Ted Cruz often speaks with an evangelical fervor from the pulpit, uh, the lectern, at his political rallies. Surprisingly, he was attacked from the right recently, a place he likely never thought he was vulnerable. An ad produced by Americans United for Values criticized Cruz for being a "false prophet" for not tithing or giving ten percent of his income to charities. In fact, Cruz gave a miserly one percent between 2006 and 2010.
Descending from Mt. Sinai, Cruz responded:
"I'm a Christian first, American second, conservative third and Republican fourth...I'll tell ya, there are a whole lot of people in this country that feel exactly the same way."
Now of course many people would put their role of husband or father above that of their political party, but that observation is secondary. In fact, writing for the Daily Kos Ian Reifowitz correctly called Cruz's statement a form of "Christian Privilege!" Imagine for a moment if President Obama said he is a black man first and an American second. The right wing and many on the left would have shouted "radical" and "militant." Surely, Mitt Romney would be referred to as "Mr. President" right now.
As the Daily Kos article points out, if a "Muslim of any prominence" were to say this same thing his image would appear above the caption "Terrorist" on Fox news.
When one's words and actions are inconsistent, the term "hypocrite" is appropriate. In a January editorial in the New York Times, David Brooks revealed an anecdote which illustrated how Cruz characteristically acted more like some comic book avenger than a compassionate Christian. In Brooks's words:
"In 1997, Michael Wayne Haley was arrested after stealing a calculator from Walmart. This was a crime that merited a maximum two-year prison term. But prosecutors incorrectly applied a habitual offender law. Neither the judge nor the defense lawyer caught the error and Haley was sentenced to 16 years.
Eventually, the mistake came to light and Haley tried to fix it. Ted Cruz was solicitor general of Texas at the time. Instead of just letting Haley go for time served, Cruz took the case to the Supreme Court to keep Haley in prison for the full 16 years.
The case reveals something interesting about Cruz's character. Ted Cruz is now running strongly among evangelical voters, especially in Iowa. But in his career and public presentation Cruz is a stranger to most of what would generally be considered the Christian virtues: humility, mercy, compassion and grace. Cruz's behavior in the Haley case is almost the dictionary definition of pharisaism: an overzealous application of the letter of the law in a way that violates the spirit of the law, as well as fairness and mercy."
Unfortunately, this mean-spirited pettiness lifts the mask of gentility and decency off the Christian right. Undoubtedly, Cruz's ascension among his political base is based on tales such as this one and such self-righteous moral fervor. Ted Cruz worked tirelessly to get a guy who stole a calculator from Walmart to serve sixteen years in prison for his crime. How tragic!
Surely, the phrase "compassionate conservative" is an oxymoron and a ruse to get just a few more votes from well meaning people on both sides of the political divide. The phrase "vigilante Republican" is a more fitting description than anything that brings to mind charity and justice.
Writing in Salon magazine Amanda Marcotte had the final word:
"The reality is that Ted Cruz is what these folks have always been: Mean-spirited people who use religion as a cover for their desire to control and punish. Brooks isn't wrong that Christianity is supposed to espouse "humility, mercy, compassion and grace," but for the Christian right, that's always just been a handy disguise to wear while working on the true mission, which is control, punishment, deprivation, and abuse."