It’s summer, and the interim—thanks, Governor Abbott!—so yesterday I grabbed a beach towel and a glass of iced tea and settled down to read Ted Cruz’s new book, “A Time for Truth.”
The title, in my view, is smarmy. Other than that I found it an enjoyable read, as these things go. Cruz is a deft troll, and although he worked with a ghostwriter, the result is very much Cruz’s voice. [UPDATE: See note, below.] On page 80, he notes that Michael Luttig, the federal appellate judge for whom he clerked, is “an immensely meticulous man.” On page 125, he describes his future wife: “Heidi is a brilliant, meticulous, sunny blonde from California, and I was smitten with her almost immediately.”
No one describes a wife as “meticulous” because they were looking for a filler word, so based on details like that, along with Cruz’s habitual, lawyerly precision, I think we can proceed on the assumption that some of the more newsy passages in the book are conveying the messages that they were intended to. The book doesn’t say anything unduly critical of Karl Rove, for example, but the mutual contempt between the two jumps off the page.
Reading between the lines a little, here are five things that jumped out to me. The last one is the best, so read on below.
1.There’s a lot of attention paid to Rafael Cruz, for obvious reasons, including by Cruz himself in this book, but his mother, Eleanor Darragh, seems like the more interesting of the two parents. She was the first in her family to go to college, and she went to Rice, over the vehement objections of her father, who didn’t think women should be going to college at all, where she proceeded to major in math, after which she became a computer programmer at Shell. Also, it was she who suggested “Ted” as a nickname for her son, nee Rafael Edward Cruz, after he became frustrated because his nickname—Felito—rhymed with several of the most popular corn chips of his youth. And when the elder Cruz complained that “Ted” is not a nickname for “Edward,” she cited Ted Kennedy as a counterargument.
2.You can tell Cruz’s mother was a computer programmer, because he himself is basically a Fitbit. In law school he used six different colors of highlighters while studying, even when his then-girlfriend, an economics PhD student, was watching. (“And when you are being mocked by MIT graduate students for geeking out, you really have a problem.”) More intriguing is that he describes applying an equally programmatic approach to himself at various points throughout the book; also in law school, for example, he imposed a rule on himself not to speak more than once a week in each class. (He reports that the exercise had a positive effect: “Restricting what you say forces you to be selective.”)
3.This analytical bent leads him to some positions that are logical enough, but squarely at odds with his durable reputation as a wacko bird. At Princeton, for example, he and his roommate/debate partner David Panton argued that “rather than discriminating based on race, Princeton should instead adopt economic affirmative action…that policy would accomplish similar ends, but would be far more fair.” (This is correct, and one of the reasons Texas’s “top 10% rule” has been so successful.)
4.Cruz would make a good Supreme Court justice. Awkwardly enough, he’s currently running for president, which could create some problems if he ever decides to turn his eye in that direction; everything he’s said about gay marriage in the past week, for example, is now part of the record that would be discussed during Senate confirmation hearings.
And most striking…
5.Cruz may have just killed the Tea Party, at least as we know it. He’s not the first person to draw a connection between Ross Perot and the Tea Party movement, but he is the first Tea Party icon, as far as I’m aware, to say that “the roots of what became the tea party movement had its first shoots back in 1992.” This follows his discussion of the 2012 campaign for the Republican Senate nomination, which he frames as grassroots vs the establishment, or people vs power, outsiders vs both broken parties, rather than conservative vs moderates; it also follows about two hundred pages of text in which he repeatedly talks about the importance of framing the argument. So this seemingly casual comment about Perot, in other words, is Cruz reframing himself: He’s not a Tea Party wacko bird but an outsider, a reformer, and if anyone misread him, it’s because they misread the Tea Party. Smart! (But that part we already knew).
UPDATE: Per a source, Cruz apparently didn’t work with a ghostwriter. I had heard that he was planning to when the book deal itself was announced–and I didn’t think to check before I wrote this post, because that’s fairly standard practice for political memoirs–but having read the book, I can believe that. Apologies, Senator Cruz. And congratulations—the cool thing about writing a book is that whatever you do next, the “author” badge lasts forever.
As a journalist, it was an interesting tip, so if you’ll humor me, I’ll explain why. For context, there’s nothing wrong with ghostwriters. It just means that readers should wary of overinterpreting any given passage, because it’s possible that the exact wording originated with the ghostwriter and was approved by the author rather than crafted by him. Rick Perry’s Fed Up!, for example, is my all-time favorite campaign book, in part because the voice is clearly not Perry’s, and it’s funny to think of the governor sitting at his desk, wearing his glasses, mulling his apercus. In this case, though, the book is clearly in Cruz’s voice, which is why I mentioned the ghostwriter in the first place; my impression while reading was that it would be a relatively safe bet to assume that the book’s language is precise and deliberate. And after hearing from my source—yeah, definitely a safe bet. A Rosetta Stone for the meticulous Mr Cruz? It’s a pleasure to issue this correction.
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)