‘We Have a Duty and an Obligation to Make a Difference’

During Law School Visit, US Rep. Liz Cheney, ’96, Talks About Politics, Democracy, and the Role of Individuals

In a packed auditorium just days after the midterm elections, US Rep. Liz Cheney, ’96, spoke candidly to the University of Chicago Law School community about the dangers of “reflexive partisanship,” the importance of keeping some issues out of the “political tent” but engaging in vigorous discussion about most others, and how when it comes to important change, it can be a few individuals who make the difference.

Cheney, the Wyoming Republican and vice chair of the House select committee investigating January 6, 2021, rattled off names: Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, who each refused to cooperate with attempts to overthrow the 2020 election; former White House aides Cassidy Hutchinson and Sarah Matthews, who each testified before the select committee; and the Capitol police who responded on January 6.

Professor Geoffrey Stone and US Rep. Liz Cheney on stage during the Schwartz Lecture.
US Rep. Liz Cheney, '96, answers a question from a student during the Schwartz Lecture, which began with a conversation with Professor Geoffrey R. Stone (left).

“The thing that gives me hope … is how few people it took to save us from a far worse constitutional crisis,” Cheney said during the Ulysses and Marguerite Schwartz Memorial Lecture, which was built around a conversation with Geoffrey R. Stone, the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law, and questions from students. “I think it's one of the most important things for young people to take away—that we have a duty and an obligation to make a difference. At the end of the day, our system's fragile, but it's because of the goodwill of American citizens doing their duty that the institutions held.”

Cheney, who is leaving office in two months after losing her primary bid for re-election in August, declined to elaborate on her next moves but voiced concerns about the current state of politics, which she said has lost a lot of the “policy and substance.”

“Our country suffers when we lose that,” she said.

She said politics itself is a good thing but that unexamined allegiance can be damaging.

“If you want your voice heard, you engage in politics,” she said. “What's bad in my view is reflexive partisanship … determining, ‘Well, I'm going to be against that issue because Republicans are always against it, or I'm going to be for this because Democrats are always for this.’”

Instead, she said we need to engage in serious debate. Some ideas, she added, such as antisemitism, racism, and bigotry, have “no place in the political tent.”

“We have to be able to draw that line,” she said. “But I think that the vast majority of the time, we need to be able to listen to each other and … engage on the issues.”

She noted that in the recent midterms she endorsed two Democratic members of Congress, Michigan Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin and Virginia Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger.

“I don't think that I've ever voted for a Democrat, and I've been voting a long time, but I endorsed these two women because I serve with them, one [Slotkin] on the Armed Services Committee,” Cheney said. “I know them. I know that they're responsible people who care about our country. … I can say to them, ‘Hey, I don't agree with you on these issues, but let's talk about where we can come to agreement over here.’ And I also know they're really tough and they make me better because if I disagree with them, they're going to be prepared, so I better come prepared. And that's what's good for the country.”

“I think it's one of the most important things for young people to take away—that we have a duty and an obligation to make a difference.”

US Rep. Liz Cheney, '96

Cheney, who has been a vocal critic of Donald Trump and his effect on the Republican Party, described the GOP as being “in a very bad place.”

“I believe in the values on which our party was founded, and I believe in things like limited government and a strong natural defense … but I do think the party is very sick right now,” she said.

She said it is “important for people to realize that nobody can be a bystander.”

“When you have so many elected Republicans refusing to stand up, then voters often will rightfully say, ‘Well, look, if it's really so dangerous, why are you the only one? Why aren't there more?” she said. “And that's where responsibility comes into play for those elected officials.”

Cheney spoke about her time at the Law School, calling it a “special place.” She urged students to get involved and consider seeking elected office.

She drew laughter with an offer to give “suggestions and guidance—[and] endorse your opponent if that would help.”

But she also delivered a serious message:

“The country faces really big challenges, and we need people to recognize and understand the value and the importance and the worth of public service and of seeking elected office,” she said. “We can't meet those challenges if we have people who aren't up to the task. So I really hope that many of you in this room will consider public service, will consider running for office.”