There may come a day when some elected Republican lawmaker somewhere grows three millimeters of spine, finds their voice and pulls their party back from the anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti-facts, anti-democracy void that they so eagerly hurtle towards. But today is not that day, and the self-parodying would-be hero Sen. Jeff Flake is not that person.
Here he is in his natural habitat, a Sunday talk show, expressing alarm at the recent U.N. report warning that we are now all but locked into catastrophic climate change in the coming century and offering up the very serious-minded suggesting that somebody in his party might want to do something about that.
“I mean there’s been more recognition among Republicans, the administration hasn’t taken the view of some of us that this is something we really need to deal with. I hope we can move along with the rest of the world and address this. It’s going to be challenging, obviously, that report that came out is pretty dire. There are things that we can do and should do and I think Republicans need to be at the forefront if we want to keep our place and keep our seats.”
Sen. Jeff Flake is, quite literally, one of the most powerful people in the nation. He holds a position of great public distinction and responsibility; he could, by virtue of his voice and his vote, work to craft the change he seeks. Stubbornly, if need be. Obnoxiously, if need be. Using the power that he, out of only 100 people in our entire nation, has been granted, if need be. He need not wait until he is out of office and powerless to advocate for the changes in Republicanism he wishes to see.
Among his most recent acts, Sen. Jeff Flake voted to confirm a Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, whose hostility towards environmental regulation can be best described as, cough, toxic; in a past opinion he rejected the notion that the government can classify climate-changing pollution as pollution at all, regardless of scientific evidence, unless Sen. Jeff Flake’s colleagues weigh in to explicitly write it into a new law. Sen. Flake could have taken action then. Sen. Flake could have taken action a year before then. Sen. Flake has, aside from appearing on television to mumble his abstract disappointment with his party, done very little.
As recently as 2014, Sen. Flake opined that he could not be sure climate change was due to human actions at all. He has been a reliable vote for selling off federal lands. He voted for the Keystone XL pipeline. He has let each of Trump’s hardline anti-environmental nominees through, allowing Trump and his party to gut both current environmental laws and the very agencies tasked with enforcing those laws.
He has, in vote after vote after vote, endorsed and confirmed Republican efforts to move backward on climate regulations, votes that are now condemning us to inches of sea level rise that could have been avoided, and droughts that could have been prevented, and future catastrophes a measurable percentage more severe than they would otherwise have been. But now, on the eve of his Senate retirement, he calls for Republicans to “be at the forefront” of saving the planet from the very things he voted for.
Maybe he has another book in the works. Maybe he is auditioning for a new punditry gig. Or maybe this really is, in Jeff Flake’s consciousness, the closest thing he can muster up to courage. It is not enough courage to buck his party at any of the critical points where bucking it might have made a difference, anywhere down the line, but it is just enough courage to say, out loud, that he sincerely hopes someone else might one day do it for him.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.