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A (Somewhat) Hopeful Thought for the Fourth

Liz Cheney and the duties of a Republican.
July 3, 2022
A (Somewhat) Hopeful Thought for the Fourth
(Composite / Photos: GettyImages / Shutterstock)

As we approach the celebration of the 246th anniversary of American independence, you might have noticed that all is not wonderful in our fair land. You may feel the need for a bit of a pick-me-upper. You may ask, where are the silver linings to the dark clouds that hover so threateningly over us?

One of the darkest clouds in the American sky is the condition of one of our two major political parties. The Republican party’s sad state is particularly poignant at this time of year—for it’s a party whose founding was particularly connected to the principles of the Declaration of Independence.

And yet one of the brightest of the visible silver linings is the conduct of one of the most prominent members of that party: the congresswoman from Wyoming, Liz Cheney.

There’s much to be said about what Liz Cheney has done over the past year and a half, but I’d like to focus on the most recent instance of her courage and eloquence.

There was a debate the evening of June 30 in Sheridan, Wyoming, among the candidates competing in the August 16 Republican primary for Wyoming’s one congressional seat. Many of Cheney’s colleagues turned in mockable performances. But not Cheney. To the contrary, here was her concluding statement:

Here’s the text of what she said:

It’s been a tremendous honor—the highest honor of my professional life—to represent the people of Wyoming for the last five and a half years. I am a conservative Republican. I’m going to work hard to earn the vote of every Wyomingite in this election. And I think it’s important for people to know that I believe that the most conservative of conservative principles is fidelity to our Constitution.

In Wyoming, we ride for the brand, and our brand is the United States Constitution. So, I’m going to ask people for their vote. I’m going to work hard to earn that vote.

But people need to know something about me. I will never put party above my duty to the country. I will never put party above my duty to the Constitution. I swore an oath under God and I will abide by that oath. I won’t say something that I know is wrong simply to earn the votes of people to earn political support.

That’s what the voters of Wyoming deserve. That’s what the voters of Wyoming demand. That’s the kind of respect that we owe the voters of this great state.

We need to recognize that if we are not faithful to the Constitution, if we embrace lies, if we embrace the lies of Donald Trump, if we tell the people of Wyoming something is not true, we will soon find ourselves without the structure and the basis and the framework of our Constitutional Republic.

If we don’t abide by the Constitution when it is politically inconvenient, then we will not have the Constitution as our shield when we need to defend our First Amendment rights and our Second Amendment rights.

So, I’m asking for your vote and I’m asking you to understand that I will never violate my oath of office, and if you’re looking for somebody who will, then you need to vote for somebody else on this stage because I won’t.

I will always put my oath first.

Let me note one sentence in particular: “I won’t say something that I know if wrong simply to earn the votes of people.”

That is what leadership in a representative democracy—in a constitutional republic—looks like. That is what leadership in such a republic has to look like if the republic is to endure.

And what a contrast this is to what we’ve seen from Cheney’s party. For years now, the worst Republicans have been full of passionate intensity. The “normal” Republicans deserve, I suppose, credit for lacking enthusiasm in their complicity for destroying the rule of law or subverting elections. But they have lacked the courage to stand against it. And they’ve often taken refuge in the excuse that they’re just acceding to the wishes of their constituents.

Cheney’s closing statement directly addresses this excuse. In her statement one hears echoes of Edmund Burke’s famous 1774 remarks to the electors of Bristol—remarks, incidentally, the authors of our Declaration would have been familiar with and would have appreciated.

Here’s Burke:

Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own.

But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

The fact that Burke’s 1774 admonition in Bristol is alive and well nearly 250 years later in Wyoming ought to give us heart and hope. Is it possible that other Republicans might hear it and eventually be moved. It is conceivable that the Republican party, as a whole, has touched bottom? Could Liz Cheney be an early sign of a brighter future?

In 1859, Lincoln wrote of the Declaration of Independence that not only was it important in 1776 but that it remained decisively important now and in the future: “To-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.”

Liz Cheney has stepped forward to be such a rebuke and stumbling-block to today’s threats of lawlessness and usurpation. Perhaps she is also a harbinger of better things to come as we enter our 247th year in the great journal of things happening under the sun.

William Kristol

William Kristol is editor-at-large of The Bulwark.