Jeff Flake Is Not a Hero

Melanie Pineda, Deputy Opinion Editor

This past Friday, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., did the bare minimum following the testimonies of Christine Blasey Ford and potential Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. He agreed to vote for the Supreme Court nominee on the Senate floor next week only if the Federal Bureau of Investigation looks into the allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh. Flake only came to this decision after he was confronted by a sexual assault survivor in an elevator right before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote. Last weekend, he proceeded to joke about the elevator incident at the Global Citizen Festival in New York, and was also hailed as a hero by Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del. But up until Friday, Flake said he would vote in favor of confirming Kavanaugh. Yet in a 60 Minutes interview, Flake revealed that he would not have called for an investigation if he were running for reelection.

The real hero of the Kavanaugh hearings is not Flake, a politician acting out of his own self-interest. Those we should be continuously praising are the brave survivors of sexual assault who have stood up in front of these men in positions of power. 

The woman who confronted Flake is Ana María Archila, a sexual assault survivor who is also a leader of the Center for Popular Democracy, a liberal nonprofit advocacy group. Up until Friday, she had never publicly spoken about being sexually assaulted. But in an opinion piece published on Saturday by USA Today, Archila wrote about the range of emotions she felt on the day of the confrontation, citing the power of survivors speaking up as the true important catalyst for political change. An example of this power was also seen in the emotional testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, which was given in front of a committee made up mostly of old white men. The composition of the committee is eerily similar to the one which Anita Hill stood in front of over 20 years ago when she accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual assault during his nomination hearings. But in the #MeToo era, these women are continuously speaking up — and finally being believed — as a result of a movement where the prevalence of sexual assault has been given a greater spotlight. They have inspired one another to bravely recall some of the most traumatizing events of their lives. 

The backlash against these women, such as the many death threats that Blasey Ford has received, is fueled by sexism. As a senator in the majority party, Flake holds a certain level of power — as well as access to resources and security — that most Americans do not. Flake will likely never have to experience the vulnerability sexual assault survivors expose themselves to when coming forward.

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This isn’t the first time that Republican senators have been hailed as heroes by liberals for acting against policies that would otherwise harm many. In one of his final acts on the Senate floor, the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was deemed a hero by many of his Democrat colleagues for voting in favor of preserving the Affordable Care Act in 2017. But later that same year, McCain voted for the GOP’s new tax plan which will leave millions of Americans uninsured. McCain’s second vote essentially cancels out his first one — it’s as if McCain voted to scrap the ACA from the start. McCain was ultimately praised by Democrats for a vote that he himself contradicted, which is echoed by Flake’s current path of action. 

Flake has nothing to lose regardless of which way he chooses to vote. He is one of the many Republican legislators who have chosen to retire this election year after publicly condemning the Trump administration while still overwhelmingly voting in favor of Trump’s policies. It’s time for Democrats to stop considering Flake and other swing-vote Republicans as their saving grace. Instead, the focus should be redirected to people like Archila, who have sacrificed their privacy and safety for the sake of the judicial future of the U.S. 

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them. 

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 1 print edition.

Email Melanie at [email protected]

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