April 26, 2016

GUEST ROOM | Go Easy on Ted Cruz

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I know what you’re thinking. “Go easy on Ted Cruz? I hate him! And now, since you suggested that, I also hate you.” Reasonable enough, but remember, that’s the exact kind of knee-jerk reaction you’d expect from someone like Cruz himself. If you, unlike Cruz, believe in keeping an open mind, you should hear me out.

The media writes the same stuff about politicians over and over, regardless of how true it is. For instance, listen to people who know them, and you’ll hear that Hillary is way more likable and Bernie way more combative than either one ever gets credit for. So what’s the easy narrative on Teddy Cruzevelt? He’s annoying. He’s a weirdo. Everyone in Congress hates him. He might be the Zodiac Killer.

I disagree. In his own awkward way, Ted Cruz is actually an endearing and somewhat likable human being. There, I said it. Somewhat likable. This was a 17-year-old whose career goal in the yearbook was President of the United States, a college student who used his fiery intelligence to overcome his social ineptitude, a man who married the single most formidable, intellectually capable woman he could find. (Google it: until about 2012, Heidi Cruz was more accomplished than Ted was.) This is a politician who doesn’t care if the entire U.S. Senate hates him — and they do — so long as he sticks to the principles that he promised he’d uphold.

Ted Cruz can’t change his weird personality and he’ll never try; as a result, he’s actually somewhat authentic. Marco Rubio and John Kasich underwent dramatic disposition changes when they thought it would benefit them; Trump is a pure media creation with no inner life whatsoever; Hillary has changed with the times when it became expedient; Bernie’s blustery-old-man routine belies a canny political operator. Cruz? He just can’t be anyone but dorky, offputting, overambitious Cruz. He is who he is.

People say beyond mean things about Cruz all the time. The other day, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said he’d “take cyanide” if Cruz won the nomination. The Onion joked that a baby Cruz kissed had contracted a necrotic skin disease. Lindsey Graham said you could shoot Cruz on the Senate floor and no one would vote to convict you. Suicide, pestilence and murder. Haven’t our metaphors gotten a little out of control here?

Watch his appearance on Jimmy Kimmel. Why do you think Cruz keeps bringing up Star Wars? He knows everyone likes it and he wants to have something in common with people. So he did something we all do: use a shared cultural reference to try to establish a connection. It’s lonely being Ted Cruz. He hears every single day that his colleagues, his constituents and the American people find him personally dislikable. How do you think that feels?

Ted Cruz is the single best debater on either side and if not for Hillary it wouldn’t be close. You could hang the guy upside down, blindfold him, and throw rotten fruit at him, and he’d still outmanuever Trump and Kasich. His answers are well-constructed and crisp, he’s quick on his feet, and he never trips up a word. In a race in which most candidates abuse the English language, Cruz’s polished responses are a breath of fresh air. You don’t become a national debate champ at Princeton for no reason.

Am I going to vote for him? Um, no: do you think I’ve lost my fucking mind? Of course opposing abortions in cases of rape is bonkers; of course building a wall on the border goes against everything we stand for; of course abolishing the IRS is a fantasy. Of course not.

But can I find something to like about someone I disagree with? Yes. The country, like the government, has gotten insanely partisan. Liberals and conservatives distrust each other, stereotype each other’s beliefs and read slanted media sources that support the convictions they already hold. When was the last time you read anything nice about Ted Cruz? If you read that everyone else hates him, then just decide to hate him too, did you really think for yourself? Accepting a narrative without considering the other side is bad for everyone; in fact, it’s what Cruz himself does. Empathizing with the people you disagree with, on the other hand, is what a good citizen of a democracy does. The other side isn’t made up of serial killers and festering lepers. They’re just people.

All Ted Cruz wants is to be loved. Okay, he wants to be President too, but what he really wants is for other human beings to cherish, accept, and value him. Look into your heart: are you so very different from Ted Cruz? Have you ever had a dream that people said was crazy? Have you ever felt like people didn’t like you as much as you wanted them to? Have you ever been laughed at, embarrassed, criticized? Cruz has. Through it all, he soldiers on. Despite incessant mockery, a mean orange-haired foe and endless eighteen-hour days spent asking for votes from people who hate him, he soldiers on.

I like you, Ted Cruz. I hope you don’t become President — boy, do I ever — but I like you. Have a nice day.

Max Van Zile is a writer for Arts and Entertainment. He may be reached at [email protected]. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.