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(Photo: Erik S. Lesser/EPA)
Campaign autobiographies, the literary equivalent of selfies taken during a boring dinner party — shameless self-promotion against a background drone of talking points — aren’t actually meant to be read. They exist to be reviewed and talked about, signed at bookstores in primary states and forgotten before the first votes are even cast. So when the New York Times disqualified Republican candidate Ted Cruz’s new book from the best-seller list, having found evidence that copies were being bought in bulk to raise its profile, it provoked an outraged response from Cruz’s campaign. The whole point of the book was to get attention for its author.
Cruz and his publisher, HarperCollins, deny they were trying to game the list — Amazon also weighed in saying there was no evidence of bulk orders — and the Times left open the door to reversing its decision. Ironically, although you wouldn’t know it from the title — “A Time for Truth,” a phrase so anodyne it also served as the title of a book by Richard Nixon’s secretary of the Treasury — Cruz has written a book that people might actually want to read.
Even before his presidential campaign, Cruz was famous — for both his exotic background as the son of a former Cuban revolutionary turned right-wing preacher and as the brash tea party freshman senator who defied his own party leaders to oppose any form of compromise with Democrats.
That gives his story an inherent drama that not many politicians can match. Those wishing to relive Cruz’s thrilling 21-hour filibuster against Obamacare, including his reading of “Green Eggs and Ham” to his daughters watching at home, will find much of interest here. Others may want to go directly to the part about how Cruz tried, and failed, to get his tennis game up to the level where he could hold his own in the weekly matches that Chief Justice William Rehnquist held with his law clerks. It’s a funny, touching admission of failure from someone who enjoyed so much early success, and also one of the few setbacks in his life that he can’t blame on liberals.
Cruz’s biography is a tale etched in resentment. Most often, the villains are Democrats, reflecting a visceral dislike that was bred into him by the father he still idolizes — a father who refused for two years to call his son by the Americanized nickname he adopted (he was born Rafael Edward) because he shared it with a certain famous Democratic senator from Massachusetts. Later, he suffered at the hands of his freshman roommate at Princeton, a “liberal student from New Jersey” who expressed his contempt for the cowboy-boot-wearing Cruz by gluing shut the snooze button on Cruz’s alarm clock. Then there was a “fairly well-known liberal professor” who gave Cruz a B instead of the A he thought he deserved for a paper that compared private charity, favorably, to government welfare as a way to help the poor. “Was it ideological prejudice, or something else?” Cruz asks darkly, adding that the grade probably cost him the summa cum laude diploma he otherwise had earned.
And things only got worse at Harvard Law School, a hotbed of “trendy Marxist philosophy” and a bastion of affirmative action. His outspoken conservative views kept him from the presidency of the Harvard Law Review, and he had to settle for a senior editing post instead. But this apparent setback was not actually a failure, because “the election was not necessarily for the brightest among us, or the most accomplished, or the most articulate. None of us wanted someone like that getting the job and thus increasing his or her odds of getting a Supreme Court clerkship at our expense.” That should reassure any readers concerned that Barack Obama, who was president of the law journal, may have been smarter than Cruz.
Ted Cruz signing his new book, “A Time for Truth: Reigniting the Promise of America.” (Photo: Erik S. Lesser/EPA)
Even at the hands of his fellow Republicans, Cruz has been held back by what he describes as his principled refusal to join the crowd, and what the Republican leadership in the Senate considered his self-righteous grandstanding. He recounts his role in the 2000 presidential campaign and the Supreme Court case that handed the presidency to George W. Bush, for which he expected to be rewarded with a prestigious White House job. But he had to settle for associate deputy attorney general because, “too cocky for my own good,” he couldn’t keep from sounding off to his superiors in the campaign.
There’s no question: Cruz is smart and a first-rate lawyer. He knows just how to frame an argument to his advantage — challenging Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., on gun control by asking if she would be willing to limit the scope of the First or Fourth amendments in the same way she sought to restrict Cruz’s beloved right to bear arms, an exchange that left the veteran Democrat sputtering, “I am not a sixth-grader,” to Cruz’s quiet amusement.
In his book, of course, Cruz has the last word on everything — that’s one reason to write one — and careful readers may want to do a little Googling about some of his assertions. “Under the Obama administration,” he writes, in a characteristic bit of analysis, “the unemployment rate climbed above 10 percent among Hispanics in 2012.” Under the Obama administration, as he does not write, the unemployment rate fell to 6.8 percent among Hispanics in June 2015.
Cruz dismisses as a liberal canard the Republican “war on women” — “a made-up attack, poll-tested to scare single women into thinking that politicians want to take away their birth control. … I’ve been around conservatives all my life, and I’ve never encountered a single person who wanted to ban birth control.” That’s because the tactic adopted by Cruz’s party is to redefine common forms of birth control, such as IUDs, as “abortion,” which it does want to ban. And surely Cruz is acquainted with Republicans, such as former Sen. Rick Santorum, who want to overturn the 1965 ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut, which would allow states to reimpose contraception bans that the Supreme Court threw out a half-century ago. The word for this form of argument is sophistry.
But campaign biographies aren’t aimed at persuading the tiny fraction of voters who are both highly informed and uncommitted to either party. They come out before the primaries, and so — like Cruz’s campaign — are aimed at the party base. Cruz knows his appeal is as the true conservative who is smart enough to debate Hillary Clinton, and he has written the book to make that case. Measured by that yardstick, he deserves an A.