Debate Performance Cannot Overshadow Decades of Personal History
One of the aspects of the current campaign climate that I find deeply discouraging is the fact that the majority of the American electorate spends little or no time learning about the candidates in the weeks and months leading up to the primaries, and they apparently spend little or no time during non-election years paying attention to the roles that American politicians, and would-be candidates, play in events and policymaking that are happening both in America and elsewhere around the globe.
One of the shocking and disturbing ramifications of that sad state of affairs is that, for example, in the twenty-four hours leading up to the recent New Hampshire primary, a full 50+ percent of republican and independent voters had not yet decided for whom they were going to cast their ballots.
Every remaining candidate in the republican race has a resume consisting of decades of revealing statements and actions that define his or her character, integrity, accomplishments, honesty, positions on public policy, and the depth and consistency of all of the above. Yet the citizenry either has so little knowledge of those essential prerequisites, or so little interest in them, that a single “poor performance” in a single public debate can often threaten to derail a candidate’s hope of claiming the nomination. And a “poor performance” can be defined as anything as superficial as appearing tired, or too argumentative, or too repetitive, or not sufficiently charismatic, or simply making a single misstatement.
Let’s take the example of Ted Cruz. (Disclaimer: I am an ardent Ted Cruz supporter, thus the choice of him as my example. If you would like the example at hand to be another candidate, then write your own essay.)
Flippant sarcasm aside, let’s look at just a very cursory summary of Cruz’s resume:
Ted Cruz graduated cum laude, with a B.A. in Public Policy, from Princeton. While there, he won many prestigious national debate awards. He then attended Harvard Law School, graduating magna cum laude with a J.D. degree. He was an editor of the Harvard Law Review and executive editor of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. While at Harvard he received many awards and accolades, including being dubbed by Professor Alan Dershowitz (certainly no fan of conservative politics), “off the charts brilliant.”
He served as a law clerk for Chief Justice William Rehnquist, after which he accepted a position with a private law firm, and in that position was instrumental in drafting legal arguments for presentation before both the Florida and U.S. Supreme Courts.
Some of Cruz’s public career assignments included serving as a director of the Federal Trade Commission, as associate Deputy Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice, as domestic policy advisor to President George W. Bush during the 2000 campaign, as Solicitor General of Texas, and as Chairman or Vice Chairman of the following U.S. Senate committees: Commerce Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness, Judiciary Committee on Oversight, Federal Rights and Agency Activities, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
During his service as Solicitor General of Texas, he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court nine times, winning five of those cases. He has authored seventy U.S. Supreme Court briefs and argued forty-three times before the courts, nine of those times before the Supreme Court. He has appeared in that capacity before the Supreme Court more than any other member of congress has.
In academia, he served as an adjunct law professor, teaching Supreme Court legislation, at the University of Texas.
Cruz’s legal credentials and accomplishments have been lauded by many, and he has been recognized for his efforts by having been named one of the fifty best litigators under the age of forty-five in America, one of the fifty most influential minority lawyers in America, and one of the twenty-five greatest Texas lawyers of the past quarter century.
Since his election to the senate in 2012, Cruz has sponsored no fewer than twenty-five of his own bills on issues ranging from the repeal of Obamacare to reforming campaign finance regulations.
Whether or not one agrees with Ted Cruz’s conservative credentials, the above abbreviated resume is the kind of information that any informed voter should have at his or her disposal, not only regarding Ted Cruz, but regarding all viable candidates for the presidency of the United States. I happen to believe that Cruz’s resume is stellar, especially as compared to most others seeking to become the leader of the free world. Other citizens may hold a different opinion, but each of us needs to know precisely what each candidate has accomplished in his or her adult life, by what means he or she has achieved those accomplishments, and whether his or her vision for America is consistent with that record of behaviors and accomplishments.
My question is, how many potential voters, in both the primary and general elections, know any of the above about Senator Cruz? How many potential voters have researched and are aware of at least a similarly cursory resume about each of the other candidates? If the answer to both questions is “very few,” then relatively meaningless things such as two-hour debates, and thirty-second sound-bite political advertisements, develop the dangerous power to become inordinately more influential than they have any right to be in a free republic.
I ask all of you, when you watch the next debate, to take note of your positive or negative reactions to each of the candidates. Then expend the time and energy required to research and delve into that candidate’s decades of genuine personal history. Then ask yourself whether that positive or negative reaction to a possibly offhand comment made in a single evening meshes well with what you have learned about that candidate’s history. If it does not, then chalk your debate impression up to the fact that that candidate had an especially good, or an especially bad, day. We all have them. Do not allow a one-minute glowing promise, or a one-minute slip of the tongue, or a few drops of perspiration, to eclipse a lifetime of achievements, or a lack thereof.
Equally importantly, if you see a political advertisement that claims that a candidate did something that would be deemed distasteful to most voters, research that claim. If you discover it to be a lie or a blatant exaggeration, allow that to reflect on the person making the claim rather than on the person being criticized. If you discover it to be a true representation, add that representation to your own personal research.
More than a decade before America was even formed as a free republic, John Adams wrote, “I must judge for myself, but how can I judge, how can any man judge, unless his mind has been opened and enlarged by reading? A man who can read will find … rules and observations that will enlarge his range of thought and enable him the better to judge who has and who has not that integrity of heart and that compass of knowledge and understanding which form the statesman.”
I strongly suspect that neither Adams nor any of the other Founders would today consider the watching of a few debates, or a few political advertisements, the kind of vigilant research that will provide the American electorate with sufficient evidence to judge who has and has not that integrity of heart and that compass of knowledge to become the leader of the free world at this watershed time in the history of both our nation and the world. I pray that the average American voter shows a willingness to expend the necessary time and energy, over the next few months, so that debates and political advertisements will serve as only one or two of many tools they use in their evaluation of the genuine character, integrity, accomplishments and vision of each potential candidate. Our Founders would ask no less, and our republic’s very existence depends on it.