There was a western released in the late seventies called “Comes A Horseman”. It was good but not great and it probably isn’t even the best Western movie analogy for the point I am trying to make here. High Noon with a little bit of High Plains Drifter (Clint Eastwood) thrown in would probably have been better but those film titles didn’t segue nearly as well…author’s privilege.
The familiar story in some of these Western’s goes like this; townspeople and at least one woman who won’t settle for a man with a squishy backbone in her life, yearn for a man of principle and a strong sense of right and wrong to show up. Then along comes James Caan or Gary Cooper, or Clint Eastwood. At first the town folk are thrilled that this guy is going to stand up for them, but they always end up offended by his insistence on moral absolutes. When the hero calls them to task for their own role in the thieving or cattle rustling, they deem him too harsh, too principled, not pragmatic enough. They begin to murmur behind his back, “Now hold on a minute partner (okay they probably don’t say partner if the Western was made after 1930 but again…author privilege)…a man can take things too far! We just wanted you to get rid of a couple of bad guys so we could return to business as usual. Now you’re steppin on our toes.”
All my life I have heard conservatives and conservative pundits cry out for a statesman not a politician, for a man (or woman) that would stand for principle not party. Yet last Wednesday night, when Ted Cruz embodied exactly that type of leadership, many conservative pundits and fellow Republican politicians were apoplectic. Of course we all expected Cruz to be vilified by Democrats and the main stream media no matter what he had said in his speech. But it was beyond disappointing to hear such a negative reaction from fellow conservatives. Even media figures and politicians who had been very supportive of Cruz throughout the primaries joined in the piling on.
I could understand it a little better if these conservative critics simply thought Cruz made a tactical error politically, but they went further than that to question Cruz’s motives. I am stunned by how many consistently label Cruz as only self-serving; as though he couldn’t possibly be genuinely trying to do what he thought was right. As with his filibuster on Obamacare, where Cruz is blamed for single handedly shutting down the Government, (last I checked Harry Reid had the capability to avoid a shut-down had they not been so inflexible themselves) it seems never to occur to conservative talking heads that Cruz might actually have been trying to do what he had promised his constituents he would do if elected. Also last week, as was done following the filibuster, the term “stunt” was thrown around quite often on Thursday when evaluating Cruz’s speech.
Is it possible that conservatives have gone so long without truly principled leadership that many didn’t recognize it when they saw it? Isn’t it more of a condemnation on the current jaded state of conservative punditry than it is on Ted Cruz that so few saw his stand as courageous? We talk about the founders and founding principles constantly. So what do the so called “experts” suppose a George Washington or a John Adams would have done in a similar situation? Pundits are free to disagree with Cruz’s conclusions but Cruz genuinely believes that Trump will be harmful both to the country and to the party, a position most of Cruz’s critics held until eight weeks ago. Had Washington or Adams believed the same would they have endorsed for the so called “greater good”.
Like those western towns folk, many conservatives only think they want statesmanship. Because when I hear phrases like, “suicide note” and “self-serving stunt”, I can’t help but hear echoes of “now hang on there a minute partner, a man can take things too far.”
Conservatism cried out for decades for a selfless leader who was willing to stand against the tide and articulate conservatism. Then when that leader showed up and did exactly that, we discovered that conservatism has been so compromised, so watered down, that three fourths of our own movement didn’t recognize true leadership when they saw it.