I like my state’s junior senator – I really do. But I’m not backing him for the nomination. I don’t think he is ready for the presidency – and don’t think that is the best place for him to use his gifts. Instead, I would like to see President Scott Walker appoint Ted Cruz to the first available opening on the US Supreme Court – preferably replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg. That would make for a good four decades of a constitutional conservative on the High Court.
But on to the announcement itself.
First, the speech was masterful. But then again, when doesn’t Ted Cruz show himself to be a master of the art of political rhetoric? In that he is very much in the mold of Ronald Reagan. The vision he laid out is a conservative one that I think many, if not most, Americans believe in. Unfortunately, he is not the man to bring it to fruition, just as Barry Goldwater was fated to be the prophet of conservative governance rather than the one who brought it into effect. I embrace the vision Ted Cruz presented yesterday – a vision that a generation ago was firmly and undeniably in the American mainstream even if the left-wing opinion elite declare it to be dangerously extreme today – and I believe that most Americans embrace it today.
But I have to admit that I was put off by the choice of Liberty University as the site for the Cruz announcement. It wasn’t just that Cruz chose not to make the announcement here in Houston, the city he calls home in the state he represents in the Senate. It wasn’t just that Liberty University is inextricably tied to its late founder, Rev. Jerry Falwell, and the social conservative movement. It was that the audience itself was composed of students made into involuntary props because the speech was a part of a mandatory student assembly (indeed, students would have been fined by the university for nonattendance). Ted Cruz could have drawn an adoring and enthusiastic audience of supporters any number of places – but he didn’t try to do so. I believe that was a mistake in terms of optics, and an insult to those who would have gladly turned out to voluntarily support Cruz.
But at the same time, I want to point to something very interesting that happened at the speech – something that I believe shows a greater openness to diversity of opinion at Liberty University than one would have found at most public colleges of liberal-dominated private universities.
Yeah, that’s right – a band of Liberty University students wearing shirts supporting Rand Paul placed themselves in the right spot to be in many shots of the Cruz speech. University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. commented on it this way when asked about it by the media.
"The fact that some students attended the service wearing t-shirts supporting another potential candidate shows that our students are not indoctrinated; they are free—and encouraged—to form their own opinions about what they hear in Convocation and to express it," Falwell said.
Considering that any number of institutions of higher education and political campaigns (notably the Obama campaign in both 2008 and 2012) have banned the expression of dissenting political speech during appearances by presidential candidates and their surrogates at campus speeches and rallies, the fact that Liberty University and the Cruz campaign made no such effort to suppress the speech of students who support other candidates shows a level of support for freedom of thought and freedom of expression not generally found on campuses today. I commend both the school and the campaign for modeling truly American values that are too often neglected by the self-proclaimed voices of tolerance on campuses today – and note that the fact that Falwell had to explain to the media why freedom of speech was permitted on campus tells us a great deal about the degree to which suppression of student liberties is expected and accepted at most institutions of higher education today.