A Great Reaganite Hope, &c.


Friends, I hope you have your new issue of National Review — which can be found here, digitally. And how about your old issue of National Review? I mean the previous issue? In it is a piece by Mark Hemingway on Ted Cruz, a youngish man (38) who is running for attorney general in Texas. I’d like to say a few more words about Ted here — maybe more than a few more.

He is a dear friend of mine, so you may want to take what I say about him with a grain of salt. Then again, you may want to take me all the more seriously because I do, in fact, know him very well. And I am reminded of something I said years ago, in a music piece. I had occasion to mention a soprano I know. And I said something like the following:

“Now, she’s a friend of mine, so you can discount what I say. But I wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true — or if I didn’t think it. Moreover, you can hear her for yourself.”

Similarly, you can check out Ted Cruz for yourself.

The attorney-general race in Texas takes place in 2010. Why should we care about a state-AG race? What’s more, why should we care about a state-AG race that will finish over a year from now? Cruz is an extraordinary, and extraordinarily promising, candidate — one whom Republicans and conservatives should be excited about. What have we had to be excited about lately, in a positive sense?

I have always wanted him to run for office, and always expected him to. And here he goes: He is “kissing hands and shaking babies,” as he says. This is his first race. And it will be the first of many, or several, I feel sure. Today, state attorney general. Tomorrow — I don’t know, governor or senator (governor would be better). And then . . .?

I’m getting ahead of myself, but it’s fun.

I met him on the Bush campaign of 2000. I had taken a brief leave of absence from NR — last six weeks of the campaign — to assist the governor’s speechwriting team. Ted was a domestic-policy adviser. And we spent many late nights together, chewing over politics, history, and the like. Some of these nights were spent at Earl Campbell’s barbecue place (in Austin, I’m talkin’). One night, the great former running back himself was there. He was gentle-seeming, but he looked like he could still run through a brick wall.

I was impressed with Ted for any number of reasons, and one was this: Given his education and ability, he could have been at a law firm making millions. Instead, he was on this campaign, making less than millions. He was idealistic: a true-believing Reagan conservative. Did he want some glory for himself, in ensuing years? Probably so. Nothing wrong with that. I wouldn’t mind a little glory my own bad self. But he was driven by ideals and principles.

He served in the Bush administration relatively briefly — and from 2003 to 2008 was solicitor general of Texas. He’s now, in fact, at a law firm: Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. He is a partner. But his hat is in the ring — and I hope he’ll be back in public service before long. Poorer, but ever so helpful.

Let me get into some history. Ted is from an all-American family. His mother, Eleanor, was the first in her family to go to college. She earned a math degree at Rice, working her way through. His father, Rafael, was a Cuban immigrant. At age 14, he was fighting alongside Castro and the boys. At 17, he was nabbed by government forces — Batista forces — and thrown into prison. He was beaten and tortured almost to death. His father — Ted’s grandfather — bribed his way out.

Rafael bolted for America, enrolling in the University of Texas. This was 1957. He was 18, didn’t speak a word of English. He had a slide rule in his pocket — the only thing they’d let him take out of the country. And 100 dollars sewn into his underwear. His mother had put it there.

He worked like mad, learning English very quickly. And he soon started going around Austin to places like Rotary and Kiwanis, talking about the Cuban revolution and raising money for Castro. After the revolution triumphs, Castro reveals himself for what he is: and Rafael goes back to all those places, apologizing. He did not mean to mislead them.

And his sister back in Cuba joins the counterrevolutionaries, fighting against Castro. She is captured by government forces — Castroite forces. And tortured.

Let me say something blunt: Ted Cruz has no illusion whatsoever about Cuban Communism, or any other kind of Communism, or any other kind of tyranny. And that is something refreshing in an American. Would that we all had it.

When Ted was in high school, something important happened: He found the Free Enterprise Institute, and they found him. They would have students read Hayek, Friedman, Bastiat, and the other key scholars. And they would have speechmaking contests. Ted was a winner, City of Houston, all four years of high school. They booked him to speak to various groups: Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions — the same organizations his father had addressed! He says he gave between 70 and 80 speeches on free-market economics. And he earned some scholarship money in the bargain.

Also, he took audience Q&A, “which is an incredibly formative and powerful experience for high-school kids.” Making these appearances was something that made him want to be active in politics.

He says, “The two things that had the greatest impact on me were, number one, my dad, and then this experience” — the Free Enterprise Institute. Of his father, he says, “He drilled into me the value and importance of freedom. He used to say to me all the time when I was a kid, ‘Look, when we were facing oppression in Cuba, we had a place to flee to. If we lose our liberty here in the United States, where do we go?’ So, when I was a kid, there was an urgency to politics.”

And the Free Enterprise Institute, and the study it mandated, made Ted aware of a fundamental, longstanding battle: between, roughly speaking, individual liberty and collectivism. Ted took the side of — guess what?

He was also part of a group called “Constitutional Corroborators.” They spent hours studying the Constitution, and other foundational documents: the Federalist Papers and so on. They memorized a mnemonic version of the Constitution. And then they would tour around, speaking on constitutional matters. They would quote Jefferson: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free . . . it expects what never was and never will be.”

Now, this can be seen as pretty hokey stuff. A lot of people would laugh at it, and do. I used to, good college-town boy that I was. But there is no cynicism in Ted — not about this. He takes these ideas, along with history, very seriously. And he is very patriotic. Not in a “Support the Troops: Bring Them Home” way. Not in a yellow-ribbon way. In an old-fashioned, genuine, thoughtful, deep way. You almost never see this anymore. At least I don’t. And I could use more of this appreciation myself.