Full Text From Arizona Senator Jeff Flake That He Will Not Seek Re-election


Mr. President, I rise today to address a mat­ter that has been much on my mind, at a moment when it seems that our democ­ra­cy is more defined by our dis­cord and our dys­func­tion than it is by our val­ues and our prin­ci­ples. Let me begin by not­ing a some­what obvi­ous point that these offices that we hold are not ours to hold indef­i­nite­ly. We are not here sim­ply to mark time. Sustained incum­ben­cy is cer­tain­ly not the point of seek­ing office. And there are times when we must risk our careers in favor of our prin­ci­ples.

Now is such a time.
It must also be said that I rise today with no small mea­sure of regret. Regret, because of the state of our dis­union, regret because of the dis­re­pair and destruc­tive­ness of our pol­i­tics, regret because of the inde­cen­cy of our dis­course, regret because of the coarse­ness of our lead­er­ship, regret for the com­pro­mise of our moral author­i­ty, and by our — all of our — com­plic­i­ty in this alarm­ing and dan­ger­ous state of affairs. It is time for our com­plic­i­ty and our accom­mo­da­tion of the unac­cept­able to end.
In this cen­tu­ry, a new phrase has entered the lan­guage to describe the accom­mo­da­tion of a new and unde­sir­able order — that phrase being “the new nor­mal.” But we must nev­er adjust to the present coarse­ness of our nation­al dia­logue — with the tone set at the top.
We must nev­er regard as “nor­mal” the reg­u­lar and casu­al under­min­ing of our demo­c­ra­t­ic norms and ideals. We must nev­er meek­ly accept the dai­ly sun­der­ing of our coun­try — the per­son­al attacks, the threats against prin­ci­ples, free­doms, and insti­tu­tions, the fla­grant dis­re­gard for truth or decen­cy, the reck­less provo­ca­tions, most often for the pet­ti­est and most per­son­al rea­sons, rea­sons hav­ing noth­ing what­so­ev­er to do with the for­tunes of the peo­ple that we have all been elect­ed to serve.
None of these appalling fea­tures of our cur­rent pol­i­tics should ever be regard­ed as nor­mal. We must nev­er allow our­selves to lapse into think­ing that this is just the way things are now. If we sim­ply become inured to this con­di­tion, think­ing that this is just pol­i­tics as usu­al, then heav­en help us. Without fear of the con­se­quences, and with­out con­sid­er­a­tion of the rules of what is polit­i­cal­ly safe or palat­able, we must stop pre­tend­ing that the degra­da­tion of our pol­i­tics and the con­duct of some in our exec­u­tive branch are nor­mal. They are not nor­mal.
Reckless, out­ra­geous, and undig­ni­fied behav­ior has become excused and coun­te­nanced as “telling it like it is,” when it is actu­al­ly just reck­less, out­ra­geous, and undig­ni­fied.
And when such behav­ior emanates from the top of our gov­ern­ment, it is some­thing else: It is dan­ger­ous to a democ­ra­cy. Such behav­ior does not project strength — because our strength comes from our val­ues. It instead projects a cor­rup­tion of the spir­it, and weak­ness.
It is often said that chil­dren are watch­ing. Well, they are. And what are we going to do about that? When the next gen­er­a­tion asks us, Why did­n’t you do some­thing? Why did­n’t you speak up? — what are we going to say?
Mr. President, I rise today to say: Enough. We must ded­i­cate our­selves to mak­ing sure that the anom­alous nev­er becomes nor­mal. With respect and humil­i­ty, I must say that we have fooled our­selves for long enough that a piv­ot to gov­ern­ing is right around the cor­ner, a return to civil­i­ty and sta­bil­i­ty right behind it. We know bet­ter than that. By now, we all know bet­ter than that.
Here, today, I stand to say that we would bet­ter serve the coun­try and bet­ter ful­fill our oblig­a­tions under the con­sti­tu­tion by adher­ing to our Article 1 “old nor­mal” — Mr. Madison’s doc­trine of the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers. This genius inno­va­tion which affirms Madison’s sta­tus as a true vision­ary and for which Madison argued in Federalist 51 — held that the equal branch­es of our gov­ern­ment would bal­ance and coun­ter­act each oth­er when nec­es­sary. “Ambition coun­ter­acts ambi­tion,” he wrote.
But what hap­pens if ambi­tion fails to coun­ter­act ambi­tion? What hap­pens if sta­bil­i­ty fails to assert itself in the face of chaos and insta­bil­i­ty? If decen­cy fails to call out inde­cen­cy? Were the shoe on the oth­er foot, would we Republicans meek­ly accept such behav­ior on dis­play from dom­i­nant Democrats? Of course not, and we would be wrong if we did.
When we remain silent and fail to act when we know that that silence and inac­tion is the wrong thing to do — because of polit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions, because we might make ene­mies, because we might alien­ate the base, because we might pro­voke a pri­ma­ry chal­lenge, because ad infini­tum, ad nau­se­um — when we suc­cumb to those con­sid­er­a­tions in spite of what should be greater con­sid­er­a­tions and imper­a­tives in defense of the insti­tu­tions of our lib­er­ty, then we dis­hon­or our prin­ci­ples and for­sake our oblig­a­tions. Those things are far more impor­tant than pol­i­tics.
Now, I am aware that more polit­i­cal­ly savvy peo­ple than I cau­tion against such talk. I am aware that a seg­ment of my par­ty believes that any­thing short of com­plete and unques­tion­ing loy­al­ty to a pres­i­dent who belongs to my par­ty is unac­cept­able and sus­pect.
If I have been crit­i­cal, it not because I rel­ish crit­i­ciz­ing the behav­ior of the pres­i­dent of the United States. If I have been crit­i­cal, it is because I believe that it is my oblig­a­tion to do so, as a mat­ter of duty and con­science. The notion that one should stay silent as the norms and val­ues that keep America strong are under­mined and as the alliances and agree­ments that ensure the sta­bil­i­ty of the entire world are rou­tine­ly threat­ened by the lev­el of thought that goes into 140 char­ac­ters — the notion that one should say and do noth­ing in the face of such mer­cu­r­ial behav­ior is ahis­toric and, I believe, pro­found­ly mis­guid­ed.
A Republican pres­i­dent named Roosevelt had this to say about the pres­i­dent and a cit­i­zen’s rela­tion­ship to the office:
“The President is mere­ly the most impor­tant among a large num­ber of pub­lic ser­vants. He should be sup­port­ed or opposed exact­ly to the degree which is war­rant­ed by his good con­duct or bad con­duct, his effi­cien­cy or inef­fi­cien­cy in ren­der­ing loy­al, able, and dis­in­ter­est­ed ser­vice to the nation as a whole. Therefore, it is absolute­ly nec­es­sary that there should be full lib­er­ty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exact­ly as nec­es­sary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any oth­er atti­tude in an American cit­i­zen is both base and servile.” President Roosevelt con­tin­ued. “To announce that there must be no crit­i­cism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpa­tri­ot­ic and servile, but is moral­ly trea­son­able to the American pub­lic.”
Acting on con­science and prin­ci­ple is the man­ner in which we express our moral selves, and as such, loy­al­ty to con­science and prin­ci­ple should super­sede loy­al­ty to any man or par­ty. We can all be for­giv­en for fail­ing in that mea­sure from time to time. I cer­tain­ly put myself at the top of the list of those who fall short in that regard. I am holi­er-than-none. But too often, we rush not to sal­vage prin­ci­ple but to for­give and excuse our fail­ures so that we might accom­mo­date them and go right on fail­ing — until the accom­mo­da­tion itself becomes our prin­ci­ple.
In that way and over time, we can jus­ti­fy almost any behav­ior and sac­ri­fice almost any prin­ci­ple. I’m afraid that is where we now find our­selves.
When a leader cor­rect­ly iden­ti­fies real hurt and inse­cu­ri­ty in our coun­try and instead of address­ing it goes look­ing for some­body to blame, there is per­haps noth­ing more dev­as­tat­ing to a plu­ral­is­tic soci­ety. Leadership knows that most often a good place to start in assign­ing blame is to first look some­what clos­er to home. Leadership knows where the buck stops. Humility helps. Character counts. Leadership does not know­ing­ly encour­age or feed ugly and debased appetites in us.
Leadership lives by the American creed: E Pluribus Unum. From many, one. American lead­er­ship looks to the world, and just as Lincoln did, sees the fam­i­ly of man. Humanity is not a zero-sum game. When we have been at our most pros­per­ous, we have also been at our most prin­ci­pled. And when we do well, the rest of the world also does well.
These arti­cles of civic faith have been cen­tral to the American iden­ti­ty for as long as we have all been alive. They are our birthright and our oblig­a­tion. We must guard them jeal­ous­ly, and pass them on for as long as the cal­en­dar has days. To betray them, or to be unse­ri­ous in their defense is a betray­al of the fun­da­men­tal oblig­a­tions of American lead­er­ship. And to behave as if they don’t mat­ter is sim­ply not who we are.
Now, the effi­ca­cy of American lead­er­ship around the globe has come into ques­tion. When the United States emerged from World War II we con­tributed about half of the world’s eco­nom­ic activ­i­ty. It would have been easy to secure our dom­i­nance, keep­ing the coun­tries that had been defeat­ed or great­ly weak­ened dur­ing the war in their place. We did­n’t do that. It would have been easy to focus inward. We resist­ed those impuls­es. Instead, we financed recon­struc­tion of shat­tered coun­tries and cre­at­ed inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tions and insti­tu­tions that have helped pro­vide secu­ri­ty and fos­ter pros­per­i­ty around the world for more than 70 years.
Now, it seems that we, the archi­tects of this vision­ary rules-based world order that has brought so much free­dom and pros­per­i­ty, are the ones most eager to aban­don it.
The impli­ca­tions of this aban­don­ment are pro­found. And the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of this rather rad­i­cal depar­ture in the American approach to the world are the ide­o­log­i­cal ene­mies of our val­ues. Despotism loves a vac­u­um. And our allies are now look­ing else­where for lead­er­ship. Why are they doing this? None of this is nor­mal. And what do we as United States Senators have to say about it?
The prin­ci­ples that under­lie our pol­i­tics, the val­ues of our found­ing, are too vital to our iden­ti­ty and to our sur­vival to allow them to be com­pro­mised by the require­ments of pol­i­tics. Because pol­i­tics can make us silent when we should speak, and silence can equal com­plic­i­ty.
I have chil­dren and grand­chil­dren to answer to, and so, Mr. President, I will not be com­plic­it.
I have decid­ed that I will be bet­ter able to rep­re­sent the peo­ple of Arizona and to bet­ter serve my coun­try and my con­science by free­ing myself from the polit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions that con­sume far too much band­width and would cause me to com­pro­mise far too many prin­ci­ples.
To that end, I am announc­ing today that my ser­vice in the Senate will con­clude at the end of my term in ear­ly January 2019.
It is clear at this moment that a tra­di­tion­al con­ser­v­a­tive who believes in lim­it­ed gov­ern­ment and free mar­kets, who is devot­ed to free trade, and who is pro-immi­gra­tion, has a nar­row­er and nar­row­er path to nom­i­na­tion in the Republican par­ty — the par­ty that for so long has defined itself by belief in those things. It is also clear to me for the moment we have giv­en in or giv­en up on those core prin­ci­ples in favor of the more vis­cer­al­ly sat­is­fy­ing anger and resent­ment. To be clear, the anger and resent­ment that the peo­ple feel at the roy­al mess we have cre­at­ed are jus­ti­fied. But anger and resent­ment are not a gov­ern­ing phi­los­o­phy.
There is an unde­ni­able poten­cy to a pop­ulist appeal — but mis­char­ac­ter­iz­ing or mis­un­der­stand­ing our prob­lems and giv­ing in to the impulse to scape­goat and belit­tle threat­ens to turn us into a fear­ful, back­ward-look­ing peo­ple. In the case of the Republican par­ty, those things also threat­en to turn us into a fear­ful, back­ward-look­ing minor­i­ty par­ty.
We were not made great as a coun­try by indulging or even exalt­ing our worst impuls­es, turn­ing against our­selves, glo­ry­ing in the things which divide us, and call­ing fake things true and true things fake. And we did not become the bea­con of free­dom in the dark­est cor­ners of the world by flout­ing our insti­tu­tions and fail­ing to under­stand just how hard-won and vul­ner­a­ble they are.
This spell will even­tu­al­ly break. That is my belief. We will return to our­selves once more, and I say the soon­er the bet­ter. Because to have a heathy gov­ern­ment we must have healthy and func­tion­ing par­ties. We must respect each oth­er again in an atmos­phere of shared facts and shared val­ues, comi­ty and good faith. We must argue our posi­tions fer­vent­ly, and nev­er be afraid to com­pro­mise. We must assume the best of our fel­low man, and always look for the good. Until that days comes, we must be unafraid to stand up and speak out as if our coun­try depends on it. Because it does.
I plan to spend the remain­ing four­teen months of my sen­ate term doing just that.
Mr. President, the grave­yard is full of indis­pens­able men and women — none of us here is indis­pens­able. Nor were even the great fig­ures from his­to­ry who toiled at these very desks in this very cham­ber to shape this coun­try that we have inher­it­ed. What is indis­pens­able are the val­ues that they con­se­crat­ed in Philadelphia and in this place, val­ues which have endured and will endure for so long as men and women wish to remain free. What is indis­pens­able is what we do here in defense of those val­ues. A polit­i­cal career does­n’t mean much if we are com­plic­it in under­min­ing those val­ues.
I thank my col­leagues for indulging me here today, and will close by bor­row­ing the words of President Lincoln, who knew more about heal­ing enmi­ty and pre­serv­ing our found­ing val­ues than any oth­er American who has ever lived. His words from his first inau­gur­al were a prayer in his time, and are no less so in ours:
“We are not ene­mies, but friends. We must not be ene­mies. Though pas­sion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affec­tion. The mys­tic chords of mem­o­ry will swell when again touched, as sure­ly they will be, by the bet­ter angels of our nature.”
Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.