Brooks and Krugman

Bobo has a new man crush, and he wants to carry his books home from school.  In “Jeff Flake Plants a Flag” he swoons and tells us that with a new book, a Republican senator protests for all to read.  “Socrates” from Verona, NJ will have a response.  Prof. Krugman, in “The Sanctimony and Sin of G.O.P. ‘Moderates’,” says whatever they say, they keep on enabling their party’s extremists.  Here’s Bobo:

Do you ever get the feeling we’re all going to be judged for this moment? Historians, our grandkids and we ourselves will look and ask: What did you do as the Trump/Scaramucci/Bannon administration dropped a nuclear bomb on the basic standards of decency in public life? What did you do as the American Congress ceased to function? What positions did you take as America teetered toward national decline?

For most of us, it’s relatively easy to pass the test. Our jobs are not on the line when we call out the mind-boggling monstrosity of what’s happening. For Republican senators, it’s harder. Their consciences pull them one way — to tell the truth — while their political interests pull them another way — to keep their heads down.

Some senators are passing the test of conscience — Ben Sasse, Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, Mike Lee and John McCain. And to that list we can certainly add Arizona Senator Jeff Flake. In a few days he comes out with a book called “Conscience of a Conservative,” which is a thoughtful defense of traditional conservatism and a thorough assault on the way Donald Trump is betraying it.

Flake grew up in rural Arizona. “Cattle ranching is the hardest work I’ve ever known and the best people I have ever known have been cattle ranchers,” he writes. He was one of 11 children and his family did not dine out, even once, while he was young. He lost part of a finger and learned frontier self-reliance on the ranch. As a Mormon he learned to be wary of the government, and especially the way it can persecute minorities.

He came to Congress in 2001 and earned a reputation as a scourge against federal spending and earmarks and as a champion of tax cuts. But he walked into a Republican Party that was descending from Goldwater and Reagan, his heroes, to Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay. When I had coffee with Flake this week, he spoke about the philosophical and political corruption of the DeLay era with uncharacteristic contempt.

Things got worse. In 2016 the Republican Party, Flake argues in the book, lost its manners. “It seems it is not enough to be conservative anymore. You have to be vicious.” And it lost its philosophy. “We become so estranged from our principles that we no longer recognize what principle is.”

Flake told me he doesn’t want his book to be seen simply as a broadside against Trump. The rot set in long before, but Trump takes the decay to a new level.

On the day in 2015 when Trump endorsed a Muslim ban, Flake tweeted “Just when you think @realDonaldTrump can stoop no lower, he does.” Flake attended prayers at an Arizona mosque that afternoon. At the core of this book is a bill of indictment listing the ways Trump has betrayed the Goldwater Creed:

“Is it conservative to praise dictators as ‘strong leaders,’ to speak fondly of countries that crush dissent and murder political opponents …? Is it conservative to demonize and vilify and mischaracterize religious and ethnic minorities …? Is it conservative to be an ethno-nationalist? Is it conservative to embrace as fact things that are demonstrably untrue?”

Flake told me he didn’t even tell his staff about the existence of this book until just two weeks before publication because he didn’t want them to talk him out of publishing it.

He began working on it at night during the general election campaign, assuming it would be an autopsy for the party after Trump’s defeat. “It matters more now. It would be easier to wait until after the next election,” he told me, but he wanted to plant his flag at a time when his political future is at risk, at a time when it matters.

Frankly, I think Flake’s libertarian version of conservatism paved the way for Trump. People are being barraged by technology-driven unemployment, wage stagnation, the breakdown of neighborhoods and families. Goldwater-style conservatism says: “Congratulations! You’re on your own!” During the campaign, Trump seemed to be offering something more.

But Flake is in most ways an ideal public servant. He is an ideological purist but a temperamental conciliator. On spending and free trade he takes lonely principled stands; on immigration he’s crafted difficult bipartisan compromises.

In a time when politics has become a blood sport, he’s sunny and kind. “Assume the best. Look for the good,” his parents taught him. But he possesses a serene courage that is easy to underestimate because it is so affable.

Most important, he understands this moment. The Trump administration is a moral cancer eating away at conservatism, the Republican Party and what it means to be a public servant.

The 52 Senate Republicans have been thrust by fate into the crucial position of responsibility. They will either accept this decay or they will oppose it. They will either collaborate with the Trumpian path or seek to direct their party and nation onto a different path.

Flake has taken his stand. As the other Senate Republicans look at his example, they might ponder this truth: Silence equals assent.

So.  Jeff Flake thinks the Republican party “lost its manners” in 2016.  I guess he slept through the 8 years of the Obama administration.  Here’s what “Socrates” has to say about the little hypocrite:

“In 2013, four months after a mentally imbalanced gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Senate started voting on a bipartisan gun control bill.

At 54 to 46, most of the Senators approved the plan, which would have required expanded background checks, but it needed 60 votes.

80% of Americans supported increasing background checks at that time.

Jeff Flake voted AGAINST that 2013 gun control plan.

Just days earlier, Jeff Flake felt so bad for his Arizona constituent Caren Teves, whose son died shielding his girlfriend from bullets in the Aurora theater massacre, that he wrote her a handwritten note in response to a letter she sent him pleading for gun control reform.

“I am truly sorry for your deep loss,” Flake wrote. “While we may not agree on every solution, strengthening background checks is something we agree on.”

Then, Flake proceeded to voted against that 2013 gun control legislation strengthening background checks for guns sold online and at gun shows—just days after writing Teves his fake heartfelt letter.

Teves said Flake had promised to do the right thing — then let her down.

“The whole thing was just shameful,” she said in 2013 before heading to a protest at Flake’s office.

“What he did was to go against his own words and vote no against comprehensive background checks … I believe he’s a coward. I believe he’s not listening to the people he represents.”

Jeff Flake, another classic Republican fake, phony and fraud.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Everyone in the world of opinion spends a lot of time talking about the awfulness of Donald Trump — and with plenty of reason. But can we take a moment to consider the awfulness of Senator John McCain? Awfulness somewhat, but only somewhat, redeemed by his last-minute vote.

In case you haven’t been following the story, what has been going on in the Senate these past few days is one of the most shameful episodes in that body’s history. Policy that will affect the lives of millions of Americans (and may ruin many of those lives), that will shape a sixth of the economy, is being rushed through a process that is both chaotic and cynical.

We don’t know yet how all this will turn out, but one thing is clear: McCain has been a crucial enabler of the Senate’s shame — and a world-class hypocrite to boot. On Tuesday, he cast the decisive vote allowing this whole process to proceed, with no Democratic votes. Then he gave a sanctimonious speech denouncing partisanship and divisiveness, and declared that while he voted to allow debate to begin, he would never vote for the existing Senate bill without major changes.

And later that day, he voted for that very bill, even though, you guessed it, it hadn’t changed in any significant way.

Wait: It got worse. On Thursday, Senate leaders reportedly threw together a new bill that would totally restructure health care — health care! — over lunch, to be voted on within a few hours.

And three senators, including McCain, declared in a press conference Thursday afternoon that they would indeed vote for this “skinny reform” — but only if assured that the House would go into conference rather than simply passing it. That is, they were willing to vote for something they know is terrible policy, as long as they were assured that it wouldn’t actually become law. The dignity of the Senate, 21st-century style.

You might ask, why not just vote no and try to come up with actually good policy? Because, as they also know, Republicans don’t have any good policies to offer, so a bum’s rush is the only way they can pass anything. And, until that last-minute vote, McCain, who has demanded a return to “regular order” in the Senate, turns out to be perfectly willing to help the bums get rushed.

When we look at the degeneration of American politics, it’s natural to blame the naked partisans — people like Mitch McConnell, with his principle-free will to power, or Ted Cruz, with his ideological rigidity. And Trump has, of course, done more to degrade his office than any previous occupant of the White House.

But none of what is happening right now would be possible without the acquiescence of politicians who pretend to be open-minded, decry partisanship, tut-tut about incivility and act as enablers for the extremists again and again.

I started with McCain because so many journalists still fall for his pose as an independent-minded maverick, ignoring the reality that he has almost always been a reliable partisan yes-man whenever it matters. Incredibly, some commentators actually praised his performance earlier this week, focusing on his noble-sounding words and ignoring his utterly craven actions.

But he has rivals in the hypocrisy sweepstakes. Consider, for example, Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia — whose state has benefited enormously from the Affordable Care Act. “I didn’t come here to hurt people,” she declared not long ago — then voted for a bill that would quadruple the number of uninsured in West Virginia.

Or consider Rob Portman of Ohio, who cultivates an image as a moderate, praises Medicaid and talked big about the defects of Republican health plans — but also voted for that bill. Hey, in Ohio the number of uninsured would only triple. Let’s add Dean Heller of Nevada, who has lauded his state’s federally financed Medicaid expansion, but voted along with McCain to let debate proceed on an unknown bill, very much putting that expansion at risk.

Credit where credit is due: two senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, have stood up against the effort to betray every promise Republicans have made — and McCain did something right in the end. But every other supposed moderate in the Senate has offered a profile in cowardice.

And let’s be clear: This story didn’t start in the last few weeks, or the past few months. Republicans have been denouncing Obamacare and pledging to repeal and replace it for seven years, only to be caught flat-footed when given the chance to come up with an alternative. Shouldn’t someone in the G.O.P. have asked, “Hey, guys, what is our plan, anyway? If we don’t have one, shouldn’t we consider helping make this law work?” But nobody did.

So will the Senate pass something awful? If it does, will the House pass it, too, or try to use it as a Trojan horse for something even worse? I don’t know. But whatever happens, every Senate Republican besides Collins and Murkowski should be deeply ashamed.

This column has been updated to reflect news developments.

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