Adam Kinzinger’s brand of Republicanism is comfortable to anyone who has followed the trajectory of Illinois politics over the decades.
The U.S. representative from Illinois’ 16th Congressional District in his sixth term, is a man of faith and career public servant, dating to his service on the McLean County Board during his student days at Illinois State University. He subsequently joined the Air Force, served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and still flies for the Air National Guard.
For most of Donald Trump’s presidency, Kinzinger was a loyal Republican foot soldier, voting with party leadership on key legislation, such as the 2017 tax cuts and repeated attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
But all that went out the window when Trump-inspired insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. That became clear this week when Kinzinger unloaded on the mob – and on fellow Republicans who abetted the riot or sought to minimize it – in his opening statement as a member of the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack.
“Like all Americans, I am frustrated that six months after a deadly riot breached the United States Capitol for several hours on live television … we still don’t know exactly what happened,” Kinzinger said on Tuesday. “Why? Because many in my party have treated this as just another partisan fight. It’s toxic, and it’s a disservice to the officers and their families, to the staff and employees on the Capitol Complex, and to the American people who deserve the truth.”
Kinzinger, along with fellow GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, joined the committee at the invitation of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in defiance of their own party’s leadership. In doing so, Kinzinger made clear the health of American democracy is more important to him than his own political career.
Two other points must be made.
First, Kinzinger is the true, classic conservative here – not Kevin McCarthy or Jim Jordan or Louie Gohmert or any of the other members of the insurrection apologists. Kinzinger’s opening remarks contained more than a hint of Edmund Burke, considered by many to be the father of conservative thought, whose respect for history and institutions were cornerstones of his political philosophy. Burke, who watched the French Revolution unfold from the safety of England, abhorred mob rule.
“I am a Republican, I am a conservative, but in order to heal from the damage caused that day, we need to call out the facts,” Kinzinger said. “It’s time to stop the outrage and conspiracies that fuel violence and division in our country, and most importantly, we need to reject those that promote it. As a country, it’s time to learn from our past mistakes, rebuild stronger so this never happens again, and move onward.”
What happened on Jan. 6 was not the result of a coherent political philosophy, it was mob action. It was not driven by love of liberty, but by uncontrolled individualism, ignorance, resentment and, sadly, racism and threatens to tear down institutions that stand in its way. Any pretensions to conservative values are nonsense.
Here’s the second point: In his words and actions, Kinzinger is teaching an important lesson about what leadership ought to look like in a republic. A member of Congress isn’t there simply to express the views of his constituents. He’s there to exercise good judgment – informed, certainly, by public opinion but not held hostage by it – informed by his own conscience.
We hope that lesson isn’t lost on Kinzinger’s fellow Republicans, who would do well to develop both good judgment and a firm sense of right and wrong if their party is to survive.
We expect our lawmakers to take the counsel of conscience, not just follow the herd. Adam Kinzinger is doing just that on our behalf.