In a repeat of Arizona politics, Congressman Jeff Flake rips a page from the playbook of Senator McCain and goes from maverick moderate to right wing revivalist. It seems the pressure from his party’s extremist base turned a once independent thinker into just another typical politician.
While many progressives claimed they weren’t surprised by the move, I found myself stunned and deeply saddened. I have spent a great deal of time following Mr. Flake’s statements on immigration. I have held him up as a model of intelligent discourse on the complexities of immigration reform and the realities of what it would take to bring about a solution. I truly believed that when or if an immigration reform bill passed through Congress, Representative Flake would be the one spearheading it.
Now I’m left pondering why someone so bright could suddenly become so dim. I realize this is a reaction to Arizona’s anti-immigration obsession and Mr. Flake’s upcoming run for Senator Jon Kyl’s seat, but does Jeff Flake really believe his 180-degree turn will fool voters?
I don’t think anyone was fooled by John McCain’s “build the damn fence” persona. We all knew he took the road of least resistance because when he stuck out his neck on immigration reform, his own party members turned tail and ran. Still, do we really think voters forgot John McCain’s earlier, sensible comments on immigration? Do we think voters who are dead set against immigration reform would be hood-winked into voting for McCain over J.D. Hayworth simply because of his newfound appreciation for a border fence?
If anything, John McCain lost the respect of many centrists, including myself, who had appreciated his maverick streak and saw right through his veiled attempts to recreate himself for the purpose of votes. And now, we have Jeff Flake lowering himself to the same election tactics: appeasing party power brokers at the expense of real solutions.
Congressman Flake knows immigration reform is a complex problem that will not be resolved by enforcement alone. He’s said so himself countless times. Now he’s saying he must change positions because “a comprehensive solution is neither desirable or possible given the current leadership.” Does that mean he blames President Obama? John Boehner? Harry Reid? Isn’t Congressman Flake part of our current leadership?
No one said the job of a legislator was easy. It’s quite the opposite, in fact. Our elected officials are asked to solve a myriad of complicated problems while courteously responding to the people that put them in office. But that’s why we elect them… because they promise to SOLVE problems.
Sure, we can continue to spend millions of dollars on a high-tech fence that may or may not be successful in keeping Mexicans from illegally crossing the border, but even that doesn’t address the problem of the six million or so undocumented workers who entered legally and then overstayed their visas. Nor does it deal with the complicated and flawed visa system that prevents lower skilled migrants from obtaining a legal means of working in the United States. Or the delusional idea that 12 million undocumented workers will simply self-deport if we put up more barriers to their education and healthcare. If they risked life and limb to get here in the first place, it’s unlikely they’ll return just because they’re unable to obtain a high school diploma.
Make no mistake, border security is a necessary, vital and huge component of immigration reform. But it is not the only component. The easy fixes that have become the new mantra of this state’s former moderate leaders are neither easy nor the only fix to the problem of illegal immigration. And while Arizona continues to apply bandages to the problem, our national representatives smile, nod their heads, and wink-wink their way into yet another election cycle.
Congressman Flake is an intelligent and well-spoken individual. His flip-flop on immigration isn’t because of a sudden change of heart but rather a sudden change of ambitions. In his quest to become Arizona’s newest senator, he’s put aside doing what’s in the best interest of this country to do what’s in the best interest of his campaign. Now’s the time to let him know the gig is up. We’re not buying the idea of an easy fix, and we expect our leaders to do the hard work required for long-term solutions.