Saturday, July 02, 2016

A Time for Truth by Ted Cruz (Book Review #29 of 2016)

A Time for Truth: Reigniting the Promise of America by Rafael Eduard "Ted" Cruz.

I read this book as an attempt to read books by and about the various presidential candidates; I am a registered Republican. I finished it shortly after Mr. Cruz dropped out of the race. My view of Mr. Cruz before reading this book was pretty low, on par with critique of Lindsey Graham and John Boehner. But all I knew of the man is what I'd read in various media outlets, mostly liberal. Graham and Boehner have more facts and intimate acquaintance with Sen. Cruz than I do. But it struck me as odd that an evangelical Christian, convervative Constitutional lawyer, and veteran of a G.W. Bush's campaign, who is possibly the member of a Southern Baptist church was getting shunned by Russell Moore and other conservative evangelicals in favor of candidates like Marco Rubio and even Donald Trump. So, I asked a trusted friend who works on Capitol Hill what his impression of Cruz was. My friend could only relay what he'd heard from other staffers who had worked for Cruz, namely that the man is "untrustworthy and manipulative...opportunist and not really conservative" and surrounds himself with campaign staff who are slimy, which I think we saw evidence of in the campaign.

Multiple times in the book, Cruz admits that he has social problems, and that has cost him in terms of friendships and positions. "(E)ven if I had had the opportunity to do it over again, to be noncontroversial and universally amiable, I couldn’t have done it. Those qualities are simply not who I am" (p. 97). On the Bush campaign, he fought hard in the Florida recount only to be snubbed when it came time to receive the spoils. "I was far too cocky for my own good, and that sometimes caused me to overstep the bounds of my appointed role...I burned a fair number of bridges on the Bush campaign" (p. 132, 138). Early in life, Cruz was the grade-obsessed over-competitive nerd. He's like that deeply insecure person who wants everyone to acknowledge how smart he is. That personality seems to have followed him in high school, when he proved himself giving speeches for the Free Enterprise Institute-- memoring swathes of the Constitution and various conservative texts. A critical article of Cruz from his Princeton days suggested that he had few friends there, though the ones he had were very close. He was obsessed with winning every debate, burnishing his holier-than-thou conservative credentials. He is a professing Christian with a past full of drinking and fun; he strikes me as the time of Young Republican that I disliked strongly when I was in college. His operatives in Kentucky (where I live) reportedly took up his bullying tactics in this year's Caucus; I've no doubt we'll see the same at the GOP Convention.

Yet, there is much to appreciate about the man's background and career thus far. He has both clerked for the Supreme Court and argued cases in front of it. He knows the Constitution better than any of the candidates of any party. He's a third-culture kid; the son of a Cuban immigrant and a mother who was a pioneer in the field of computer science, born in Canada and raised in Texas. If you haven't read Marco Rubio's autobiography, don't bother, it's terrible and filled with so many useless and mundane observations on daily life. Cruz's autobiography is much better and filled with actual career experiences (he's also read Rubio's book). This book is interesting for its insights into the Supreme Court and the Bush White House campaign, and the intrigue between Cruz and operatives like Karl Rove, if nothing else.

Cruz begins the book explaining his notorious debt ceiling filibuster and the closed-door meetings Republicans make which enraged him and his constituency. He makes a rational argument for the strategy he was urging Republicans to pursue. It is clear he has long since burned his bridges with GOP leadership. He was elected as a Tea Partier pledging to shake up the system and he believes he fulfills that pledge. In the book, his most stalwart ally and friend is Mike Lee (I found it notable that Lee waited until very late in the game to endorse Cruz). Rand Paul is also a friend, but later gets criticized when it appears he is taking the McConnell party line during one of Cruz's failed filibusters.

The biography of Cruz's father is interesting. He had been a public-speaking apologist for pro-Castro Cuba policy in Texas, but later went publicly to every place he had spoken to apologize after visiting Cuba and seeing the true Communist intentions. Both Cruz's parents were educated professionals; his mother one of the first female computer engineers. They work in Canada and later have their own business in Texas only to see it go under when when Houston suffered under the low oil prices of the 1980s. In the 1970s, Cruz's dad left but later returned home after having a life-changing encounter with Jesus. Cruz himself writes that he accepted Christ in 1979 at a suburban Baptist church in Houston.

His formative years saw him eventually become self-aware of his off-putting academic competitiveness, which he tries to shun in a failed attempt to try athletics. Life lesson: "Happiness doesn’t come from popularity, but rather from doing something that matters, making a difference, and fulfilling God’s plan for your life" (p. 56). He finds his passion with the Free Enterprise Institute, raising money by giving speeches at Rotary Club meetings. "Students were required to prepare a twenty-minute speech on all ten pillars, after reading a curriculum of economic fundamentals including the works of Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Adam Smith, Frédéric Bastiat, and Ludwig von Mises." He joins the debate program at Princeton, but loses an election for President there.

His clerkship at the Supreme Court was maybe the most interesting, gave a good view of the life of the Court. How smart and tempermental the Justices are. How the conservative justices, like Scalia, hire at least one liberal clerk whereas the liberals do not hire conservatives. The difficult and often on-call-all-the-time nature of clerkship is also highlighted.

Cruz campaigned hard for G.W. Bush, and worked hard on the Florida recount. "The fact is that every time the ballots were counted—four separate times—Bush won" (p. 132).  He rubbed enough people the wrong way that he was given a position at the AG's office that disappointed him--he wanted to be in the White House. Nonetheless, he got good experience as an associated attorney general, and later at the US Federal Trade commission. He explains the courtship of his wife, a daughter of Seventh-Day Adventist missionaries, a fellow Bush campaign staffer.

From D.C., they moved to Texas where Cruz worked as solicitor general (2003-2008), getting to argue several cases before Supreme Court. He banged heads with Karl Rove while trying to later run for Attorney General in Texas, which Bush '41 had supported him in. "(Rove) implied that if I made any news about Bush 41’s support, then Bush 43 would endorse my opponent and come out publicly for him—a threat that was fairly striking given that I had devoted four years of my life to working as hard as I could helping to elect Bush and serving in his administration. I always wondered whether Karl had the authority to make these threats on behalf of the former president—he certainly acted like he did" (p. 202). In 2012, Cruz pulls out an underdog win as the GOP candidate for Senate, similar to Marco Rubio and others. ("Marco has become a good friend, and he is many things—but an arrogant hothead is not one of them," p. 221).

You'll find nothing in here about whisper campaigns or dirty tricks that Cruz was either famous for or accused of, depending on your perspective, in 2016. Others ran dirty campaigns against Cruz, in this book, and Cruz overcame them all as honestly as you would expect from an autobiography. That little loan bit from Goldman Sachs is not completely explained, either.

Cruz explains his worldview and voting record adequately-- you should read this book if he's your Senator. "Members of Congress don’t entertain thoughts about whether or not their legislation is constitutional for several reasons. For one, they believe and behave as potentates who believe that every crisis, every national headline, demands federal legislation that will impress a subset of their constituents. It’s constitutional because they say it is" (p. 258). He problematically tells his side of the story, sometimes presenting falsehoods as facts. Example: "Since banning handguns, sexual assaults and rapes in Australia have skyrocketed, because there are few things a criminal likes better than an unarmed victim," (p. 262); see Snopes for this. Cruz does make a valid point about Politifact--they don't critique everything and the statements they do choose to fact-check are sometimes bizarre (like this bizarre one in which they critique Cruz's statement that Americans invented the video game Pong.

He expresses his conservative disappointment with G.W. Bush, and his outrage over Obama, who he likes to dig at: "The prosecution of gun crimes under the Obama administration had dropped [30] percent. Whereas the Bush administration had made going after violent criminals who use guns a top priority, the Obama administration put far less emphasis on doing so" (p. 265). "If President Obama had his way, Congress could pass laws that block the ability of houses of worship to choose their own ministers" (p. 315). On the Citizens United case: "(I)f Congress can 'prohibit' corporations 'from spending money to influence elections,' then Congress can 'prohibit' NBC—a corporation—from airing Saturday Night Live" (p. 317). While "there will never be another Ronald Reagan," Cruz ascribes great power to Reagan's memory. "His act of vision and courage still echoes through the Middle East," (p. 293). Given that it was Jimmy Carter who signed the Camp David Accords and Reagan's administration who negotiated with Iran, Cruz's memory is quite selective.

His foreign policy is "strong" hedged in a cautious tone. "It is not the job of our military to try to democratize every country on earth, or to turn Iraq into Switzerland," (p. 332).

He does not forsee a Donald Trump outcome in this book. "The most consistent pattern of the last forty years is that Republicans win the White House whenever we nominate a candidate who runs as a strong, principled conservative with a positive, optimistic, hopeful message. We lose whenever we nominate the 'more electable' candidate who runs as a mushy establishment moderate" (citing Bush '41, Dole, McCain, and Romney as examples, p. 333). "The only way to win in 2016 is to bring back the conservatives who are staying home. And if we nominate another candidate like Bob Dole or John McCain or Mitt Romney—all good, honorable men, but all lost—then the same voters who stayed home in 2008 and 2012 . . . will stay home again in 2016. And Hillary Clinton will be the next president," (p. 338).

I like this advice the best; I do not feel that Cruz lived up to this on the campaign trail, choosing religious rhetoric over Constitutional conservative arguments: "Conservatives are against excessive governmental regulations, but rarely explain why...We need to explain why" (p. 341).

In all, a good autobiography and an interesting read on various aspects of politics and Supreme Court life. I like Rand Paul's memoir a little better on his internal deliberations and emotions. But this is far better than Rubio's book, and an easier read than Trump's The Art of the Deal. 3 stars out of 5.

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