What’s Going On: A simple chuckle, a troubling commentary

It was the saddest chuckle I have ever heard. And at the same time, the most troubling commentary on our current political state of affairs.

CBS News correspondent Chris Pelley was interviewing Senators Jeff Flake and Chris Coons, two members of the Senate judiciary committee who had participated in the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings.

While on the opposite sides of the political aisle (Flake, a Republican, Coons, a Democrat) the two Senators from opposite sides of the country (Arizona and New Jersey, respectively) have developed a friendship during their time in the Senate.

So after listening to the controversial testimony from both Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Ford, and the ensuing political firestorm that erupted thereafter, it was no surprise these two committee members would render a peace accord.

Following an 11-10 vote right along party lines pushing Kavanaugh’s nomination to the entire Senate, Coons pleaded with his fellow committee members for an FBI investigation into Dr. Ford’s claims. At that moment, Flake stood up and literally walked from the Republican side of the dais to the Democratic side. He tapped on Coons’ shoulder and the two went outside to talk privately.

“This is tearing our country apart,” Flake would tell his colleague and friend. After a brief conversation, in a phone booth no less, a compromise was reached and agreed upon by the entire committee: the FBI would conduct a one-week investigation into Dr. Ford’s claims.

Pelley was asking Flake and Coons for a 60 Minutes story about the details of their compromise and how it evolved. Towards the end of the interview, Pelley asked the most telling question of them all.

“Sen. Flake, you’ve announced that you’re not running for re-election and I wonder, could you have done this, if you were running for re-election,” Pelley asked.

Cue the laugh.

“No, not a chance,” Flake responded.

Pelley pressed. “Not a chance?”

“No, no,” Flake responded, still chuckling aloud.

“There’s no value to reaching across the aisle. There’s no currency for that anymore. There’s no incentive.”

A sadder commentary has never been made.

Here’s a man in Sen. Flake who identified a course of action he felt was best for the country; best for Dr. Ford, best for Kavanaugh, best for the American people he represents. But that course of action was only made possible because he’s no longer running for office. He’s no longer concerned about the political ramifications and consequences of what he does or says.

He’s able to act out of purely what he believes is right and what is best for America.

But in our current political climate, that’s not good enough because it required him to compromise and work with “the enemy.”

That’s pathetic, and that’s on us. That’s my fault and that’s your fault because he’s absolutely right: there is no currency in working with the other party.

That currency comes from us, the American voter, and we have become so entrenched in our political tribalism that we are more likely to eat one of our own rather than reward them for doing what’s right.

We have become so conditioned to believe if it’s not 100 percent Republican or 100 percent Democrat then its 100 percent wrong, our political leaders have lost all incentive to work towards real solutions to real problems.

This is also a glowing example of why term limits are so imperative. Unconcerned about votes, Flake was able to vote his conscience instead. Politicians have proven over the past several decades when given a choice, they will choose their career nearly every single time. Government for the people? Pshaw.

Recognizing the reality, though, that legislators will likely never impose term limits on themselves, it’s all the more important we as voters encourage the Flakes, and John McCains, and Susan Collinses and Lisa Murkowskis of the world … leaders who will vote for what they believe is right instead of what their party’s leadership directs them to do.

Until we do, we can look squarely in the mirror if we want to identify what’s wrong with the American political system.

And that’s nothing to laugh at.


Gregory Orear is the publisher of The Journal. His award-winning weekly column, “What’s Going On,” has been published in four newspapers in three states for more than 20 years. He can be contacted at gorear@nujournal.com.