I used to be.

  • Paul||

    who have lost trust in their government, who don't believe anybody is listening to them, who are staggering under rising costs of health care, college education, don't believe what politicians say.

    Pick me! Pick me!

    Oh, except every one of my solutions requires less government, not more. Eh well, bipartisanship was fun while it lasted. Everyone back to the trenches!

  • Paul||

    RBM wins the thread* with:

    Compromise and pragmatism are only valuable in instances in which it's more important that *something* be done than the *right thing* be done.

    *any opinions about "thread winning" are solely mine, and don't represent the thoughts of anyone else.

    I would like to add, however, that there is a political persuasion that thinks that *something* must be done in every...single...instance. It's that group that draws the most ire from libertarians.

  • VM||

    "During those two decades, what did the Democrats offer? More taxes and a more expansive reach of the federal government."

    no need to concede the point - GHWB and GWB have done their share, GWB doing more to expand gov't. it blatantly happened on their watch, so please don't try to mitigate it with "i'll concede" the point. balls.

  • Casey Khan||

    Good for Jeff Flake. Too bad he voted to authorize the War in Iraq and voted for the Patriot Act. That was particularly upsetting.

  • ||

    We could upgrade one of Arizona's Senate seats by replacing McCain with Flake, and put a limited-government guy (if not quite a pro-liberty guy) in a legitimate position for a future White House run....

  • Nate||

    Flake in 2012?
    He may be the less quirky libertarian followup to Paul.

  • ||

    I think Flake will almost certainly run for Governor in 2010 in Arizona. That is a good first step to something bigger. He is a Mormon, however, so his Presidential prospects may be limited.

  • ||

    It would be kind of cool to have 3 or 4 first ladies. I guess they would be tied for first...

  • ed||

    Um, maybe somebody should start reviewing Flake's old newsletters. Just in case.

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