Everyone this morning will want to talk about Ted Cruz's refusal to endorse Donald Trump. I want to talk about how weird that speech was.
It was weird because he wanted so badly to use the emotional hook of the 9 year old girl mourning her dead father; but that's an almost radioactive story. Where do you go with that?
Conventions are times of excitement. But given the events of the last few weeks, I hope you’ll allow me a moment to talk to you about what’s really at stake.
Just two weeks ago, a nine-year-old girl named Caroline was having a carefree Texas summer – swimming in the pool, playing with friends, doing all the things a happy child might do.
Like most children, she took for granted the love she received from her mom, Heidi, and her dad, a police sergeant named Michael Smith. That is, until he became one of the five police officers gunned down in Dallas.
The day her father was murdered, Caroline gave him a hug and kiss as he left for work. But as they parted, her dad asked her something he hadn’t asked before:
“What if this is the last time you ever kiss or hug me?’”
Later, as she thought of her fallen father, and that last heartbreaking hug, Caroline broke down in tears. How could anything ever be OK again?
Michael Smith was a former Army ranger who spent three decades with the Dallas Police Department. I have no idea who he voted for in the last election, or what he thought about this one. But his life was a testament to devotion. He protected the very protestors who mocked him because he loved his country and his fellow man. His work gave new meaning to that line from literature, “To die of love is to live by it.”
As I thought about what I wanted to say tonight, Michael Smith’s story weighed on my heart. Maybe that’s because his daughter, Caroline, is about the same age as my eldest daughter and happens to share the same name. Maybe it’s because I saw a video of that dear, sweet child choking back sobs as she remembered her daddy’s last question to her. Maybe it’s because we live in a world where so many others have had their lives destroyed by evil, in places like Orlando and Paris and Nice and Baton Rouge. Maybe it is because of the simple question itself:
What if this, right now, is our last time? Our last moment to do something for our families and our country?
That's where he tried to go with it. By that point, you can be forgiven for wondering just what he thinks he's doing. Is he going to blame Hillary for Michael Smith's death? Black Lives Matter? (he almost does that when he mentions the protestors mocking the police in Dallas; an outright lie, as the police were marching with the protestors, even tweeting about the march as it happened.) Is he going to identify himself with Michael Smith, or with Smith's daughter? No, he takes this very concrete story and goes full abstract with it, fully destroys whatever purpose he had in mentioning it. It turns out we are all Michael Smith, which means we're all dead? We'll all leave a mourning 9 year old behind at the end of 2016?
Did we live up to our values? Did we do all we could?So, elections are about putting yourself in mortal danger for the safety of others? Elections are about never seeing your 9 year old daughter again?
That’s really what elections should be about. That’s why you and millions like you devoted so much time and sacrifice to this campaign.
We’re fighting, not for one particular candidate or one campaign, but because each of us wants to be able to tell our kids and grandkids, our own Carolines, that we did our best for their future, and for our country.
Honestly, when I heard this speech last night, my first thought was about all the stories I'd heard about what a brilliant speaker Cruz was, and I thought he was extemporizing, that he was looking for a theme and he wanted to hook this story in, this story from Texas, this story with such an obvious emotional appeal, but he started and he realized he couldn't do it. It's a toxic story if you don't focus on the little girl: either you turn attention to the shooter and what caused him to open fire, or you turn attention to the bete noir of the GOP this week, Hillary Clinton, or you turn attention (as he almost did) to BLM. And whichever way you go, that's when things get ugly.
It's a pattern I recognize from giving sermons (and Cruz speaks like nothing so much as the son of an evangelical preacher, a man determined to make people agree with him). You need a concrete story, something solid that you can attach your abstract ideas to (love; forgiveness; God). You start with the compelling story and soon realize your story outweighs your message, that your story is too concrete and that whatever you do with it, you can't send a message with it. The story is too much of a message itself. When you figure that out on paper, you start over; when you realize that on the stage, when you've started what you thought was going to be a brilliant peroration, you suddenly have a tiger by the tail, and your chances of jumping on its back are about nil. I thought Ted Cruz had walked on stage and found himself holding a tiger. I was amazed to find out this morning he was speaking from prepared remarks.
Somebody needs to fire his speechwriter. Because that portion of the speech has nothing to do with this portion:
America is more than just a land mass between two oceans. America is an idea, a simple yet powerful idea: freedom matters.
For much of human history, government power has been the unavoidable constant in life – government decrees, and the people obey.
Not here. We have no king or queen. No dictator. We the People constrain government.
Our nation is exceptional because it was built on the five most powerful words in the English language: I want to be free.
Never has that message been more needed than today.
We stand here tonight a nation divided. Partisan rancor, anger, even hatred are tearing America apart.
And citizens are furious—rightly furious—at a political establishment that cynically breaks its
promises and ignores the will of the people.
We have to do better. We owe our fallen heroes more than that.
Of course, Obama and Clinton will tell you that they also care about our children’s future. And I want to believe them. But there is a profound difference in our two parties’ visions for the future.
It goes on in that vein; I won't bore you with the details. But notice how Officer Smith and his daughter have ceased to be relevant to this argument. Notice, too, how he tries to bring them back in by making partisan rancor a failing that demeans Michael Smith and makes Caroline cry, and how he tries to make poor grieving Caroline into all of our children. Nice, coming from a man so partisan he goes on to refuse to endorse the GOP candidate as he lays the groundwork for his own candidacy in 2020. And toxic, too; if he emphasized that point any further, he would look like the vile creature he really is.
He attacks Obama and Clinton, in uninteresting terms (and outright lies). He moves to ISIS, Obamacare, the moon landing (big government! irony alert!), the internet, and the 10th Amendment, even the Civil Rights Act (wait? States rights?), none of which has anything to do with Caroline or the death of Michael Smith (no mention of the 2nd Amendment, or whether Michael Smith might have passed his killer on the street and not noticed a man carrying a rifle because, you know, freedom); but in the end, he returns to Caroline, who of course he has to associate with love (certainly not with the 2nd Amendment and "FREEDUMB!"):
And it is love that I hope will bring comfort to a grieving 9-year-old girl in Dallas – and, God willing, propel her to move forward, and dream, and soar . . . and make her daddy proud.Gotta wonder about any reference to "fighting" so close to a reference to a grieving 9 year old whose father was shot down by a man who thought he was fighting for freedom, but by then the crowd wasn't listening, and the pundits today will only talk about Cruz's failure to endorse Donald Trump.
We must make the most of our moment – to fight for freedom, to protect our God-given rights, even of those with whom we don’t agree, so that when we are old and gray . . . and our work is done . . . and we give those we love one final kiss goodbye . . . we will be able to say, “Freedom matters, and I was part of something beautiful.”
Thank you. And may God bless the United States of America.
I think we should give a moments thought to what a very, very callow person Ted Cruz is, and how he was the runner up in the GOP primaries this year. That doesn't speak well for 2020.