They say location means something when you start a campaign. To this day, Democrats make a lot out of Ronald Reagan holding his first campaign rally after winning the Republican presidential nomination in 1980 in a town known as the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan. For Reagan's enemies, this could only mean that the candidate was appealing to white racists. His defenders argue that there was little in Reagan's actual speech that could be interpreted that way. The message sent by Senator Cruz of Texas in his choice of venue to launch his presidential campaign is less ambiguous. He spoke this morning at Liberty University, the school founded by Jerry Falwell, and his appeal was unabashedly "Christianist" if not "Protestantist."
Cruz sees born-agains as an untapped demographic if not the core of the hidden majority Republicans believe in. He noted this morning that "roughly half of born again Christians aren't voting," and while he didn't claim that they alone could tip the balance in a national election, he clearly thinks they can only make a difference for the better. He credits the survival of his parents' marriage to both of them getting born again. He implicitly credits his own faith with getting him through a tough economic time. Cruz is smart to offer his own story to young voters of any denomination. The story is that his parents went bankrupt before he went to college. He had to take out more than $100,000 in student loans and still had to work two jobs to make it through. Young people can empathize with that, but I wonder whether the empathy really goes both ways. Students should ask themselves, or ask Cruz if they get a chance, whether he feels that young people today shouldn't have to go through all that to get an education. His answer would tell a lot about him. I suspect he would say that his ordeal enhanced his character, while his faith sustained him. What follows from that is uncertain. There's something to be said for cultivating talents and traits to help you adapt to and overcome adversity. But I suspect that many Republicans feel that if they had to go through shit to get an education, so should every future generation, the alternative being some kind of decadence and a stunting of character. Cruz said nothing more about education beyond the elementary level, and on that subject he made predictable noises about school choice with an extra nod to home schooling thrown in. If he believes that an educated, truly competitive workforce for the future is a national imperative that can't be left to personal responsibility, he didn't let on at Liberty University.
What does it mean to be a Christianist politician today? It certainly doesn't make you an anti-semite, since Cruz basically promised unconditional support for Israel, or at least for the Netanyahu government. It may make you an Islamophobe, on the evidence of Cruz's promise not only to fight Islamic terrorism but to "call it by name." It definitely conditions your understanding of liberty, at least if you believe, as Cruz does, that human rights come not from man but from God, and do not extend to full equality for homosexuals. God raised two great pillars of liberty as far as Cruz is concerned: the right to live according to the New Testament and the right to make money. The only things keeping Americans out of work or holding back American entrepreneurship, he claims implicitly, are taxes and regulations. Greed, one could infer, never put anyone out of work. Let President Cruz do his thing and we'll be back to full employment promptly ... or as close to it, more likely, as the Market and/or God will allow. Let Cruz do his thing and let Jesus into your life, he argues, and you'll have no worries.
As a Christianist, Cruz believes that "God's blessing has been on America from the very beginning of this nation." Striking an optimistic note while working the born-again crowd, he added, "I believe God isn't done with America yet." Like many a limited-government type, Cruz invokes Thomas Jefferson, who otherwise isn't a great fit with a Christianist agenda. He had a lot to say about God, though his God might not exactly be the personal buddy Cruz claims to know. When Cruz talks about God not being finished with the U.S., I can't help thinking of something slightly similar that Jefferson wrote. The specific context is obsolete -- Jefferson was writing in his hypocritically critical way about slavery -- but a certain generality and a self-awareness of hypocrisy that seems absent in Cruz's chest beating about American supremacy haunts the old man's famous observation: "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just."