On That Speech from That Guy

No hidden fees! No contract! No one forcing you to eat lawn clippings!

Are you interested yet? Does it matter what I’m selling, when the terms are this good? Does it even matter if I know what I’m selling? Do you want to be forced to eat lawn clippings? Those are the choices – my nebulous shadow of an idea, or everyone being forced to eat lawn clippings.

I knew you’d come around.

This is roughly the proposition Ted Cruz offered students of Liberty University last week. Cruz’ speech announcing his candidacy was the first major announcement of the 2016 campaign, and hundreds in the Liberty audience applauded his every word. Almost 40% of Republicans polled this week said they would consider voting for him, twice as many as prior to the speech. I have three questions for them/you/pronouns:

Why are the accomplishments of a leader’s family important?

Cruz’ first 10 minutes were spent describing how his mother and father rose from poverty, prison, and vice into education, entrepreneurship and Christianity. I’m sincerely pleased for them, but I’m pleased in the way I am when people talk about their March madness bracket. I’m glad you’re excited. The difference is that (with a few exceptions) people aren’t trying to get me to change my worldview based on their ability to predict basketball results.

Cruz, however, wants us to believe that his presidency will allow Americans to pull themselves up by the laces of their Converse because his parents did the same. Unfortunately, you cannot simultaneously ask people to like you because your parents were good, hardworking Christians and ask people to like your vision of America where all you need is a work ethic to succeed. I’m not discounting the contributions parents make in instilling the kinds of values needed to contribute usefully to the country, but many of us have had great parents and become total train wrecks, and vice versa. It isn’t relevant to the discussion.

Why are platitudes to which we all can agree important?

“Imagine, instead of economic stagnation, booming economic growth.”
“Imagine young people coming out of school with four, five, six, job offers.”
“Imagine that every single child, regardless of race, ethnicity, wealth, or zip code has a right to a quality education.”

I’m on board with the above quotes. Everyone who runs for office in every country in the West is on board with the above quotes. Perhaps a good rule would be that if every single candidate in a given race could make a particular statement, we shouldn’t applaud it from any candidate. If it’s something that Megan Fox could say if she ran for office, it shouldn’t be enough for a prospective president to gain approval.

Why do you trust someone before they have presented any realistic plans?

Toward the end of the speech, Cruz got slightly more specific about things he would do differently than the current administration:
– Repeal the Affordable Care Act
– Abolish the IRS
– Repeal Net Neutrality
– Repeal Common Core

You might agree with Cruz’ assessment that the current administration has failed in these areas – but he didn’t provide any alternatives, and these aren’t binary issues. “No regulation of healthcare, tax, communication, or education” does not solve the problems created by those issues any more than closing Facebook would have solved the problem that people believed they could “do their part” for American Sign Language by dumping ice water on their heads.

Politicians are often cornered into saying things like “I’d rather people voted for the opposition than didn’t vote at all,” and we seem to associate some virtue with lining up for the ballot booth. I think we can raise the bar a little bit this time. As we gear up for another 18 months of mudslinging, complaining about mudslinging, and some pesky voting at the end of it, let’s make our reactions to this campaign season about specific, positive policies, not personality, platitudes, or unfocused anger with the current regime. Let’s aim to see everyone proud not just to get something that says “I Voted”, but that they cast a vote informed by the specific policies they believe will make our country a better place.

We’re going to need a bigger sticker.