“May you live in interesting times.” This apocryphal saying sums up the state of politics in America in 2016. It is a time of upheaval, and as Tocqueville reminds us, the most dangerous moment for a bad government is when it begins to reform. Ben Domenech, publisher of The Federalist, elucidates our circumstances succinctly when he states that, “Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are not the disease, and they’re not a symptom of the disease. They’re the beta test of a cure from the perspective of the people.” While Trump represents the outlier on the right, he is not the ideological antithesis of self-described Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders. That honor belongs to Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
History is peppered with pivotal moments like these, but it is often difficult to recognize their gravity until they have faded into our collective rearview mirror. In 1858, on the eve of America’s Civil War, we had the Lincoln-Douglas debates in which a young upstart Republican challenged an incumbent Democrat Senator on a subject of great import; slavery in America. At issue was whether a country founded on the principle that “all men are created equal” could continue to promote or even accept the subjugation of certain men in seeming contravention to that principle. Lincoln lost to Douglas in that election, but his nomination as the Republican standard bearer in the Presidential election in 1860 was the catalyst that set in motion a most bloody resolution to that question five years later.
In 1940, Friedrich Hayek and John Maynard Keynes debated the much drier but equally important subject of state intervention in the economies of nations upon the roof of the chapel of Kings College London during the Blitz. Keynes generally believed that the animal spirits of capitalism should be restrained by government central planning to protect citizens. Hayek believed that such government intervention inevitably led to the very fascism that the allies had been forced to confront in World War II. In the aftermath of the war, this dynamic shaped the new world order as the capitalist west faced off against the collectivist Soviet Union for the next half century. We know which idea eventually won the day.
In 1968, conservative stalwart William F. Buckley and liberal firebrand Gore Vidal held televised debates during the Presidential nominating conventions that were the embodiment of the political tumult of the time. On substance, the debates touched on the Vietnam War, free speech, police brutality, and the rise of the counter-culture. But they were best known for the very obvious and deeply personal hatred each had for the other which was a microcosm of the violence and strife occurring throughout the late 60s and early 70s. Nixon and the Republicans came out on top.
These were all pitched battles in the continuing war of ideals which seems to flare up every few generations. In 2016, we again face such a moment. As I’ve written previously, while I do not discount Donald Trump’s rise or the legitimate rage of his supporters, he is an unserious candidate. He is the dog that caught the car, a caricature of what every liberal believes every conservative to be. He does not represent conservative ideology any more than a person who occasionally abstains from eating meat can profess to be a vegan. Ted Cruz, by contrast, wears his ideology on his sleeve, as does his counterpart on the left, Bernie Sanders.
I will state publicly that I have a lot of respect for Bernie Sanders. Contrary to Hillary Clinton, the pantsuit-wearing weather vane that has about as much principle as an interest-only loan, Mr. Sanders unapologetically believes in his ideas, and that genuineness is at the heart of his tremendous base of support. But alas, history and economics bear out that his ideas are not only unworkable, but contrary to the identity of our country.
Given the leftward jolt America has experienced under Barack Obama, hope and change has given way to entropy and rage. It’s time for the battle of ideas to be fought once again; a trial by intellectual combat. Senator Cruz and Senator Sanders represent the reddest and bluest ends of the political spectrum, who better to articulate the fundamental ideals of their respective parties.
It has been said that a lie travels around the world before the truth can get its pants on, a phenomenon undoubtedly amplified by the advent of social media. Perhaps this is why the timeless truth of the benefits of liberty has been lost in the noise. However, I am confident that same interconnectedness can also be harnessed to proliferate the ideals of our founders with such unparalleled rapidity, focus, and reach, that the resurgent specter of statism can be slain once and for all. The global microphone has been built, we need only the right messengers. Let the pretenders be cast aside. Let our champions be Senator Cruz and Senator Sanders. And let the fate of our Republic be decided in one fell swoop. No pressure, Ted.