As a kid growing up in the first real internet generation, one of the first lessons drilled into me by cautious parents and teachers was don’t over-share. That lesson has changed over the years, from personal safety to personal branding. Your online presence is your big chance to present yourself to future employers the way you would like to be known, we hear. As I understand, this is also the point of the campaign books, for all that they are a distinctly non-smart technology. The book is maybe the only opportunity in the race for the candidate to be their best self—and only their best self. With that in mind, there are things about the Cruz book that don’t make sense, and that I have been puzzling over for a while.
In Cruz’s verbose accounting of his childhood and early career, he presents us with a collection of anecdotes that easily make a case for him being impulsive, easily led by peer pressure, and selfish. His “first conscious memory” (30) is of playing a kazoo in a crowded grocery store until his mother took him home to be spanked. In high school, he describes with glee a campaign of petty vandalism against a rival school, and his delivery of an admittedly-insincere apology (49). Buried in a footnote about interviewing for the Ivies, he mentions that the day after attending a frat party at Dartmouth on a visit, he was so hungover that he had to ask the Brown admissions counsellor to lower her voice (56). In college, he talks about being played for a sucker by a group of upperclassmen in a poker group, ending up $2,000 in debt for the chance to hang out with the popular kids (58), despite a touchingly honest lesson learned in grade school that
“Going from an unpopular kid in junior high to being elected class president in high school was, as one would imagine, a fairly startling transformation…and, interestingly, it taught me a vital lesson: that popularity wasn’t all that consequential. Happiness doesn’t come from popularity, but rather from doing something that matters, making a difference, and fulfilling God’s plan for your life” (36).
Towards the end of his collegiate days, he recounts the gripping tale of his participation in a production of The Crucible at Harvard, at which he got so drunk at the opening night’s cast party that the next day, he had to leave the stage mid-scene (playing the Reverend Parris) to ‘curl into a ball,’ meaning that his “fellow cast members were left to ad-lib the rest of the scene without [Cruz]” (76). With behavior so stupid, careless, and selfish, one might wonder if the scene was better off for his absence.
It’s not that behavior like this disqualifies anyone from any office. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s the inclusion of these anecdotes in Cruz’s pre-presidential campaign memoir that puzzles me. This is Cruz’s one chance to release a package of himself at his best, to control his own narrative. Why leave yourself vulnerable to the kinds of conclusions these anecdotes suggest?
There are further puzzles in the text, further artless moments that don’t seem particularly well thought-out. For one, he steals a trick half from Scott Walker and half from Ben Carson, starting each chapter with a cold-open in breathless suspense. However, these are never related to the subject of the subsequent chapter. In fact, this disconnect is highlighted by Chapter five, which opens with a line not out of place coming from a freshman-year creative writing class: “As the Holocaust survivor entered the White House that morning, to receive a medal from the president of the United States, Elie Wiesel’s thoughts were troubled” (96). The anecdote goes on to praise Reagan, and make it very clear that Cruz is pro-Israel. Three pages later, after a dividing line, we jump into the real story: “It was almost impossible to believe. After the many sleep-deprived nights on the campaign, after the hours upon hours of strategy sessions, memos, policy briefings, and meetings, it was all a waste” (98). This is the introduction the chapter needed, introducing the drama of the 2000 Bush campaign and the recount, and leading into Cruz’s time in the Bush administration. While the first opening lays on the pathos of the Holocaust survivor and Reagan, as well as communicating Cruz’s position on Israel, what it has to do with Bush and Ted Cruz’s life is unclear.
This leads us to another problem of fit and relevance. Cruz tries to communicate so many policy positions that they do not lay logically within the narrative, and have to be shoehorned in places that feel unsuited to the task—for example, I’ve talked elsewhere about Cruz’s use of his wife to discuss his position on guns, but his use of his mother strikes me as especially crude. In giving his mother’s life story, he talks about how she was among the first women computer programmers in the 1950s—and by the way, the liberal accusation that the Republicans are mounting a ‘war on women’ is bogus (28). On the next page, he talks about one of the great tragedies of her life, losing a young son to ‘crib death’—and has Cruz mentioned that he’s pro-life?
Maybe this is the fundamental problem with Cruz’s book, as I see it: there is just too much here. I suspect that what happened here was that this was a rush job. I suspect that Cruz and his team of associates produced a manuscript, and it went quickly to press, without benefitting from a long period of whittling and sharpening. I suspect Cruz himself is slightly tone-deaf on his own anecdotes, and no one told him that maybe they don’t belong in an extended character assessment of a book; I suspect the campaign team was frantic about ticking boxes for the Conservative bingo and couldn’t see the book for the paragraphs on Elie Wiesel and abortion.
This is speculation, of course. But whatever the process was, A Time for Truth is one of the clearest examples yet of literature falling victim to the campaign.