A Letter to a Friend- Phillipsic Against Ted Cruz
Apologies for the severe delay getting back to you. I hope my response is worthwhile.
So why do I oppose (and dislike, really) Ted Cruz? In a word, the man is the epitome of everything that has marginalized the GOP for the last sixty-five years, since the 1950s- ideological movement conservatism so committed to inflexible principle as to shun all pragmatism and prudence, all in the best interests of “conservative” philosopher-kings and against the interests of the American nation’s true heritage. His brand of “conservatism” is better described as an ideology of right-wing libertarianism, social traditionalism, and neoconservative hawkishness- American Rightism, really. “Conservatism” in the true sense is a temperament gracing and adorning any conceivable ideology, and it has to do more with the character and personality of the thinker or statesman than with the principles they espouse. In some ways, FDR was a very conservative statesman (though only a few.) I’d argue that the MOST conservative (in the best sense) statesmen of the 20th Century were Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower- they accepted the realities of industrialism and the New Deal, respectively, and sought to update the institutions of American liberalism around these new institutional and economic realities. They did NOT seek to repeal or burn down the institutions that had grown up before them, as William Jennings Bryan and Barry Goldwater so desired.
In a sense, American conservatism needs a bedrock in some very liberal ideals. In my case those ideals are liberal nationalism and republicanism; but I can respect those who have, as their fundamental liberal ideals, Jeffersonian decentralism and classical liberalism (these include men I deeply respect like Yuval Levin and Henry Olsen.) These guys understand that policies have costs and that you need to tinker around with existing institutions in order to make them better work for the betterment of the common man. You’ll never hear this Levin or this Olsen call for the burning down of ObamaCare, but for its replacement. On the other hand, Cruzies like Cruz himself and most of the Freedom Caucus display no such pragmatism- as many have argued, their core message is “let’s go back to the laissez-faire of 1870.” (Note, by the way, that that pure laissez-faire led to oligarchy and monopoly. Government is not the only institution that can threaten liberty.)
And the economic libertarian ideology of today’s “conservatives” does not even RESEMBLE something that would have preservation of social capital and traditional morality and institutions as its guiding compass. Neoliberal banking deregulations? Flat taxation? Ending subsidies for infant industries and technology firms? These policies are all irrational in a truly nationalist sense, for they contribute to the formation of an internationalist financial elite and overclass; they also tend to destabilize the economy and undermine the true determinants of economic growth like basic research and infrastructure. They don’t even strongly benefit the working class that Cruzies purport to support (has trickle-down economics EVER worked?) Now I’m a 50% free-marketer- we are too heavily taxed and regulated and most legacy industries are propped up by disgusting government subsidies straight out of the 1930s. But taking an axe to that superstructure and adopting a Randian utopia is a sure path to national weakness, plutocratic ascendence, and working-class poverty.
But it is not only his economic pseudoscience that disgusts me with Ted Cruz. No, the worst part of his platform is, in my opinion, his social divisiveness. Don’t get me wrong- I’m a social moderate with a conservative social temperament, believing strongly in the importance of religion, family, and character in the formation of citizens, and in the necessity of social capital in an irrational world. When the world descended upon Hobby Lobby and that Pizza Shop, I defended the Christian businesses in both cases IN PRINT, because I don’t think it’s right that mob rule should overturn very basic religious liberty and liberty of conscience. And when I look at the crisis of the multiethnic poor, I see not only an economic crisis- I see a social-moral crisis that requires a civil society response as well as a governmental response. This, in my opinion, is what a truly just and inclusive social conservatism would look like. But Cruz? What Cruz peddles is a white Christian populism, based on the resentments of the Evangelical white working class against the excesses of liberal urban culture. And that culture HAS had its excesses- but that is no reason to imprudently marginalize everyone in the minority groups liberal social views purport to defend.
Can anyone see Ted Cruz being a uniter? Can anyone see Ted Cruz being a man who seriously believes in the future of America, when he crudely, snydely, and nostalgically harkens back to a conservative past that never existed? He makes enemies all around and delights in his rivalries; he insults entire classes of people and holds no respect for his fellow Senators and statesmen; his candidacy is based upon resentment and anger, not upon hope. He represents, to me, the anger of American right-wing populism rather than a constructive approach to solving any sort of institutional problem.
Would I prefer him over anyone? Well, in one-on-one matchups-
Cruz v. Clinton- Clinton. Clinton is the epitome of the establishment, but at least we can expect stability under her.
Cruz v. Trump- Trump. Trump is an opportunist, not an ideologue, and shockingly enough, probably a few points likelier to attempt to unite the nation.
Cruz v. Sanders- whoever jumps in as a third-party candidate. I stand squarely above and in the middle of these two, ideologically; I cannot in good conscience vote for either.
What I expect from a commander-in-chief, assuming we won’t get the next Washington, Lincoln, or FDR this election cycle, is someone who can keep America in strong, respectable standing among the nations of the Earth, someone who can put in place basic institutional and economic reforms in our heavily imbalanced system, and someone who can provide an optimistic, uniting message to the American people and guide them as one through crisis and calm. Cruz, methinks, cannot do any of those things.
If he’s elected President, though, I won’t necessarily lose all hope. You gotta have a mediocrity like Huntington, Buchanan, or Hoover before a demigod like Washington, Lincoln, or Roosevelt.
Apologies if I’ve offended. I hope you like the newsletter. Looking forward to keeping this conversation going.