Politics & Policy

David Brooks’s Hypocritical Attack on Ted Cruz Reveals an Important Truth

(Alex Wong/Getty)
Because Cruz kept a repeat offender in prison, Brooks says he’s not a good Christian.

David Brooks does not like Ted Cruz. In an escalating series of attacks, Brooks has gone from saying that Cruz doesn’t “live within the confines of reality” and is “nakedly ambitious” — a “selfish Machiavellian” — to now saying that Cruz’s rhetoric is “Satanic” or perhaps “Mephistophelian.”

But Brooks really tears into Cruz in his latest column, arguing that his speeches are “marked by what you might call pagan brutalism.” He claims that Cruz’s “career and public presentation” are devoid of “the Christian virtues: humility, mercy, compassion and grace.” To bolster his argument, Brooks highlights the Supreme Court case of Dretke v. Haley, claiming that it presents Cruz at his pharisaical worst, “applying the letter of the law in a way that violates the spirit of the law, as well as fairness and mercy.”

Brooks not only mischaracterizes the case, he does so in a way that indicates that he’s the one lacking in charity — that his hatred for Cruz is impacting his professional judgment.

Here’s how Brooks describes the case:

In 1997, Michael Wayne Haley was arrested after stealing a calculator from Walmart. This was a crime that merited a maximum two-year prison term. But prosecutors incorrectly applied a habitual offender law. Neither the judge nor the defense lawyer caught the error and Haley was sentenced to 16 years.

Eventually, the mistake came to light and Haley tried to fix it. Ted Cruz was solicitor general of Texas at the time. Instead of just letting Haley go for time served, Cruz took the case to the Supreme Court to keep Haley in prison for the full 16 years.

Cruz is terrible, right? Rather than let Haley go, he vindictively pursued the case all the way to the Supreme Court to keep a relatively harmless calculator thief in prison, right?

Not so fast. It turns out the facts are more complicated. Haley was a two-time felon, previously convicted of delivering amphetamine and of robbery. The calculator theft was his third felony, and under fairly typical state statutes mandating far more draconian penalties for three-time felons, he was sentenced to a lengthy prison term.

But here’s the catch — he committed his second felony (the robbery) three days before his amphetamine conviction became final. For the habitual-offender provision of Texas law to apply, the second conviction had to occur after the first conviction became final. No one caught this mistake (including his defense lawyers) — not at the trial level or in either of his two subsequent state-court appeals.

When his defense team finally identified the mistake, he filed first a state, then a federal habeas corpus application. The issue before the Supreme Court was extraordinarily complex, dealing in part with the “actual innocence exception to procedural default of constitutional claims challenging noncapital sentencing error.” (Got that?) And far from pursuing the case vindictively and viciously, Cruz admitted that Haley had a “significant” ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim and promised that Texas would not reincarcerate Haley while he litigated that defense.

The end result? Cruz won a narrow victory on the point of law before the Supreme Court, and the case was remanded to lower courts, where Haley was resentenced to “time served.”

The issue before the Supreme Court wasn’t about “compassion” at all but rather about a set of legal arguments that could have widespread impact on federal criminal practice. Cruz was arguing a point of constitutional law that, if he had lost, would have permitted — in Justice O’Connor’s phrase — “judge-made rules” that “would have the unhappy effect of prolonging the pendency of federal habeas applications as each new exception is tested in the courts of appeals.”

#share#The sad truth is that pundits, the secular public, and all too many Christians confuse “nice” with “Christian.” Thus, they judge one’s authentic Christianity by superficial measures such as tone, or define concepts such as justice or mercy through a non-Christian lens. In reality, however, the finest of Christians adopt a wide variety of dispositions, and even the most winsome and gentle find themselves rejected and scorned if they hold firm on questions of life and sexual morality. An authentic Christian simply cannot “nice” his way into elite applause.

Brooks — perhaps because he doesn’t follow Christian news closely — has perhaps missed those events where Cruz’s true compassion shines through. When I was a senior counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, Cruz — along with Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham — was one of a very short list of senators whom we could count on to speak up for the persecuted church. He was the only senator to attend a prayer vigil for Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American still being held hostage in Iran merely because of his Christian faith:

Is that video an example of Cruz’s “pagan brutalism?” What about his persistent efforts to defund Planned Parenthood or his stalwart defense of religious liberty? I understand the establishment fury at Ted Cruz. His rhetoric has been tough — and so are their shots right back at him. But on substance, he’s consistently correct.

#related#I knew Cruz just a bit back in law school (he was a year behind me). I haven’t spoken to him since. So I can’t testify as to the state of his heart or how he treats his friends and family. I can’t speak to his core character. But his anger at the Obama administration is justified, and his anger’s electoral appeal will be tested again and again in coming months. And before anyone accuses him of paganism or Satanism, recall that he follows a Savior who once declared, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword,” and said of his critics, “You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear outwardly beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.”

Anger, by itself, is not a sign of unrighteousness, and it is quite telling that Brooks’s big attack piece relies on an extraordinarily misleading characterization of a single Supreme Court case. If Cruz is so “pagan” — so “Mephistophelian” — then surely examples abound. If they do, then share them. If not, in attacking Cruz for his tone with language that exceeds anything that Cruz has said even about his worst political enemies, Brooks isn’t a defender of Christian charity — he’s a hypocrite.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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