‘Crème de la crème of Washington, D.C., insiderdom.” That’s how someone in a newspaper column described Kate O’Beirne, the Washington editor of National Review and panelist on CNN’s Capital Gang. It was about 20 years ago, when I first started working at NR. I thought of that as Arizona Republican senator Jeff Flake announced his decision to not run for reelection. I thought of Kate, who died this spring, because politics was never the most important thing in her life. That’s what made her good there, with access to people with serious political power: She’d remind them of more-enduring things.
When Flake went to the Senate floor, he said: “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.” He continued: “Regret for the compromise of our moral authority, and by our, I mean 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.”
And letting your opinion be known of Donald Trump isn’t enough. Because while he is president now, and he does happen to be coarse and seemingly erratic, he was elected despite that, in many cases. And he didn’t start the fire there. (If I had a dollar for every politician who seemed to be enamored with House of Cards in recent years — though I suspect that Jeff Flake wasn’t among them. And I’m not going to blame Frank Underwood, either.)
The most important part of Jeff Flake’s removing himself from the senatorial scene, it seems to me, is what it says about Washington insiderdom: It’s not how we’re going to change the world.
And while that’s not a political project, if it fuels people in politics and people commenting about politics, and the people voting, you could see how things could start to look better. Instead of a constant war between the media and the White House and choruses loving and hating one or the other, we could be aspiring to something together, desiring a comity that robustly debates but can sometimes agree on something of a common good.
In To Light Fire to the Earth, Bishop Barron writes: “We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness.” I think it’s fair to say that most Americans today don’t think of any of these words in association with politics. Which seems part of the message of Senator Flake’s leaving and why we must do better. It’s something beautiful we’ll fight for and rally behind and become better as a result of. Remembering that and coming together around that requires more beautiful standards, ones that don’t come from politics but from our choices on a whole host of the even more important things.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and an editor-at-large of National Review. Sign up for her weekly NRI newsletter here. This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.