My response, published in the Austin Statesman, to Ted Cruz’s speech about what it means to be a “child of Reagan.” Needless to say I think he’s way off base.
Riehl: Ted Cruz is no Ronald Reagan
Posted: 7:00 p.m. Sunday, June 23, 2013
By Jonathan Riehl
Ted Cruz, the state’s junior senator, continues to attract comment. Recently, we offered differing Hispanic views on Cruz. Today, we offer differing Republican perspectives on him
Sen. Ted Cruz made news with his speech on May 29 declaring himself and other 40-something and 50-something senators to be “children of Reagan,” keepers of the Republican torch and inheritors of the Great Communicator’s leadership.
As someone who is more accurately a “child of Reagan” — he was a daily presence in my family’s living room while I grew up from age 4 to 12 — I take strong exception. It was Ronald Reagan’s fatherly and grandfatherly presence that led me to pursue the study of conservatism, a life engaged in public policy and teaching communications. Every day now I am saddened to see that the person who I as a child saw as the embodiment of leadership would no longer be welcome in his own party.
This child of Reagan agrees with former U.S. Sen. Robert Dole that the GOP should be closed for repairs. And, further, that Republican leaders Dole and I both admire and defend — Reagan, Nixon, Eisenhower, Lincoln — would stand little chance in the modern party. This meltdown is why I, and many others, have switched sides. We do not wish to be grouped with the know-nothing tactics of the new tea party GOP, uninterested in governance or compromise, taking short views rather than long ones, contemptuous of dissent and of intellectual exchange.
Reagan was interested in ideas — not just his own, but the ideas of others. He engaged in debate and compromise. He was strong in the face of opposition, on the national and international stages, but just as willing to sit down and work things out with opponents Tip O’Neill and Mikhail Gorbachev.
As a child of Reagan, I absorbed these lessons. I had parents who helped me soak it in and encouraged me to read about him in the newspapers and history books, to understand and get involved in politics because only a figure like Reagan could convince them — anti-war protesters from the ’60s generation — that the Republican Party represented the best of the country’s traditions.
Ted Cruz and his tea party cohort do not represent this noble legacy. They are bomb throwers, naysayers, anti-compromise, anti-reason, anti-science, and builders of division. Ronald Reagan taught me, as a child, that politics was a good and open profession, something we could reach out and touch, communicated through positive and uniting terms. And no, I would not have agreed with Reagan’s policies on all matters. But the question here is why our discourse has become so ugly.
I take a great deal of flak from my liberal friends in academia, and elsewhere, for my continued respect for the conservative movement that Reagan did so much to build. Guilt by association has infected both sides of our national debate. Only when the parties engage can we move forward. Earlier Republicans, including Reagan, understood this age-old principle. Today’s “conservatives” do not.
So, Ted Cruz, I say you are not a child of Reagan. You are a child of some other era, perhaps born too late. Perhaps you would have been more at home in the days of Aaron Burr and dueling pistols rather than reasoned debate; perhaps you would have welcomed a seat on the House Un-American Activities Committee along with Joe McCarthy. But “child of Reagan” you are not. Your formative years were spent listening to the feckless words of Jimmy Carter, and perhaps that colored your understanding of the true trajectory of conservatism as a long-term project — not just a reaction to Carter’s failure.
I am all the more struck by Cruz’s speech because I did get to know him, in a limited way, while researching my dissertation on the Federalist Society, the nation’s leading organization of conservative and libertarian lawyers, law students and professors. I have profound respect for the group, where Cruz was a presence as Texas attorney general. Unlike the echo chamber that the conservative movement, CPAC, and the right-wing media complex have become, the Federalists uphold the true legacy of conservatism — respectful debate and exchange.
As I’ve been able to look back, it has become clear I would not have supported all of Reagan’s policies. My Vietnam War protester mother waited hours in the rain to walk by Reagan’s coffin in respect while he lay in state in the U.S. Capitol. In my family I see these parallels, and draw them to attention here. The Republican Party might learn some lessons from that.
Reagan was part of a tradition I greatly respect. These new pretenders are not. Their push to the extreme right continues, led by firebrands like Cruz who are executing a takeover from within, and falsely re-creating the legacy of a great leader in their own image.
Riehl is a political communications consultant and professor of comunications at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, N.C. He is completing a book on the modern conservative movement.