Politics & Policy

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.

Ted went to Princeton, where, among other things, he debated. In fact, he was the number-one debater in the country — excuse me, in North America. Then he went to Harvard Law School. He was an editor on several publications, including the Law Review. He became tight with Dershowitz — which I don’t hold against him. Dershowitz is kind to right-leaning students, whatever his view of O.J. Simpson.

Ted clerked for Judge Mike Luttig, on the Fourth Circuit. I wanted Luttig for the Supreme Court; it was not to be, I’m afraid. He then clerked for Rehnquist — “the Chief,” as I often hear him call him.

After Bush 43 was elected, Ted was in the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission. Then he returned to Texas to be solicitor general. He wrote over 70 U.S. Supreme Court briefs, and presented eight oral arguments in that court. And he was involved in some highly interesting things.

Naturally, Ted has a website — a campaign website, here. And he has remarked to me that you will not find a page called “Issues.” Every campaign website has something called that: giving the candidate’s stands on the issues. Ted has, instead, “Proven Record.” Where other people have talked or hoped, Ted has actually done — and it’s not necessarily other people’s fault: Ted has been in a position — solicitor general — to act.

If your bag is gun rights, you can read that Ted has “successfully defended for 31 States the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, winning in a 5-4 landmark decision before the U.S. Supreme Court.” If you’re big on border security, you read, “Authored a U.S. Supreme Court amicus brief on behalf of 10 States in Lopez v. Gonzales, urging the strictest enforcement of laws punishing those with prior felony convictions who entered the country illegally.” You also have property rights, tort reform, abortion, marriage, etc., etc.

Ted has had his finger in many legal and policy pies. And I’m given to believe that he could do plenty more, if he were Texas attorney general: He would be in a position to combat a number of bad policies and directives from Washington. Wouldn’t that be nice? The combating, I mean?

As regular readers know, I have never been big on ethnicity — certainly not in politics. But a lot of people are. And many people are saying that Republicans desperately need Hispanic leadership. I couldn’t give a rat’s behind that Ted is Hispanic. Moreover, many on the left do not consider Cuban Americans genuine Hispanics, for a variety of reasons: They tend to be anti-Communist, entrepreneurial, not part of the grievance culture. Be that as it may, a lot of people will like that Ted is Hispanic — although ethnicity is probably the least important thing about him.

Have time for a quick story? Regular readers have heard it before. When the Michigan Law School admissions people were considering applicants, the question arose whether Cubans were Hispanic. (This came out in a Supreme Court case.) Someone said, “But don’t they vote Republican?”


But more about Ted: He can talk, really talk. He can speak, really speak. He can debate, really debate. I mean, he is practically renowned for it (and, when in college, he was crowned for it). It can be very, very valuable to have someone on your side who can talk. Do you remember when Dick Cheney debated Joe Lieberman in 2000? Was that not the most comfortable, enjoyable TV viewing that conservatives have ever had?

Ted is seriously smart, and broad: very, very knowledgeable, very, very versatile. He can do law, of course. He can do economics. He can do domestic policy: health care and the like. He can do foreign policy. He has no weaknesses, really, that I have ever discerned. I don’t know how much he knows about science and technology. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot. I used to think that Henry Hyde was a particularly valuable member of Congress. Why? The versatility: He was a judiciary man, an economics man, a foreign-policy man. Ted Cruz is like one-stop shopping.

And he is “one of us,” by golly. Remember when Nixon used to talk about “one of us,” as in, “Is he one of us?” In fact, I believe Tom Wicker titled his biography of Nixon that way: One of Us. When I say that Ted is one of us, I don’t mean that he’s a Nixonian: I mean that he’s a Reaganite. A bona fide Ronald Reagan conservative.

And he is a fighter: a principled political warrior, never backing down from a fight, unless it is preferable to win another way. Also, you will never run across someone less afraid of the Left. He does not blanch. He does not cower. He does not say, “Oh, please don’t hate me, I’m really not so bad, though I oppose abortion and favor school choice.” He eats the Left for breakfast.

In every respect you can think of, Ted is an invaluable guy to have on your side: a thinker, a talker, a doer. As I said, one-stop shopping.

Is he our Obama — a Republican Obama? Well, he is far less slippery than our new president. But there are similarities — especially where communications skills are concerned (although I confess to finding Obama a lot less Periclean than most people do). Plus, Ted has charisma, charm, soul. Many people think Obama possesses these in large measure. To each his own.

Obama certainly rose quickly in American politics, very quickly (alas). Can Ted Cruz do the same? I don’t know, but it would be good for the country.

Ted has hundreds of friends, and a dynamite family: His wife is Heidi, a lovely, sporty financial whiz. Their daughter Caroline — Caroline Camille Cruz, or CCC — is the prettiest baby in Texas.

Forgive me for taking all this time to talk about a friend of mine — to talk him up. Discount it all, if you like. But I am an opinion journalist (thank goodness). And in my opinion, Ted is very easy to talk up — and well worth talking up. I’m glad he’s “in the arena” (to quote another phrase Nixon loved). I never thought I’d be excited about a state-attorney-general race — especially one in a state on the other side of the country from me. But I am.

‐A letter from a reader that made me gag:

Hello, Mr. Nordlinger,


I am a library-goer, and I am most frequently in the children’s section, trying to find fodder for my little readers. Here in Gilbert, Ariz., our children’s section always has a display of biographies. This month the theme is notable Asians, including Yo-Yo Ma and Kristi Yamaguchi. There are also biographies of — get this — Hirohito, Ho Chi Minh, and Mao.


I took a photo, since I could not believe my eyes. [She sent it to me.] I even spoke to the librarian, who saw me snapping the photo. I told her I could not believe that this trio of biographies was displayed in the children’s section. The face she made was something of a grimace-sneer (what my gramma would call a “moue of distaste,” though nobody says “moue” anymore).


When I told my adorable husband about it, his comment was to the point: “They left out Pol Pot and Genghis Khan.” Honestly! In Gilbert, Ariz.! It’s not like I live in Berkeley.

It doesn’t matter. The whole country is Berkeley, in a way — from sea to shining sea. Howard Zinn is in the blood of every schoolchild. You think those biographies are unfavorable? It’s strange that Hirohito is there, however. That would not have been approved in the Ann Arbor of my youth. The other two — Mao and Ho — for sure.

‐Have another letter involving children — this one sweeter:

Hi, Jay,


So my nine-year-old boy and I are driving home from aftercare today and we are talking about his finances. It seems he just won an $8 bet with his buddy ($8?!?!). I told him that the money will go to his Lost Library Book Fund. He was not happy and started to sulk. I said, “What are you waiting for, the Obama School Library Bailout?” He looked at me as serious as I have ever seen him and said, “That’s not funny, Dad!”

Yes, it is.

He soon appreciated what had happened. And he says he will always be grateful to his father for leading him out, in order to give him “a normal life.” I am struck by that phrase: “a normal life.” So simple, and maybe not very ambitious-sounding, but exactly what so much of the world longs for.





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