Ted Cruz – crazy or not you have to pay attention

Par Robert Presser le 16 avril 2015

Ted Cruz, the junior senator from Texas, announced that he is seeking the Republican nomination for President of the United States.  You may not like Ted Cruz.  Well, get in line, there are lots of progressive Americans ahead of you with that sentiment, never mind Canadian Liberals and NDPers, some Red Tories, and the list goes on.  Don’t dismiss him with a slight of hand, however.  Instead, pay very close attention to what he stands for and how he presents himself before the media.  He is the best semantic communicator in a generation, knows his political and economic history backwards and forwards and is wicked smart.

I have vague memories of Ted Cruz from the end of my career as a participant in parliamentary intercollegiate debate, an activity where teams of university debaters from the US, Canada and Europe would attend tournaments at different schools and argue a wide range of issues.  We were offered topics, called “resolutions” with no more than 10 minutes to prepare a case in the affirmative as the proponent team, so this activity required knowledge as well as wit and spontaneity.  Oh, there are debaters from my era (1982 to 1991) all around you – John Moore on radio in Toronto, Diane Brady (recently of Newsweek), Ian Hanomansing on the CBC, Boris Johnson, the Lord Mayor of London who was president of the Oxford Union, Justin Trudeau, just to name a few.  It is rare that I read the newspaper or watch the news and do not find one of my debating contemporaries reporting, commenting on or making the news.  As a group, we are in the prime of our chosen careers and have interesting lives, generally speaking.  We even have a few Facebook pages dedicated to reminiscing about our storied debating past.

I inserted this little digression about Ted’s debating roots to illustrate why he was able to speak extemporaneously (no teleprompter, no notes) for over half an hour to a huge crowd at Liberty University and remain intellectually coherent and engaging.  He clearly has an intrinsic talent, but his skills were honed in the cut and thrust world of debating.  He is a rarity in today’s political world in that he can scale the complexity of his remarks to his target audience, link the past to the future and wrap it in his philosophical cloak to advance his conception of what America should be.  You may disagree with him, but you cannot dismiss his intellectual prowess and his compelling public presence.  These are the skills that distinguish leadership in a competitive political arena.

Ronald Reagan, a.k.a the Great Communicator, was never a debater but he was an actor, a profession requiring similar oratorical and theatrical skills.  He held a conservative view of the world very similar to that of Ted Cruz and he ran for president three times: 1972, 1976 (when he nearly took the nomination away from a sitting president, Gerald Ford) and finally in 1980 when he was elected with a massive majority in the Electoral College. Ronnie had previously served two terms as the governor of California, one of the most progressive states in the nation which had previously elected liberals like Pat Brown and Earl Warren as its governors.  Reagan sought the nation’s highest office at 62 years old in 1972, twenty years older than Ted Cruz today.  Cruz possesses the ability to find the moral fibers of an audience and make them vibrate regardless of whether or not it agrees with the full spectrum of his political views, in the same way that Reagan did.  Essentially, they can wow crowds of non-believers.

The Republican basket of candidates will have some well-known names like former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Kentucky senator Rand Paul, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and New Jersey’s Chris Christie.  None of them, however, can spin language and argument like Cruz and they will be forced off-message by him in the plethora of debates planned during the primary process.  Cruz is also brave; he stands against the ethanol travesty that subsidizes the corn industry and pushes up food prices, even though Iowa represents a critical primary state and its farmers grow 1/5th of the country’s corn crop.  If he is as principled on other issues then he will have an intellectual consistency and fortitude that will make him stand out from a pack of politicians splitting hairs with nuanced messages (hey, don’t get me started on Hillary).

Ted may make you bristle, but you have to respect him.  He’s going to be a bright spot to watch in what would otherwise be a noisy and frustrating presidential campaign.  Each time Ronald Reagan ran for office there were always those who dismissed him as overly-conservative, a right-wing cold-warrior who could never captivate mainstream America.  Nonetheless, each time he ran he improved his result until he achieved the highest office in the land and turned out to be one of the 20th century’s greatest presidents.  Cruz is far younger and will surely persevere as hard as Reagan did.

There are risks involved in being swept away by great orators.  Sometimes there is a lack of substance behind the presentation and those elected to power do not have the capacity or the experience to rise to the challenge regardless of their intelligence – hello, Barack Obama.  Ted Cruz will have to focus on offering solutions to complex problems so that his agenda, if elected, consists of more than an open promise of “Hope and Change.” 

Nonetheless, you can see what an agile mind and quick wit can do for a politician’s career.  If you’re a parent with college-age kids who like to talk (ironic, in the age of texting) encourage them to try out the debate club, you never know where it could take them.


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