David Brooks is wrong about Ted Cruz—for reasons I learned from Brooks.
I am a longtime fan of both Brooks and Cruz. While that fandom might put me in a tiny Venn diagram, it makes sense to me: both deeply appreciate human nature. Both are exceptionally educated and well-read. Both have a profound respect for Western civilization.
In fact, I bought Brooks’ “The Social Animal” as Christmas gift for my father, and spent last weekend in Iowa volunteering for Cruz’s presidential campaign. This is why it pained me to see Brooks claim Cruz subscribes to pagan brutalism, a characterization that strikes me as not only too simplistic but blatantly untrue.
Man’s Two Adams
In Brooks’ “The Character Code,” he describes twentieth century rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s concept of humankind as “two Adams,” two archetypes illustrated by the different depictures of the first human in Genesis 1 and 2: a mighty, worldly, conquering Adam, and a contemplative, inward-focused Adam aware of his weaknesses. As Brooks describes the concept,
Adam One is the man of majesty who wants to be creative, who wants to seek, who wants to achieve excellence. Adam Two is the man of humility, who wants to be submissive, who wants to be part of a community, wants to submit to God, who’s conscious of the long chain of history.
Neither archetype is morally superior. “We have both of them in us,” Brooks says. “Both are willed by God and they’re never fully reconcilable.” Brooks describes Adam One as embodying an honor code originating in ancient Greece, the kind of virtues and courage ascribed to King Leonidas and Spartans at Thermopylae; Adam Two describes figures like author Dorothy Day or Mother Teresa, examples of humility and cooperation.
Great statesmen succeed in merging the two codes. “Abraham Lincoln personifies it,” explains Brooks. “Tremendously ambitious man, fighting a war, at the same time the author of the Second Inaugural, submitting, trying to merge these two [Adams].” In the modern West, the “attempt to merge these two things is what we’ve lost,” allowing the values of Adam One to crowd Adam Two out of public life.
Ted Cruz Blends Both Archetypes
I understand Brooks’ claim that Cruz replaces Christian charity with “Spartan belligerence” to mean Brooks thinks Cruz skews toward Adam One. Cruz obviously does partake in Adam One’s virtues. He has the resume: Texas senator, super lawyer, Supreme Court clerk, national debate champion, Harvard and Princeton graduate.
Cruz appeals to Adam One’s principles: he calls upon “courageous conservatives” to fight “the Washington cartel.” As I witnessed first-hand in Iowa, his well-funded campaign is the most technologically advanced and best organized in the race.
However, Brooks overlooks virtues that show the nature of Cruz’s Adam Two. While Brooks claims Cruz leaves “no room for compassion,” he neglects that Cruz began his Senate term arguing Republicans must “conceptualize and articulate every domestic policy with a single-minded focus on easing the ascent up the economic ladder.” Cruz has even suggested conservatives use a “Rawlsian lens” to judge policy, “asking how it affects those least well-off among us.”
It’s true that Cruz does not support Great Society-style programs to aid the less fortunate because, as Brooks himself has said, they are “more of a failure than a success.” That’s why Cruz has said the question he hopes to ask Hillary Clinton is about the harm progressivism does to “the most vulnerable. Young people, Hispanics, African-Americans, single moms.”
But Brooks is wrong that Cruz lacks “compassion, gentleness and mercy.” Even if one might disagree with Cruz’s free-market, limited-government policies, in every way he aims to expand opportunity for the less fortunate.
Ted Cruz Is Also Contemplative
Cruz’s public life seems to flow from a life of contemplation and study. He began memorizing the Constitution in high school. Prominent Catholic thinker Robert George noted “he might be one of the few U.S. senators who’ve read Tocqueville.” This is why Cruz can quote Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s grandfather and reference not only the Bolsheviks but also the Mensheviks.
As a study of presidential debate transcripts found, Cruz speaks with the greatest complexity of all candidates running. As Kevin Williamson of National Review observed, Cruz thinks deeply, “a man with a theory of justice of his own.” This suggests the inward searching typical of Adam Two.
Cruz exhibits another trait Brooks should identify with the second Adam: sadness. “Cruz regularly talks about his father briefly abandoning the family when the future candidate was just three years old, displaying a look of sadness more nakedly than anyone else in this race,” writes Dan Hill at Reuters. “Cruz’s sadness reflects his belief that the United States is drifting aimlessly — as shorn of proper leadership as a family without a father to guide it.”
We Need Both Adams United in One Man
Voters’ skepticism of the institutions of our republic grows every day. America is undoubtedly worse off today than it was eight years ago by many measures, but if Brooks is right that he can still recognize United States after President Barack Obama’s tenure, it’s because our decline began before 2008.
From perpetual war in the Middle East where Iran pursues nuclear weapons to the fact even a mental health facility in San Bernardino could become a battleground against ISIS, tectonic historical forces of history merit sobriety and even sorrow. Americans in the twenty-first century look back at the carnage of the twentieth century, where even good outcomes like victory in World War II and the collapse of the Soviet Union followed from immense human tragedies, successes accompanied by the fearful destruction of split atoms.
Government programs now inadequately mop up the social chaos attending splintered families and increasingly marginalized faith. The right and proper reaction from Adam Two to our time includes sorrow as well as humility, anger as well as compassion, moral clarity as well as circumspection. And more importantly, Adam Two needs the excellence, courage, and cunning of Adam One to translate thought into action.
A more accurate portrait of Ted Cruz is neither Spartan nor pietistic, but rather Lincoln-esque, a figure notoriously complex in both statesmanship and faith. Cruz seems to me to be a candidate who embodies both Adams, or as Brooks described just before the 2008 election, “more Themistocles than Leonidas, more Bismarck and Sharon than Gandhi.”