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Book by Sen. Misreads Conservative Mindset

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Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and arrives at Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., a few days ago, for a closed-door meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

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Monday, 07 Aug 2017 11:21 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Senator Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who is anti-Trump, has penned "Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and A Return to Principle."

Flake, who occupies the U.S. Senate seat once held by Barry Goldwater, believes his work is a much-needed update of that GOP icon’s 1960 classic, "The Conscience of a Conservative," which sold over 1 million copies.

Even though I am a member of the New York Conservative Party, and a lifelong activist in the political movement founded by William F. Buckley, Jr,, I too did not vote for Trump. Hence, I looked forward to reading Flake’s book and hoped to write a glowing review. Unfortunately, that is not to be because the book in my judgment misses the mark. Sen. Flake confuses conservatism with Republican political antics.

He states early in his work, "That conservatism has become compromised by other powerful force — nationalism, partisanship, even celebrity . . ." [and] "conservatives have suffered a crisis of confidence, which in turn has led to a crisis of principle."

I respectfully reject Flake’s contentions. Like most conservatives, I am not suffering from a crisis of principle and have not lost my way.

To get a sense of the vibrancy of contemporary conservative thinking, the senator should read the works of Yuval Levin, "The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism," or Arthur C. Brooks, "The Conservative Heart."

He should also subscribe to the outstanding conservative journal edited by Levin, National Affairs, which "aims to help Americans think a little more clearly about our public life, and rise a little more ably to the challenge of self-government."

Flake rightly condemns the "pay to play" politics practiced by GOP legislators in the early years of this century. He is also right to frown upon the impulse of many Republicans and Democrats to "dehumanize, to ascribe the worst possible motives to people who in more normal times would be regarded not as 'the enemy' but merely as political opponents . . . "

However, after reviewing the looney rhetoric and undignified behavior of Donald Trump and many of his hardcore followers, Flake mistakenly asks, "How did we [conservatives] embrace incoherence?"

Incoherence has not been embraced by conservatives, but by weak-kneed Republicans who found, in Flake’s words, "it was cheap and easy [because] the real world is hard and defending a principle position to voters is harder still."

Another problem I have with Flake, he singles out the Nobel Prize winning economist Friedrich Hayek as the conservative intellectual heavyweight. For Hayek, he writes, "the economy wasn’t just another in a list of issues that citizens considered and politicians exploited: the economy was all-encompassing, the whole shooting match. It was that to which all other 'issues' are subsumed."

As a young conservative in the 1960s, I read Hayek’s epic "The Road to Serfdom" and was impressed and influenced by his reasoning. But I also learned from conservative thinkers like Russell Kirk, Roger Scruton and Michael Novak, that economics and tax cuts are not "the whole shooting match."

Cultural and religious issues — which Flake pretty much ignores — matter. And for me, religious liberty and economic liberty are indivisible.

This position is best expressed by Samuel Gregg, an heir to Michael Novak’s school of Democratic capitalism, in his book "Tea Party Catholic." The sine qua non, he writes, for the successful integration "between the social and economic dimensions of free societies" is the recognition of the human person’s inherent dignity. To reject the truth that man is created in the image and likeness of God "permits the rights to economic liberty, private property, and free association to be diminished in the interests of promoting grand economic plans presided over by governments that pretend to possess a capacity for knowledge that God alone possesses."

If Sen. Flake’s Republican Party is not to go the way of the 19th century Whigs, it must not only reject the politics of personal destruction and the power for the sake of power mentality, but must become the genuine champion of working-class Americans — men and women who subscribe to the fundamental conservative belief that to be good citizens it is essential to love family, neighborhood, country, and God — and to respect an ethic of hard work.

George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact," and "Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy." He is chairman of Aid to the Church in Need-USA. Mr. Marlin also writes for TheCatholicThing.org and the Long Island Business News. To read more George J. Marlin — Click Here Now.

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I respectfully reject Sen. Jeff Flake’s contentions. Like most conservatives, I am not suffering from a crisis of principle and have not lost my way.
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2017-21-07
Monday, 07 Aug 2017 11:21 AM
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