On Jan. 22, former Sen. Jeff Flake spoke at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration. The idea of Flake inheriting the mantle of King is odd. As the grown-up conservative, Flake offers the antidote to our current president’s worst proclivities. But what about the laws Flake voted for during his time in office? After all, it is policy — not civil dialogue or Tweets you could read to your mother without blushing — that lifts up or tramples down the poor and marginalized.
King advocated for the poor. Flake provided the decisive vote to pass the 2017 tax cuts, which have primarily benefited the wealthy and corporations. King criticized American imperialism. In 2002, in his second year in the House of Representatives, Flake voted in favor of the Iraq War resolution — a war that killed 4,000 U.S. soldiers and over 600,000 Iraqis. And many of us will remember Flake being accosted in an elevator during the hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Many thought Flake might break from his party and provide the decisive vote against Kavanaugh, but he did not.
Of course, dialogue is important. Perhaps there is a defensible argument in favor of the Iraq War, the tax cuts and confirming Kavanaugh, one that would square with King’s vision. I would have liked to have heard Flake make that case. Unfortunately, since the event was so tightly scripted — tacking towards folksy, anodyne advice about being nicer to one another and taking time to listen to others more attentively — we never got the chance to find out.
– Michael Johnston, professor and Lafayette resident