Apparently I’m only able to write book reviews these days for books written by Republican Senators, so let’s dive into another one. Today I’ll be giving my thoughts on Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle by Senator Jeff Flake (R- AZ).
Conscience of a Conservative is Jeff Flake’s version of Barry Goldwater’s book of the same name, and Flake makes sure you know that throughout the book. Flake holds Goldwater in high regard, as he was the executive director of the Goldwater Institute in Arizona, and currently holds Goldwater’s Senate seat (well, he clarifies this to say that Goldwater actually held both AZ Senate seats, so every Senator from AZ will hold a Goldwater seat). Flake sees Goldwater as the father of modern conservatism, and spends a great deal of the book explaining the philosophy put out by Goldwater, particularly in his 1964 presidential run.
Flake splits the book into three different parts of the argument he is making. He first explains Goldwater’s conservatism, explains his own conservatism (which is pretty much the same thing), and then explains how conservatives have fallen from the values they built the modern Republican party on.
I’ll start by looking at the last part of that, which is the part I agree with most and made me most excited to read this book. Flake spends a fair amount of time going after Trump and those who supported him without directly going after the president (at least as much as one might think). He explains how conservatives, in backing Trump, ran away from their principles and became a new party. He spends a large portion of the book explaining how beneficial it is for America to be open to immigration, to pursue free trade, and to continue to lead on the global stage. Invoking the plight of his Mormon ancestors, he expresses support for refugees of any religion and decries those who support things like the Muslim ban.
It’s heartening to see someone completely buck their party with these statements and attacks on the president, especially in an era when it seems difficult for a lot of congressional conservatives to stand up for what they believe in. After reading this book, I felt incredibly saddened that Senator Flake will be leaving the Senate, because his voice in opposition to Trump is rare, and could help to protect our politics from falling too far from where they once were.
The other 2 points Flake makes in his book, about who Goldwater was as a conservative and who he is as a conservative are a little less interesting, for one, and also harder for me to agree with. Granted, I never saw anything Goldwater did as a politician (he was a little before my time), but I did reference my formerly conservative grandfather for some reference on Goldwater.
We generally look at the modern conservative movement as starting with the election of Reagan. Even though Nixon was generally conservative, he certainly wasn’t the same sort of Republican as Reagan. But Goldwater was Reagan before Reagan was Reagan. Goldwater, for his time, was a little bit extreme. He was a fiscal conservative, just like most others, but started the social conservative portion of being a conservative. He was a bit of a firebrand, firing up his crowds and becoming a little extreme as he went. According to my grandpa, he was a bit like Trump in that sense, but wasn’t nearly as polarizing as Trump. Nonetheless, everything I’ve been able to learn about Goldwater makes it a little strange to want to aspire to be like him. (For context, my grandpa did vote for Goldwater, only because Reagan gave a speech in support the night before the election that really convinced him. Goldwater went on to lose in a complete landslide, winning only 52 electoral votes.)
As is expected, I don’t agree with Jeff Flake on a lot. But I’ve come to learn in the past year that it’s important to have people on both sides of the aisle who are willing to stand up for what they believe in and compromise on the issues at hand. Jeff Flake’s book is an important read for people on all sides of the political spectrum, and he will be missed in the Senate when he leaves next January.