Ted Cruz is now running strongly among evangelical voters, especially in Iowa. But in his career and public presentation Cruz is a stranger to most of what would generally be considered the Christian virtues: humility, mercy, compassion and grace.
• David Brooks
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What is your idea of a “Christian” politician?
If a candidate for President of the U.S. claims to be a Christian, a Bible-believing Christian, and an evangelical Christian (one who believes in and promotes the good news of Jesus Christ), what characteristics do you expect that person to display?
Ted Cruz claims to be just such a Christian, and in David Brooks’s opinion, he fails to match his perception of what a Jesus-follower seeking public office should look like.
In an op-ed in the NY Times, “The Brutalism of Ted Cruz,” Brooks is as blunt and unsparing as I’ve ever heard him to be as he critiques Cruz for his “brutal, fear-driven, apocalypse-based approach,” which the columnist says is the antithesis of everything healthy conservatism (and Christian politics) should stand for.
He begins with an illustration. During Cruz’s tenure as solicitor general of Texas, a man was incorrectly sentenced to sixteen years in prison for stealing a calculator from a Walmart. When the error came to light, the prisoner tried to get it corrected and his sentence overturned. Cruz led an effort to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court to keep him in prison for the full original sentence. Brooks quotes one of the justices, who asked Cruz, “Is there some rule that you can’t confess error in your state?”
That is instructive, according to Brooks.
Cruz’s behavior in the Haley case is almost the dictionary definition of pharisaism: an overzealous application of the letter of the law in a way that violates the spirit of the law, as well as fairness and mercy.
[However, see this clarifying response –it appears Brooks didn’t fully do his homework here.]
Brooks is no conservative basher. He praises other conservative Christian (and Republican) politicians in the past for their commitment to the less fortunate and those treated unjustly. However, Cruz doesn’t match the template.
…Cruz’s speeches are marked by what you might call pagan brutalism. There is not a hint of compassion, gentleness and mercy. Instead, his speeches are marked by a long list of enemies, and vows to crush, shred, destroy, bomb them. When he is speaking in a church the contrast between the setting and the emotional tone he sets is jarring.
He describes Cruz as someone who trades in “apocalyptic fear,” who describes everything in terms of “maximum existential threat,” who “manufactures an atmosphere of menace.”
Cruz manufactures an atmosphere of menace in which there is no room for compassion, for moderation, for anything but dismantling and counterattack. And that is what he offers. Cruz’s programmatic agenda, to the extent that it exists in his speeches, is to destroy things: destroy the I.R.S., crush the “jackals” of the E.P.A., end funding for Planned Parenthood, reverse Obama’s executive orders, make the desert glow in Syria, destroy the Iran nuclear accord.
Some of these positions I agree with, but the lack of any positive emphasis, any hint of reform conservatism, any aid for the working class, or even any humane gesture toward cooperation is striking.
David Brooks is a conservative and a Republican, but he’s one of those moderates that seem to be in danger of extinction. The kind of conservatism and Christian faith he finds wanting in Ted Cruz is a “happy, hopeful” kind that emphasizes the dignity of all people and puts priority on public service, not incendiary rhetoric.
The best conservatism balances support for free markets with a Judeo-Christian spirit of charity, compassion and solidarity. Cruz replaces this spirit with Spartan belligerence. He sows bitterness, influences his followers to lose all sense of proportion and teaches them to answer hate with hate.
In a column where readers responded to this editorial, not everyone agreed with David Brooks.
One of them wrote:
Tell that [i.e. that Cruz is a stranger to Christian virtue] to the unborn children he is fighting for every day. I didn’t see Obama leave an empty seat for them during the State of the Union speech. Tell that to the nation of Israel, whose trust and relationship the current administration has thrown away.
But I think this reader misses the point, as do so many who are flocking to the Trumps and Cruzes of the world. David Brooks is arguing “Christian” politics should be defined as much by the way positions are advanced and fought for as by the positions themselves.
However, as another reader noted, this (at least so far) has been an election campaign “where angry sells,” and so, at this point, people like Cruz (and Trump) are getting a lot of attention.
Personally, I find myself agreeing with Brooks on this one. But I’m interested in hearing what you think.