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Movie Review: The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

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Though I’ve never read the Tarzan stories written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, upon which the new Warner Bros. movie is loosely based, I know from the character’s vast cultural history that they explore civilized and primitive man and nature through great, exotic adventures.

So does The Legend of Tarzan, if not always successfully and with a few cringe-worthy lines and a leap of faith into the third act. This is an underdeveloped epic set in 1890 and much of it is good. It’s not a great picture, but it has moments of wonder, historical basis and loads of exciting entertainment. Powered in the lead by the silent, icy stare of the title character, well played by Stockholm native Alexander Skarsgård (The Giver), whose Tarzan insists on going by his proper name John Clayton, the newest version takes the British aristocrat as a man of honor, integrity and the best of Western civilization.

His heroism is rooted in his incredible past as an extraordinary lord of the jungle.

Through a backstory, told in misty flashbacks courtesy of his brave wife Jane (Margot Robbie), the whole remarkable story of this man of extremes comes together, leading the audience into a new African adventure involving the Congo, Belgium’s King Leopold, imperialism, diamonds, native tribes, slavery, leopards, elephants, lions, hippos and, of course, the family of apes that raised the ape man. All of this is somehow relatively convincing and exciting for most of the movie, despite unfortunate and generic effects such as slow-motion fight scenes and incoherent action shots. The natives and the man of the jungle look too ripped, frankly, but with logical storytelling and good performances from the leads, and by Christoph Waltz (The Green Hornet) as a villain as rotten as Tim Roth in Rob Roy, wrapping his fist in a rosary, The Legend of Tarzan entices and thrills.

With Samuel L. Jackson as a black Union Army veteran from the Civil War (George Washington Williams, based upon the man who knew Frederick Douglass in real life and wrote The History of the Negro Race in America 1619–1880) accompanying Clayton on his return to Africa, and Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond, Baggage Claim), a railroad siege, a deep jungle showdown and a romantic kiss on a tree branch, this Tarzan builds tension as it layers the plot with interesting ideas. Among them are obtaining wealth through enslavement, life as an ongoing lesson and, as its heartbeat, serenity through harmony with nature and man. This last might have delivered an inspired meaning for the movie, which beautifully depicts an African tribe’s blissful reunion with the blue-eyed husband and wife in the village fed by strength, kindness and love.

The Legend of Tarzan, even when images are obviously manipulated, is stunning to behold thanks to cinematographer Henry Braham (Flyboys), costume, production and art design and director David Yates, who directed the last four Harry Potter pictures, does a fine job in the first two acts. For his part, Skarsgård as John Clayton/Tarzan brings to the role an arrogance, depth and solitude other Tarzan movies lack and his ease at being in Africa with wild animals and tribes is more pronounced having been properly introduced to the man he has become since returning to London.

“Tarzan learned to conquer,” the audience is told of his relationship with the dangerous and regal beauty and beasts of the Dark Continent, and, for a long, welcome stretch, one is lost and held by this unique tale of an individualistic aristocrat with scars and muscles and the mind to match who walks among natives with a sense of decency—which goes for his Jane, too—as a plot to trap him thickens. By the climax, with too much to resolve, Yates ties threads together too quickly and doesn’t achieve the secular humanist grandeur this Tarzan movie might have earned. Yet The Legend of Tarzan engages the moviegoer once again in the imaginative world of a boy raised by a wild animal capable of affection, the heroic lord he becomes, the woman just as bold and brave whom he finds, and his ferocious fight for peace and freedom, not for power-lust and conquest as an end in itself. In other words, Tarzan of the West and, happily, of the world.

Book Review: Our Republican Constitution (2016)

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Taking account of the United States Constitution, Georgetown University scholar Randy Barnett, whom I interviewed about ObamaCare after it became law (read it here), makes the case that this historic document is essentially republican in his simply titled new book, Our Republican Constitution: Securing the Liberty and Sovereignty of We the People.

The author proves his thesis. It’s worth mentioning the book’s problems, however, which, in general, are to be found with works by most right-wing, libertarian intellectuals: the intended audience appears to be fellow libertarians and conservatives, so the assumed context of knowledge may not apply to the leftist, liberal or general reader. Also, given the dense material, certain sections are uneven. Barnett writes like the legal scholar he is, so the back and forth can be exhausting. And, as he did in our interview about ObamaCare, Barnett declines to name the correct moral premise of his argument.

With the republic urgently at stake, though, Our Republican Constitution is extremely informative and Randy Barnett makes a powerfully important case for activism in order to save the American republic. He accomplishes this by reducing multiple ideas, if circuitously, to the rights of the individual.

As he observes in the introduction:

At its core, this debate is about the meaning of the first three words of the Constitution: “We the People.” those who favor the Democratic Constitution view We the People as a group, as a body, as a collective entity. Those who favor the Republican Constitution view We the People as individuals.”

From here, incorporating the ideas of John Locke, Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Barnett tells stories based on facts, quotes and history, of American government in decline, from major mistakes during the nation’s founding to the suspicious Supreme Court decision to uphold ObamaCare, in which he notes that “it was reliably reported” that the nation’s Chief Justice—conservative John Roberts—switched his vote on the individual insurance mandate, possibly due to intimidation.

The central conflict in Our Republican Constitution is between these two opposing views, the Democratic Constitution—”first comes government, then come rights”—tied to Rousseau’s notion of the General Will, which Barnett eviscerates, and the premise of the Republican Constitution: “first come rights and then comes government.” After outlining his case with ample historical sourcing and documentary evidence, the author sets it up, asking the reader: “Were the founders really against democracy? You bet. They blamed the problems in the states under the Articles of Confederation on an excess of democracy.”

Differentiating between both sides’ views of popular sovereignty, which he acknowledges are both consistent with the idea of representative government, Barnett breaks down the story of slavery in the United States, which he develops throughout the book. He points out that Democrats defended slavery as a form of socialism, as against capitalism, because, Democrats argued, slaves are cared for from cradle to grave. He digs into details and aspects of whether, “given the sovereignty of the people as individuals, the people cannot be ‘presumed’ or ‘supposed’ to have confided in their legislature any power to violate their fundamental rights.” The answer is No.

Not according to Democrats, of course, who believe that a majority of the people gets to speak for everyone (President Martin Van Buren’s idea of democracy, he writes, was close to Rousseau’s: “He ‘seems to have conceived of the democracy almost as a unified body with a single true will’). Barnett adds: “And the majority, if it wishes, can even authorize the enslavement of the minority!”

Along the journey, which is in turns jaw-dropping, illuminating and, given today’s political context, terribly depressing, the reader learns about an Ohio senator who, in 1854, demanded to know “[w]hat kind of popular sovereignty is that which allows one portion of the people to enslave another portion? Is that the doctrine of equal rights? Is that exact justice? Is that the teaching of enlightened, liberal, progressive Democracy? No, sir; no! There can be no real democracy which does not fully maintain the rights of man, as man.” Or that the Civil Rights act of 1866 granted that:

citizens, of every race and color, without regard to any previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude…shall have the same right…to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property, as is enjoyed by white citizens…any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, to the contrary notwithstanding.

Midway through Our Republican Constitution, it is evident that that’s not the civil rights act that today’s students learn about in state-controlled U.S. history classes (to the extent American history is taught in government schools) and the state of the union today might be very different, which is to say better, if they did!

Piling on shocking tales of early American acts of anti-capitalism, Barnett goes on. Democratic Constitution proponents include Democrats, Rousseau and Oliver Wendell Holmes, whom Barnett demonstrates believed that “if there exists anyone who is rational and fair who thinks that a measure is constitutional, then it is.” Other arch-opponents to a republican Constitution were Woodrow Wilson, who sought to subject America to parliamentary rule, and Theodore Roosevelt who once said of the judiciary: “our prime concern is that in dealing with the fundamental law of the land, and assuming finally to interpret it, and therefore finally to make it, the acts of the courts should be subject to and not above the final control of the people as a whole.”

After establishing the arguments for and against and setting the contrast, the Georgetown University professor sums up the cold, hard truth that America’s “system of voting does not [in fact] allow the sovereign people to ‘rule,’ and it is a pernicious myth to claim that they do.”

Though he never fundamentally, philosophically challenges “the social compact” or General Will, it’s easy to apply the detailed, persuasive points of Barnett’s thesis to today’s ominous possibilities. The prospect of Donald Trump‘s proposed strongman rule comes to mind as Barnett quotes Montesquieu, who explained that: “There is no liberty if the judiciary power be not separated from the legislative and executive. Were it joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control; for the judge would be then the legislator. Were it joined to the executive power, the judge might behave with violence and oppression.”

Barnett delivers a good explanation of the rise of the omnipotent state, closing the loop with an excellent summary and warning from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas:

we have too long abrogated our duty to enforce the separation of powers required by our Constitution. We have overseen and sanctioned the growth of an administrative system that concentrates the power to make laws and the power to enforce them in the hands of a vast and unaccountable administrative apparatus that finds no comfortable home in our constitutional structure. The end result may be trains that run on time (although I doubt it), but the cost is to our Constitution and the individual liberty it protects.”

To his credit, Barnett, who has written several Constitutional volumes and whose new book includes a foreword by George Will, is aware that this thoughtful, timely and intelligent book isn’t exactly what you’d buy for reading at the beach—after one section, he admits that “perhaps you had difficulty even following it”—but he doesn’t identify the ends where we’re heading, merely referring to “whatever progressive political agenda may be at any given time”. Our Republican Constitution would benefit from stronger connecting of the dots, as Barnett himself seems to grasp. For instance, perhaps sensing that an outright socialist such as Bernie Sanders might follow the disaster of a Trump or Clinton presidency, he rightly observes that “[f]or our modern-day progressives, what matters is the end, not the means. Social justice, not democracy.”

Though he does not spell out what this really means in practice, let alone demonstrate why socialism is evil, a chronic libertarian deficiency, and in the following chapter, he magnifies the minutiae, Randy Barnett leaves the reader with an abundance of historical facts and useful intellectual weapons with which to fight for Our Republican Constitution, all but daring the reader to use it or lose it with the words of President Calvin Coolidge: “We live in an age of science and abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them.”

And, while his defense manual for “securing the liberty and sovereignty of We the People” was undoubtedly written before the rise of the orange-haired, state-bred crony and the impending end of the Republican Party, Barnett clearly anticipates danger ahead. Referring to Coolidge’s above quote on freedom as the precondition for progress, Barnett boldly concludes that “we need a Republican Party that can say this, understand this, and truly believe this once again – and, if not the existing Republican Party, then a new one to replace it.”

With an index, extensive notes and a poignant acknowledgment of his father, a victim of Alzheimer’s—”this book is dedicated to the memory of the man who had the greatest influence on my political convictions: my father and personal hero, Ronald Evan Barnett — who was a true “Republican” as I am defining the term”—Our Republican Constitution is a thoughtful Father’s Day present and an eye-opening self-defense for the rational American which offers historical enlightenment about America’s true origins.

Springtime Festivals

This spring, two annual festivals caught my attention. The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at University of Southern California (USC) is always interesting for its literary lectures, panels and appearances. I usually learn about new stories, books and publishing deals, trade trends and developments and run into someone I know or want to know and this year was no exception. I learned about everything from new literary journals and adapting Greek plays to new small publishers, printers for self-published books and blogs, resources and programs for writers.

FOBooksUSC2016The Festival of Books panels, in particular, can get pretentious as writers and editors share their thoughts from the ivory tower and some of the comments reinforce that today’s dominant intellectuals are disconnected—some knowingly—from audiences and reality. For instance, a dramatic arts dean at the university, a published author, admitted that he hadn’t read the play he was adapting. He added that he’d read it once decades ago but seemed oddly proud of his not having studied and mastered his topic, as if this was the point of adaptation; to evade the cause of the work. Others rambled and most speakers at the panel discussions talked as if everyone was familiar with every term, work and literary reference, though moderators tried to keep them grounded in communicating with a wide, general audience.

Listening to writers talk about writing makes me think about better habits, tools and techniques and the event offers an opportunity to meet other writers, editors and publishers. For some of my contracted projects, it’s especially helpful to know about new producers in the market at any point in the writing-to-publishing process. So, overall, I’m glad I went.

Turner Classic Movies hosts a classic movie festival in Hollywood every year, which I attended for the first time in 2015 and again this spring (read my roundup of 2015’s event here and a preview of 2016’s festival here). The panels are, perhaps not surprisingly, less pretentious than the book festival’s, though I found myself wanting more of the exchanges than some of the brief interviews and panels delivered, though Faye Dunaway’s interview was extensive and the star of Network, The Towering Inferno and The Thomas Crown Affair was thoughtful and gracious (more on this later).

ClubTCMBWA panel discussion on journalism and movies with writers, editors and a producer, which I wrote about for LA Screenwriter (read my report here), could have lasted another 45 minutes and I would have stayed. TCM’s panel, which was moderated by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, a TV journalist earlier in his career, included writer/director James Vanderbilt (Truth), Oscar-winning writer Josh Singer (Spotlight), broadcast news producer and author Mary Mapes (portrayed in Truth by Cate Blanchett) and journalist/editor Ben Bradlee, Jr., portrayed by John Slattery in Spotlight—Bradlee was partly responsible for managing the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal, the subject of Spotlight, which won 2015’s Oscar for Best Picture.

This year, I was able to see at least one past Best Picture Oscar winner on the big screen as with last year’s screened classic movies—Too Late for Tears (1949) with Lizabeth Scott, Gunga Din (1939), Malcolm X (1992), Viva Zapata! (1952), So Dear to My Heart (1949) and The Sound of Music (1965)—and this one, Sylvester Stallone’s 1976 hit Rocky, was a film I had never seen in any format. Read the reviews, which include notes on accompanying festival interviews where applicable, either on The New Romanticist or here on the blog as available. So far, besides Rocky, I’ve reviewed Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) with Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, John Singleton’s Boyz N The Hood (1991) with Cuba Gooding, Jr., Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne, Josef von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express (1932) with Marlene Dietrich and Elia Kazan’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) with Dorothy Maguire. I’ve added a review of The Virginian (1946) starring Joel McCrea, which recently screened at the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, too, and there are a few more reviews to come (of The Manchurian Candidate (1962), The Band Wagon (1953) and I’ve Always Loved You (1946).

Additionally, I plan to post a roundup of 2016’s TCM Classic Film Festival, themed this time to “Moving Pictures”, including coverage of other lectures, interviews and related news, such as TCM’s new fan club, Backlot, and its new streaming partnership with the Criterion Collection. ‘Like’ my Facebook page for regularly posted mini-reviews of films on TCM’s lineup.

For live instruction, evaluation and discussion of movies, books and media, and studious breakdown of the writing process, feel free to attend my classes if you’re in Los Angeles this summer. Space is limited for updated courses on social media (read more and register here) and Writing Boot Camp (read more and register here) in Burbank. If you want help with a project and you’re unable to attend, let me know (I can probably help by phone, FaceTime or Skype). Otherwise, read the monthly newsletter for tips, tools and thoughts. Look for new reviews, articles and stories to come.

Book Review: Keep Calm (2016)

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An exciting debut novel by filmmaker Mike Binder, Keep Calm, combines travel, politics and an act of war to serve a redemptive and cautionary theme about securing one’s country and family.

The action begins in London, with a female politician named Georgia Turnbull who immediately calls to mind one of Binder’s many strong movie characters for women.

Georgia’s tough-minded in a time of crisis, demonstrating the title’s directive after the United Kingdom is hit by an explosion at 10 Downing Street. With the British prime minister seriously wounded, Georgia, the chancellor of the exchequer, is basically propelled into running the country.

Propulsion is Binder’s top skill in this first novel, as the thrills originate with organic plot points, development and characterization. What happens stems from the story progression. Nothing is included to deceive, confuse or distract, though the reader may succumb to any of these thanks to Binder’s clever use of a timing device, as he reconfigures the bombing timeline to maximum effect, and deploys certain hints, lines and clues. Keep Calm, which is not without flaws, is always fresh and often surprising.

But it is never dull and the story, as with screenwriter and director Binder’s best motion pictures (The Upside of Anger, Indian Summer, Black or White), peels back peculiar yet discoverable characteristics, secrets and motivations. As the prime minister’s life teeters on expiration, and the prospect of a woman prime minister looms, Binder spins several characters into separately rotating orbits, each revolving around the mystery of Keep Calm: who attacked and why?

Chief among these are American Midwesterner Adam Tatum who’s traveling to London on business with his Brit wife and their kids, hotshot investigator Davina Steel and crony statist billionaire David Heaton. Subsidiary characters, such as a father-in-law, a male secretary and assorted Londoners, foreigners, policemen, policewomen and thugs figure into the plot, too, with shocking or thrilling results.

To say more is to say too much and I do not want to spoil the plot. I don’t want to be too vague or minimize plot, either, though, a more common problem in the favorable book review. A lot happens in Keep Calm, and it happens at a steady and purposeful pace with good characterization, dialogue and transition. There are flashbacks of a helicopter crash, subtle clues, shifting allegiance and, prominently, checkered Adam Tatum’s family on the run from both the British government and the culprits who may have set him up for implication in the attack.

Young detective Steel, under watchful orders from the British state, must rely on her judgment and everything from Islamic terrorism, sexual assault, addiction, detachment from the European Union (EU), power-lusting members of Parliament and lesbian eroticism comes into play.

Mike Binder is at his best with heart-thumping chases into London’s Underground, gunfights, nighttime dalliances, a kidnapping, a showdown in the country and a climactic compound siege and his London streets and landmark details are a treat for fans of that grand metropolis. The propulsive plot does come at the expense of the novel’s underdeveloped theme, which fades and leaves a hurried and unfinished resolution. Sometimes, character actions strain plausibility. A few plot loops close too neatly or dart too quickly into another subplot as London becomes the center of epic intrigue. I found one character’s violation to be gratuitous and thematically self-defeating.

As always, however, with this intelligently gripping literary debut, Binder—who’s already adapting Keep Calm as a movie—writes with purpose and passion. Binder’s theme that the government’s urge to keep calm, with its profound and eloquent place in Britain’s history, ought to be viewed with doubt and scrutiny, makes his first novel a promising start and enticing source for a major motion picture.

Book Review: A Time for Truth by Ted Cruz

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A Time for Truth: Reigniting the Promise of America by Texas Senator Ted Cruz is as generic as its main title, which is also the title of 1978’s A Time for Truth by former Secretary of the Treasury William E. Simon, a Republican like Cruz (Simon followed up in 1980 with A Time for Action). There’s also an interesting detail about the book’s title. More on that later.

Ted Cruz does give a general sense of himself and his ideas in this 2015 memoir. Though reading political memoirs is generally a slog and this one is no exception, the first-term senator comes across as generally authentic if calculated. As with Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father, he writes in the spirit of guarded disclosure, as if he’s telling tales from the past in a way that’s designed to conceal and protect as much as to reveal and inform.

The approach is a compartmentalized, not really integrated, political career chronology more or less aligned with Cruz’s personal life. By now, most readers know his basic biography, the fact of his becoming a Christian, his father from Communist Cuba, his working mother, his wife and daughters, the Ivy League education and legal career before being elected U.S. senator from the Lone Star state. I do not get a strong sense of his character from the biographical writing. He does, however, express a particular view of the world.

Judging by A Time for Truth, Cruz seems primarily moved by a desire to become influential in some meaningful sense, and everything here indicates that he very much wants to become president of the United States. Whether he’s a zealot or an idealist is hard to tell, and in either case he writes like he’s a missionary. Certain positives and negatives emerge and the whole exercise of reading political memoir for scrutiny of a man’s true intentions and character is part of what makes it exhausting and tedious; the reader ought to be able to access and become acquainted with the presidential candidate’s character and views in the most naturally affirming and embracing way. All I can tell from this book is that he thinks he’s here to realize his mission, such as he defines it, and that, during his first elected term as a senator, he thinks he should be president. But so did Barack Obama.

I do appreciate that Sen. Cruz takes stock of President Obama’s basic value proposition back in 2008. Too many on the right dismiss those who considered voting for then-Sen. Obama as simple-minded because, they argue, it was obvious from the start that he was out to destroy America. Cruz rightly argues otherwise, writing that “[i]n 2006, Obama had declared that ‘increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally.’ [Obama] added at one point that ‘Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.’ This seemingly principled position changed dramatically when Obama won the presidency.”

Noting Obama’s early deception is important because it differentiates Cruz from Obama. Like Fidel Castro before he seized power in Cuba, Obama had defined himself in 2008 by platitudes. There was nothing clear and obvious about Obama’s plans to change, by which he meant destroy, America. Leonard Peikoff observed in late 2008 that Obama is dishonest, yet the full extent was not clear to most until he was elected. By then, damage was being done, leaving a lone outcry from the floor of Congress during an Obama speech: “He lies!”

Ted Cruz, on the other hand, gets right to naming his beliefs. Writing about his father’s conversion to Christianity, Cruz writes:

shortly after 11 p.m. on Tuesday, April 15, 1975, he dropped to his knees and surrendered his life to Jesus. That day changed his life, and mine as well. The following Sunday, he made a public profession of faith at Clay Road, a small church in the suburbs of Houston. And the next week, he went to the airport, bought a ticket, and flew back to Canada, returning to my mother and me. He asked my mom to forgive him, and for them to start over. Five years later, in 1979, I too asked Jesus to be my savior at Clay Road Baptist Church.”

Cruz’s profession of faith is, as I wrote a few years ago (“Ted Cruz and Praying for Time”), disturbing to any advocate for reason. Throughout A Time for Truth, it is clear that faith affects, impacts and contaminates Cruz’s ability to think. Cruz does not hide this fact. He relishes it, as one would expect. For example, he wrongly concludes that the United States is founded as a Judeo-Christian nation as he recalls a college professor who also influenced a fellow famous Texan in media:

I had wonderful professors in college, most notably Robby George, one of the leading conservative thinkers in the nation. Learning from Professor George was one of the best things about Princeton. The New York Times has called him the ‘country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker.’ As Glenn Beck has observed, George is ‘one of the biggest brains in America.’ From abortion to marriage to the natural rights of men and women, George is a sometimes lonely but always powerful voice within academia for the Judeo-Christian values on which this country was founded.”

For those concerned about the future of the Supreme Court, it’s worth noting that Cruz, who proposed having an elected Supreme Court, also admits to being “strongly influenced by Robert Bork’s 1978 classic, The Antitrust Paradox.” Like Ronald Reagan, whom he also admires, Ted Cruz expresses an American sense of life, observing that “[u]ntil the time of the American experiment, much of human existence had been, as Hobbes famously observed, ‘nasty, brutish and short.’ Now, with American free enterprise, the possibilities were endless—not guaranteed, but also not limited.” Quoting Reagan, he praises “individual freedom and the profit motive”.

But what constitutes freedom to Ted Cruz is always contradicted by his faith. For instance, he argues that “[t]he First Amendment was not adopted to create government hostility to religion; rather, the First Amendment exists to protect the religious liberty of every American.” This of course is not true. The freedom of speech is inalienable and it exists as recognition that man is free to express himself, not as a means to protecting liberty—let alone “religious liberty”, a confused, meaningless term—but as an example of liberty. Cruz is a typical conservative, too, arguing for anti-obscenity laws. He is not an advocate of freedom of speech, he totally fails to hold the Obama administration to account on this crucial issue and he concludes that the freedom of speech “can be prohibited.” It is good to know that Cruz opposes free speech and may as president, like Obama, seek to impose censorship.

In chapter after chapter of his memoir, Ted Cruz, who I think is tragically the best among the current field of major 2016 presidential candidates (as I wrote in “The Iowa Caucuses”) demonstrates a failure to grasp man’s rights and the nature of government. On ObamaCare, which he correctly denounces for “[d]enying individual choice and freedom”, he opposes the government takeover of the medical profession and insurance industry as “antithetical to the American way and our tradition of liberty.” But ObamaCare is a law, not a lifestyle choice, and it is important to know that this six-year-old law violates the rights of every American to choose, practice and contract for health care. Cruz, citing tradition and the American way, makes it sound like ObamaCare’s worst transgression is its newness. Liberty is the American birthright. Of course, this deficit in his understanding applies to his refusal to recognize a woman’s right to abortion. So, while he rightly derides ObamaCare as denying the individual’s free choice, he makes the same mistake.

Cruz’s flaws are serious. He pledges to “[p]reserve and reform our entitlements…”, supports a Constitutional amendment to force upon the country a balanced budget, a terrifying prospect for the future of freedom in what is now an entrenched welfare state, he wants to impose government term limits, which is also incompatible with liberty, and he proposes a “lifetime ban on former members of Congress ever lobbying”, which again raises questons about his inclination to censorship. Additionally, he wrongly labels Democrats as “the party of government”, failing to distinguish what he means by government and explain that Democrats are the party of big government, and he writes that he thinks government should “foster productivity”, which is also not the proper role for the state. State-sponsored fostering of productivity has led to countless American dangers and disasters, from the 1930s Depression and TARP, stimulus and bailouts to statist Donald Trump.

But Sen. Cruz, who was recently endorsed by economist Thomas Sowell, has also proven himself to be capable of bold, independent, rational thought and action. He opposes government subsidies for ethanol, yet he decisively won last month’s Iowa caucuses. He seeks to repeal ObamaCare, a monstrosity that deserves to have been abolished years ago. He pledges to take a measured, cautious approach to foreign policy, resisting the altruistic approach of Bush in Iraq, and vows to wipe out the Islamic jihad. And, most important in an election year with a Bush, a Bush wannabe, a Clinton, a socialist and a fascist, Cruz demonstrates a serious, scholarly grasp of the enormous challenges that lie ahead.

In A Time for Truth, for example, Cruz puts Obama’s presidency in perspective:

The [press], despite its overwhelming support for the president and his policies, has also been the target of harassment. Two years ago, without bothering even to reveal its reasons, the administration secretly collected two months of phone records from the staff of the Associated Press, which called the action ‘a massive and unprecedented intrusion into how news organizations gather news.’ That same year, they targeted James Rosen, a reporter at Fox News, by labeling him a possible ‘co-conspirator’ in a leak investigation. To quote the New York Times editorial board—not something I expect to make a habit of—the Obama administration, with its abuse of Rosen, ‘moved beyond protecting government secrets to threatening fundamental freedoms of the press to gather news.’

In our history presidents of both parties have at times abused their power and exceeded their constitutional authority. But in the past, members of the president’s own party—in Congress, in his cabinet, and among independent groups—have shown the courage and principle to stand up to him.

What is unprecedented is the remarkable silence of Democrats in the face of Barack Obama’s lawlessness and massive expansion of federal power. The sad fact is that for the Democrats in Washington—and for far too many in my own party as well—politics comes before principle. Electoral considerations come before country. And no offense perpetrated by a party’s leader is too outrageous for them to defend.

When President Bush exceeded his constitutional authority and attempted to order the state courts to obey the World Court, I was proud to go before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Texas and defend the Constitution. The Court struck down his unconstitutional order, 6–3. Where are the Democrats willing to do the same to stop their party’s abuse of power?

An executive’s defiance of the rule of law ought to trouble every American—if only because Barack Obama will not be president forever. Even if you agree with Obama’s policies, if this president has the power to ignore the law, then so do his successors—including successors from the opposing party.

This is not what our Founders hoped for. This is not the vision for our country that millions of Americans share. And it does not have to be this way. The genius of the Constitution is that it protects our country from executive branch excesses through the system of checks and balances. The legislative and judicial branches can impose limits on the executive’s assertion of power—provided we as public officials have the political will to do it. With the proper leadership, we can restore the purpose and vision behind the American experiment.”

Notably, and disconcertingly, Ted Cruz’s A Time for Truth also neglects to mention the September 11, 2001 Islamic attack on America in a chapter on the Bush administration, for whom he once worked. Worse, Cruz writes that he thinks “God knew what He was doing in 2001.” This really calls his rationality into question. Today, Cruz agreed with the Obama administration forcing Apple to decode its own iPhone in the name of national security.

Whether President Cruz would be as good or as bad as his best and worst qualities suggest remains, as with pre-election Barack Obama, unknown. I know that his competition in the presidential contest is atrocious. I also know that some of his positions are excellent and some of his positions are terrible. After reading A Time for Truth and trying to take a measure of the man and his character, I think it’s a positive sign of self-awareness that he recalls excelling in the classroom, being too competitive and cocky and being lousy at sports. He also remembers pulling what he calls a teenage prank at Christmastime which involves taking lights from several houses and decorating another house with them, which strikes me as quite elaborate for a prank.

In preparation for this review, I came across an alternate and apparently rejected book cover art which replaced the book’s current subtitle, Reigniting the Promise of America, with the subtitle: Reigniting the Miracle of America. This may be a sign that Cruz either ditched or dodged his faith for a less mystical, more secular tone. Whatever the case, and whether Ted Cruz is nominated and elected the 45th president of the United States, A Time for Truth contains evidence of both.


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Related

The 2012 Republicans

The 2012 Democrats

Ted Cruz and Praying for Time (2013)

The Iowa Caucuses (2016)