Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle

Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle

by Jeff Flake

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Overview

Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle by Jeff Flake

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “A thoughtful defense of traditional conservatism and a thorough assault on the way Donald Trump is betraying it.”—David Brooks, in his New York Times column

In a bold act of conscience, Republican Senator Jeff Flake takes his party to task for embracing nationalism, populism, xenophobia, and the anomalous Trump presidency. The book is an urgent call for a return to bedrock conservative principle and a cry to once again put country before party.

 
Dear Reader,
 
I am a conservative.
           
I believe that there are limits to what government can and should do, that there are some problems that government cannot solve, and that human initiative is best when left unfettered, free from government interference or coercion. I believe that these ideas, tested by time, offer the most freedom and best outcomes in the lives of the most people.
           
But today, the American conservative movement has lost its way. Given the state of our politics, it is no exaggeration to say that this is an urgent matter.
           
The Republican party used to play to a broader audience, one that demanded that we accomplish something. But in this era of dysfunction, our primary accomplishment has been constructing the argument that we’re not to blame. We have decided that it is better to build and maintain a majority by using the levers of power rather than the art of persuasion and the battle of ideas. We’ve decided that putting party over country is okay. There are many on both sides of the aisle who think this a good model on which to build a political career—destroying, not building. 
           
And all the while, our country burns, our institutions are undermined, and our values are compromised. We have become so estranged from our principles that we no longer know what principle is.
           
America is not just a collection of transactions. America is also a collection of ideas and values. And these are our values. These are our principles. They are not subject to change, owing to political fashion or cult of personality. I believe that we desperately need to get back to the rigorous, fact-based arguments that made us conservatives in the first place. We need to realize that the stakes are simply too high to remain silent and fall in line.
           
That is why I have written this book and am taking this stand.
 
—Jeff Flake

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399592911
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/01/2017
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 86,395
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Jeff Flake is the junior United States senator from Arizona. He is a fifth-generation Arizonan who was raised on a cattle ranch in Snowflake, a town named in part for his great-grandfather. Prior to his election to the U.S. Senate, Flake served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2001 to 2013, representing the East Valley. Jeff Flake and his wife, Cheryl, live in Mesa and have five children.

Read an Excerpt

PREFACE
 
TO STAND ALONE
 
I will start by saying that I regret having to write this book.
 
I regret it because its necessity is a sign that the American conservative movement, which has been a force for great good to our country and to the world, is lost. This book aims to describe how it went wrong, and why, and how it might correct course. Given the state of our politics, it is no exaggeration to say that this is an urgent matter.
 
Conservatives can hold no one else responsible for this. It is a crisis of our own making. The good news is that fixing American conservatism is both of vital importance to our civic wellbeing and eminently achievable. But to do so, we have to be honest about what has happened.
 
I am a committed conservative. That means that I believe in the power of conservative principles to transform lives, lift countries, alleviate suffering, and make people prosperous and free. I strongly believe that given the choice between free markets and free minds versus more government control over our lives, the United States will almost always choose the conservative path.
 
But the question has become: Will “conservatives” choose the conservative path? Or will we instead sacrifice principle to do what is easiest and most politically expedient? When it comes to the election of 2016, well, we already have the answers. As conservative principle retreated, something new and troubling took its place. Going forward, those questions remain open, the answers remain unclear, and the early signs are troubling.
 
I grew up on a cattle ranch in northern Arizona, where conditions were spartan and life was what you made it. That experience taught me the value of standing alone sometimes, and it has everything to do with why I am now writing this book. And for the ultimate example in standing alone, we conservatives owe a great debt to a towering figure from Arizona, Senator Barry Goldwater, who more than fifty years ago stood alone when it was extremely difficult to do so, and in so doing started a movement of conservatives that twenty years later would see the election of one of our greatest presidents, Ronald Reagan. That this book takes its name from Senator Goldwater’s seminal book is an homage to both his fierce independence and his visionary leadership.
 
Goldwater’s fight was for the soul of the country, and so, too, is ours. When he wrote this in his own time, he may as well have been writing it in ours: “Though we Conservatives are deeply persuaded that our society is ailing, and know that Conservatism holds the key to national salvation—and feel sure the country agrees with us—we seem unable to demonstrate the practical relevance of Conservative principles to the needs of the day.”
 
The effect that Goldwater had on my state and on the way that Americans think about their relationship to their government cannot be overstated. It is our relationship to our government and the foundational institutions of American liberty that are now under severe stress.
 
That conservatism has become compromised by other powerful forces—nationalism, populism, xenophobia, extreme partisanship, even celebrity—explains part of how and why we lost our way. That we who call ourselves conservative have been willing partners in that compromise explains the rest.
 
It doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, it simply cannot be this way.
 
Going forward from here, for Americans to have the benefit of conservative principles, we must once again have the benefit of truly conservative leadership. Unabashed, unafraid, unreserved conservative leadership. But almost two decades into the new century, we conservatives have suffered a crisis of confidence, which in turn has led to a crisis of principle. In the election campaign of 2016, it was as if we no longer had the courage of our convictions and so chose to simply abandon conviction altogether, taking up instead an unfamiliar banner and a new set of values that had never been our own.
 
That an enigmatic Republican nominee succeeded in becoming president resolves nothing in terms of the future of American conservatism. In fact, an enigma by definition is a riddle, and riddles are meant to be solved. We—as conservatives and as Americans—have a lot of solving to do, to restore principle and look to the future.
 
Politicians can be herdlike creatures, too often prone to taking the path of least resistance. I understand the impulse and have often sought that well-trodden path myself. I must say, it would have been much easier for me to have taken that path this time as well and fallen in line with most in my party. But in good conscience, I could not. The stakes, for the future of conservatism and for the future of our country, are simply too high.
 

Table of Contents

Preface: To Stand Alone ix

Chapter 1 The Crisis We Face 3

Chapter 2 Questioning Power 19

Chapter 3 On Bad Information and the Threat to Democracy 28

Chapter 4 Conscience of a Conservative 42

Chapter 5 On Free Trade, Not-So-Free Trade, Populism, Nationalism, and the Collapse of What We Believe in 65

Chapter 6 How Did This Happen? (Our Faustian Bargain) 92

Chapter 7 Note to Selves: Country Before Party 107

Chapter 8 Dear World: Bear with Us 117

Chapter 9 Toward A New Conservatism 124

Acknowledgments 137

Bibliography 139

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Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Will this book appeal to the far right? No. Does it speak to those Americans left behind by the current version of the GOP? Yes. Senator Flake examines his own actions and those of the GOP. He sets forth rational points for returning to the conservative party that many of us have felt abandoned by. In truth his words are essential reading for Americans of all political viewpoints who want to see some return to sanity and reason in DC.
steve907 More than 1 year ago
Principled and rational. An excellent analysis of how we conservatives should turn aside from social pressure and return to the ideas that define us.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Senator Flake's angry- real angry. He's pissed off by a system paralyzed by 'hyper partisan politics'. His desire for a return to mature behaviour between the two parties seems real and genuine (which does him credit). He gives several examples of the results of dysfunction, but only touches on the underlying causes (and doesn't really offer any specific solutions). The books a bit rushed, not particularly seminale, (hence only 4 stars) but very genuine and sincere. Despite myself I started to like the guy. I agree with the previous reviewer that Teaparty activists won't appreciate it, (they'll probably try and primary him out) which is ironic, as despite his passion for courtesy and decency, Flake is really a hard core libertarian.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thoughtfully written, urging a return to sanity, principles, and decency in Congress. How do I become part of the "Flake Coalition?"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read Jeff
ocs More than 1 year ago
Jeff Flake is the Republican junior U.S. Senator from Arizona. He started writing this book during the presidential campaign of 2016. He did not tell anyone that he was doing so because as Donald Trump overcame other Republican candidates, Flake came to have serious problems about voting for Trump. He concluded that he needed to carefully think about the reasons he could not support his party’s nominee and writing was one way to do it. In the November general election, Flake did not vote for Trump. After Trump surprised so many by winning the Presidency, Flake continued to write into the spring of 2017, ending up with 132 pages for this book. As indicated by the second part of his book’s title, he has determined that negative politics and poor governmental positions should not prevail over conservative principles such as those advanced by Barry Goldwater. Flake worked for the Goldwater Foundation before running for Congress and later Senator. The first part of the title of Flake’s book is similar to the classic written by Goldwater in the 1960s. Flake departed from those principles as a Congressman when he voted against the October 2008 emergency funding to prevent a national financial meltdown. He looked at the legislation as a bail-out of bankers for their poor decisions and failed to adequately consider what would have been the effect on Main Street business from the likely financial collapse. Senator McCain, then running for President against Obama, asked Flake to vote for it. Flake came to hope that his vote would not be in the majority. Years later in deciding to run for the Senate, he vowed never again to vote “no” and hope “yes.” Page 96. Flake is upset at scapegoating vast groups of people based on nationality or ethnicity. Reasoned solutions can be reached to adequately regulate immigration. We have to return to the politics of comity and inclusion and reject demonization. Page 53. Nationalism can have a corrupting influence on policy and financial markets. Page 72. Trade and global expansion of capitalism have been central to conservative economic philosophy. This past year has instead seen the rise of thinking there should be only winners and losers in trade agreements. Erecting barriers between the United States and the world will benefit other countries who welcome unrestricted trade. Specialization, modernization and mechanization result in a better standard of living for everyone and make for a more peaceful world as well. Page 74. People who lose jobs from modernization need help to retrain for jobs of the future. Page 84. Democrats have also contributed to the problems. Flake did not agree with much of what President Obama said. Page 97. Deliberations on Obamacare in 2009 were a thoroughly partisan affair. Legislation executed without hearings and written by only one side is a bad idea, regardless of who does it. Page 129. Laws incorporating good ideas from various sides are better. Page 125. We must recognize that our enemies are not other Americans. To think otherwise leads to blanket opposition without offering reasonable alternatives. There is a place for robust partisanship, but with good judgment and limits. Pages 126 and 131.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Senator Flake questions some of his past decisions and plans to change his future behavior to use more ideals of Goldwater's Republican conservativism. Flake suggests President Trump's non-conservative behaviors got him elected president and has an on-going support base, because millions of Americans want a change from their perception of politicians finance thievery. It is a shame that many people won't read this book because they are too lazy to question the truth and lies of media.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book shows nothing of the real man behind it. He should be ashamed--but what can we expect from the repukes?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This Senator may call himself a Conservative, but he's not. His ideas are more in line with the Left. Using Barry Goldwater's title for his book is an insult to Senator Goldwater.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
H
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He's just a Never Trumper. Too bad.