Tag Archives | book reviews by Scott Holleran

Book Review: Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty

Writing as “a historian who has devoted four decades to the study of Virginia” and an author striving to “do his best”, Richmond, Virginia scholar Jon Kukla—who has directed research and publishing at the Library of Virginia, authored history books and run Virginia’s Red Hill/Patrick Henry National Memorial—accounts for the one major American Revolutionary who “never held national office” in his biography Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty (published today by Simon & Schuster).

Presuming an audience with serious interest in the Virginia lawyer, planter and American radical who defiantly proclaimed “Give me liberty, or give me death!”, Kukla immerses the reader in a dense, detailed and exhaustively factual biography. Neither exactly a straight chronological narrative nor a predominantly political philosophical reckoning, Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty instead goes for completeness in providing the central facts of Patrick Henry’s career as an orator, thinker and founder of the American republic.

Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty is impressive. Do not, however, expect or look forward to a portrait of the whole man. Kukla emphasizes essential points of Patrick Henry’s remarkable life, career and achievements—most impressively, offering deeper or newer details on Henry’s thoughts, ideas and writings—and does not get into the personal life, such as children and marriage. Patches of Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty are dull, dry and laboriously overdone with non-essential facts, names and information. But if history, and, in particular, great mythical tales of American history, entices your intellect, most of the reading is page-turning.

Buy the Book

History earns my most intense​ readership and Jon Kukla’s meticulously researched volume, with over 100 pages of notes, acknowledgements and preface, brings newly disclosed documents and insights to this patriot’s role in the radical, grass-roots movement to break free from British statism, declare independence and create an American republic.

“[Patrick] Henry was of medium build and average height, with deep-set but piercing steel-blue eyes, a dark complexion, and strong features,” Kukla writes. “His face was described not as handsome but as ‘agreeable and full of intelligence and interest.” Henry once sported a bright red cape when elected to public office. Indeed, he became known for rampant individualism, which may explain why he does not typically get his historical due as an influential Founding Father. Absorbing and continuing threads include Patrick Henry’s abiding friendship with George Washington—Virginia’s first governor and America’s first president—despite the pair’s principled dispute over the Constitution.

Young Patrick Henry and his brothers had grown up hunting, fishing and exploring the countryside, Kukla notes, and his philosophy apparently formed relatively early in life. Virginian Henry, indulging himself in nature, studied and guided himself in contemplating books, arts and Western ideas. “After breaking his collarbone at the age of twelve,” the author writes, “Henry during his convalescence taught himself to play the flute, though only for his private enjoyment. He was also an excellent performer on the violin.” Henry, like Thomas Jefferson, “spent hours ‘lying with his back upon a bed’ reading Laurence Sterne’s popular and risque comic novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Miguel Cervantes’s Don Quixote or Daniel Defoe’s Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.” Friends described Patrick Henry’s disposition as “benevolent, humane, mild, quiet, and thoughtful.”

As an adult, Patrick Henry did own slaves even as he denounced slavery, which he believed was detrimental to everyone, causing white workers to “despise honest physical labor”, and Kukla seeds the volume with a running and carefully integrated account of slavery. He does so as it relates to his subject. So, the reader is more likely to come away with an objective grasp of why early advocates for slavery’s abolition, such as Patrick Henry, failed to follow through. Among complicating factors are Haiti’s violent slave rebellion, which set the cause of abolitionism back, an inter-colonial slave trade and, not insignificantly, the looming War for Independence, which appears to have all but derailed serious consideration for abolition.

Patrick Henry emerges as a compelling man of principle. Henry taught himself the law, seeking guidance from an attorney whom he considered honest, who “won [Patrick Henry’s] admiration for his strict refusal to defend clients he thought were wrong.” Soon, Henry built a profitable legal practice, increasing his caseload from 176 in 1760 to 493 in 1763, according to Patrick Henry’s ledgers.

Yet his ability to make money was inextricably tied to the issue of the British government’s control of nearly every aspect of colonial lives and Henry’s lifelong pursuit of happiness fuels his activism for creating a society based on individual rights. When the British crown rejected the Two-Penny Act of 1758, which Henry considered a perfectly logical law, Henry echoed political philosopher John Locke, denouncing the British king’s disallowance by noting that a king who fails to protect his people “forfeits all right to his subjects’ obedience.” After accounting for Henry’s formative three weeks in Williamsburg, where he witnessed Virginia’s first opposition, both public and private, to the government’s imposition of stamp duties on the colonies firsthand, Kukla takes on the facts and details of the Stamp Act of 1765, which, like ObamaCare, was concealed from the public and presented in the press as a fait accompli weeks after enactment, a tactic which would inform Patrick Henry’s later political methodology.

Henry’s blistering opposition to the Stamp Act forged his reputation as an American radical for liberty. In fact, Kukla reports that colonial newspapers reprinted versions of Patrick Henry’s Stamp Act resolutions during the summer of 1765, galvanizing resistance among the colonial population. The Massachusetts governor warned the British that Henry’s proposals were proving to be “an Alarm bell to the disaffected.”

And Henry, who celebrated Hugo Grotius and others as “illustrious writers” and benevolent spirits who “held up the torch of science to a benighted world,” took painstaking inventory of the toll each act of injustice took on himself and his fellow Virginians. Kukla writes that even Patrick Henry was shocked when the Stamp Act’s details came to light; Henry’s legal practice was subject to 40 government fees on every document, including wills, deeds, bills of sale, even college diplomas. The Stamp Act imposed taxes, too, on Virginia’s newspapers, almanacs, calendars, and pamphlets. A fellow attorney and Virginia burgess exclaimed: “Every kind of business transacted on paper is taxed!”

The Virginian fought the king’s tyranny with words, ideas—and oration. George Mason wrote that Henry was “the most powerful speaker I ever heard.” Mason attested that “[e]very word he says not only engages but commands the attention; and your passions are no longer your own when he addresses them. But his eloquence is the smallest part of his merit. He is in my opinion the first man upon this continent, as well in abilities as public virtues.” Congressman Silas Deane gushed: “Patrick Henry is the compleatest Speaker I ever heard…but in a Letter I can give You no Idea of the Music of his voice, or the highwrought, yet Natural elegance of his stile.”

Patrick Henry’s oratorical style, like his savvy political, business and intellectual sense, was bred by thoughtful and methodical study of facts, context and analysis of what making a nation based on individual rights would necessitate, mean and entail. While visiting Philadelphia, Patrick Henry roamed bookstores, purchasing Thomas Leland’s edition of The Orations of Demosthenes on Occasions of Public Deliberation (London, 1763), one of many books about oratory Kukla writes that Henry used to improve his public speaking. The book bears Henry’s printed bookplate, signature, and his handwritten notation: Philadelphia 1774. But Kukla observes that Henry’s copy also contains a dog-eared corner of a page at this passage of particular interest to Virginia’s great orator: “When we take up arms against the Barbarian,” Demosthenes proclaimed about 354 BC, “we take them up for our country, for our lives, for our customs, for our liberty, and all such sacred rights.”

Henry “electrified the whole house”, Kukla writes, recapturing Henry’s legendary lines delivered on Tuesday, September 6, 1774, according to delegates’ notes of the congressional debates, that “The Distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, and New Englanders, are no more. I am not a Virginian, but an American.” Kukla adds that “Patrick Henry’s oratorical skills were impressive, of course, but the delegates placed greater weight on his ideas.” Years later, John Adams told Jefferson that, in that Congress of 1774, “there was not one member, except Patrick Henry, who appeared to me sensible of…the Pinnacle on which he stood, and had candour and courage enough to acknowledge it.”

With a chosen pen name Scipio—”a pseudonym honoring the Roman patriot and general praised by Cicero as an exemplary orator and leader”—Partick Henry railed against Britain’s “bloody massacre” at Boston, reminding the king that “the breath of a tyrant blasts and poisons every thing, changes blessings and plenty into curses and misery, great cities into gloomy solitudes, and their rich citizens into beggars and vagabonds.”

Buy the Book

Filling Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty with such stirring words, usually grounding the speeches, excerpts and moments in their proper context, Kukla lays Patrick Henry’s life and ascent bare, demonstrating that the brilliant agitator for an American revolution and nation based on man’s rights was often biting and brave. That he once “sneered” to appeasers: “Shall we try “humble supplication”? That he may have saved the Midwest from British rule during the American Revolution with a band of elite forces, battled malaria and wrote his will entirely in his own hand. That believer Patrick Henry had concerns about the growing influence of deism and was not strictly for separating religion and state. That President Washington twice considered appointing him to the Supreme Court and once to succeed James Monroe as ambassador to France. That he wrote that he “detests” paper money. That Henry had 17 children and nearly 80 slaves when he died of stomach cancer at the age of 63.

Or that the text of Patrick Henry’s 1765 resolutions against the Stamp Act were a starting point of the American Revolution.

But Kukla also recounts, sometimes too generally or, conversely, with too much detail, that Patrick Henry, who was also a military colonel in the Revolutionary War, was intensely interested in and had a decent understanding of military history and strategy. Col. Henry created Virginia’s navy and, Kukla notes: “By the end of the Revolution, the legacy of Patrick Henry’s navy comprised two major shipyards and a dozen smaller ones as well as scores of warships—brigs and brigantines, schooners and pilot boats, and cruisers and row galleys—all manned by seven hundred officers, sailors and marines.”

To this end, Henry was loved by his enlisted men, who at one point threatened to quit and refused to serve under any other commander. But what also comes through in Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty is that Patrick Henry was a deep and serious thinker, not merely a man of high ideals, inspiring speeches and decisive action, who was capable of life-affirming insight and introspection. For instance, Henry held that “[m]aturity grew not from “uninterrupted tranquility” but from hardships that “compel an exertion of mental power…Adversity toughens manhood—and the characteristic of the good or the great man is not that he has been exempted from the evils of life, but that he has surmounted them.”

Surmount them Patrick Henry apparently, did, too, as his wife Sarah, his “beloved companion”, “lost her reason” and showed signs of mental instability, dying in early 1775. Henry put his Scotchtown plantation up for sale in August of 1777. He sold it the following year for “eight times the purchase price, considerably advancing his fortune.”

Patrick Henry, whom Ayn Rand named a Midwestern university after in her epic novel of ideas, Atlas Shrugged, uttered his most famous line on March 20, 1775. Jon Kukla alludes to it in the title of his book’s Chapter 14: Liberty or Death: “When at last Henry took the floor, eyewitnesses describe him as starting “calmly,” as was his practice…Henry warned that his opinions were “very opposite to theirs.” …Henry wanted Virginians to face the whole truth, acknowledge the worst, and provide for it. Henry’s speech, as one distinguished historian observed, “transformed resistance into revolution.”

How exactly comes into sharp focus as Kukla recaptures Henry’s glorious American moment:

There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable—and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.” When Henry paused, murmurs of “Peace! Peace!” emanated from the pews where some of his timid colleagues sat, punctuating the dramatic moment and plodding one of history’s greatest orators toward the culmination of his most famous speech. “Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace,” Henry answered. echoing the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, “but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field!” he exclaimed, affirming once again Virginia’s policy of steadfast unanimity with the other colonies. “Why stand we here idle?” “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?” He paused again, lifted his eyes and hands toward heaven and prayed, “Forbid it, Almighty God!—I know not what course others may take, but as for me…give me liberty, or give me death!” Then as his voice echoed through the church and his audience watched in stunned silence, Henry raised an ivory letter opener as if it were a dagger and plunged it toward his chest in imitation of the Roman patriot Cato. The church fell silent. “Men looked beside themselves,” one listener recalled. Another listener, standing outside a window after failing to find a seat inside, felt overwhelmed by Henry’s oratory. “Let me be buried at this spot,” exclaimed Edward Carrington, the younger brother of a Charlotte County delegate.”

Kukla notes that the British redcoats moved to disarm colonists at Concord and Lexington three weeks later, in what Ralph Waldo Emerson termed the shot heard ’round the world, setting off the fireworks that sparked an American Revolution.

For his part, Patrick Henry, convinced that the Constitution would result in a consolidated government that, when it proved oppressive to Virginians, could not be altered, opposed ratifying the Constitution. He opposed We the People, which he held was presumptuous, insisting that We the states was the proper phrase. “The chief aim of government, he insisted, was neither the promotion of trade nor imperial visions of becoming “a great and powerful people” but the protection of personal liberties. “Liberty ought to be the direct end of your government.” But this does not mean that Henry was an advocate of states’ rights as that term is widely understood. He wrote that “the dissolution of the Union is most abhorrent to my mind. The first thing I have at heart is American liberty: the second thing is American union.”

Nearing conclusion, Kukla observes that Patrick Henry warned that “The Constitution squints toward monarchy” and that he cautioned that “Your president may easily become king,” asking: “What will then become of you and your rights?”

In the chapter Last Call, Kukla largely lets the great American hero Patrick Henry have the floor, recalling his words: “If I am asked what is to be done when a people feel themselves intolerably oppressed, my answer is ready—overturn the government. But … wait at least until some infringement is made upon your rights that cannot otherwise be redressed; for … you may bid adieu forever to representative government.”

Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty ​is an excellent and important biography of the patriot Patrick Henry—who inspired the American to rational action for individual rights in this land’s darkest hours—and wrote:

Reader! whoever thou art, remember this,

and in thy Sphere, practice Virtue thyself,

and encourage it in others.

P. HENRY

Winter Writing

A movie about exceptionalism overcoming racism at an agency of the government, an effort to restore a building and a forthcoming book about accounting for an entire arts genre give me fuel this winter.

Top U.S. film

America’s top movie at the box office is Hidden Figures, which centers upon three individuals of ability in the Jim Crow-era South, when racist laws infected even an aeronautics U.S. agency charged with launching an American into outer space. It’s a wonderful film, really, which doesn’t surprise me because it’s written and directed by the same individual who wrote and directed 2014’s St. Vincent, which is also very good. His name is Theodore Melfi and he recently talked with me about writing and directing the talented cast, which includes Empire‘s Cookie, Taraji P. Henson, his thoughts on racism, storytelling and what he’d do differently and having his movie screened at the White House. Read my exclusive interview with Melfi about the nation’s number one motion picture here.

Eagle Rock Clubhouse by Neutra

Speaking of exclusive interviews, I’ve recently had the pleasure of interviewing architect Dion Neutra at his home and office designed by his father, the late modern architect Richard Neutra, whose legacy I explore in an article about a campaign to restore one of Neutra’s signature buildings (read the story on LATimes.com here). I’ve been covering this effort by an architect and a realtor who say they want to restore the Los Angeles clubhouse to its original splendor, and finally met and interviewed them at Neutra’s building for a detailed restoration tour. The building, a parks and recreational center in northeast Los Angeles, opened in the 1950s with a stage that plays to both interior and exterior audiences, a kitchen with a window for selling concessions, an athletic court, reflecting pool and sloping landscapes—all in glass, brick and Neutra’s favored metal, steel—with a director’s office overlooking gymnastics, trails, pine trees, playgrounds, tennis courts and with retractable walls to let the air and spectators or audiences inside. The two gents are in talks with Dion Neutra as I write this.

New book this March

A forthcoming book features new and interesting data about the words and works by William Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis, Stephen King, Agatha Christie and Ayn Rand among other literary greats. It’s titled Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve (Simon & Schuster, March 14, 2017) and the author covers detailed statistical analyses of these and other writers in a solid narrative. Among the newly mined data are authors’ ‘favorite’ words, how sexes write differently—Rand rates as “masculine”—and use of adverbs, exclamation points and novels’ opening lines. Mine is the book’s first non-trade review. Read my article here.

The newest Writing Boot Camp starts up next month (seats are still left in the 10-week course, so register here), moving to Tuesday nights, the day after my all-new course on social media (register here). These courses evolved from career camp workshops I was asked to teach several years ago. I subsequently taught a series of nine media and production workshops for Mood U, online, economic development, expo and public library presentations and developed the writing and media classes into full courses a few years ago for adult education in LA. They’re works in progress yet past students give positive and constructive feedback, so I’ve created Facebook groups for past students. Stand by for details and more on the upcoming courses.

Meanwhile, thank you for your readership, support and trade. I read every piece of correspondence, though I’m sometimes slow to respond, sent through the site and social media. This year, I plan to remake my website and I am working on other projects, from stories in manuscripts and screenplays to my cultural fellowship, new partnerships and a new media enterprise. For now, I want you to read, share and gain value from these articles about inspecting works of art and making, or mining, something good.

Book Review: Keep Calm (2016)

KeepCalmCover

Buy the Book

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

TedCruzATimeforTruthCover

Click to Buy

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.


Buy A Time for Truth by Ted Cruz

Related

The 2012 Republicans

The 2012 Democrats

Ted Cruz and Praying for Time (2013)

The Iowa Caucuses (2016)

Book Review: The Girl on the Train

Click to Buy

Click to Buy

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins is an innocuous and plain potboiler. Promoted as a psychological thriller, it’s better described as light feminist fiction. It zips along like a good train ride.

Told in revolving voices by three women—conservative Anna, troubled Megan and the main character, alcoholic Rachel—the London-based novel pairs these salty ladies with different men at varying places and times, all of which ultimately converge.

Rachel moves the plot. Her messy affairs and wince-inducing choices hinge on enticing details. The poor woman (she’s a grown woman, not a girl) is obviously spiraling into despair while flailing to somehow stop herself, which makes her Rear Window-like observations and reckless exploits strangely absorbing. Don’t mind the underpinnings too closely, because the whole conflict and resolution are more than a tad flat; read for psychological musings but keep reading for humor amid the murderous mystery.

It’s not that the psychology is bad. Some of the best ideas for treatment are delivered by a delicately featured man who may be an Islamic psychologist who is also a suspect in whatever crime this woozy, nosy eyewitness may have seen from the train or its nearby underpassages. But women in The Girl on the Train are shallow by any stretch, which makes it easier for Hawkins to portray them as victims. That the women also victimize, imprison and impair themselves is a key theme, with clever diversions and sidetracks such as the doting kindness of Cathy the landlord, and the ladies’ self-talk in introspective log entries keeps thought and action balanced, enveloping and involving.

Each tale involves the woman, her deepest desire for a man, and, centrally, her burgeoning awareness of herself as a whole woman, including the ability to bear a child. This is a particular aspect which grants The Girl on the Train momentum toward a heart-pounding climax. As Rachel strains to clear her blurry vision and achieve clarity while serving as an amateur, unemployed sleuth (with a thing for gin and tonics), her ex-husband Tom, a muscular Mr. Right and a red-haired stranger on—or is it off?—the train come into focus with sudden and blaring urgency. Beware of men, Hawkins warns the reader, including the cop that never shows up, and be kinder to women. The Girl on the Train does not get deeper than that and it’s not hard to guess what happens. But this bestselling book about a humorously self-inflicted journey into darkness moves at a steady, sobering pace.