There are some things that should go without saying when you run for president. You love America. You want a deity (singular, capitalized, male) to bless the place. You think it is time there was a change, because if there is not a change, your children may not have the opportunities you’ve had. You think that Washington is broken beyond repair. You think that the solutions that are needed cannot come from Washington. You think that the American Dream is a remarkable thing, and you want to make sure it can thrive. Also, you believe in the Constitution. And you think this country is great. Did you mention that you think this country is great? You do. You just think that under your leadership it would be even greater.
All of this, I think, goes pretty much without saying. It should. If you differ on any of these points, by all means, lead with: “I hate America and want to dismantle the Constitution limb from limb. I intend to make the rest of America as much like Washington as possible. I intend to depend on special interests to do so. Furthermore, I hate the American Dream and I want to snuff it out so that our children can be forever indentured to China. God is dead. I hope Cthulhu unleashes his wrath on this vile blot of a nation.”
But otherwise? We know what you have to say. You do not need to say it every time. America gets more assurances of unconditional Love and Approval in the course of a single candidate speech than many WASP children get in the course of their entire childhoods, and we turn out okay, although years later we bring this fact up indignantly during Thanksgiving dinner and start sobbing for no reason. My point is: America does not need this.
But the people who run for president, and the people behind them, beg to differ. The people who listen to speeches, they seem to feel, will absolutely wither up and die without hearing how remarkable the American way of life is, and how special the American dream has proved to be. If that does not come up at some point in the speech, paired neatly with fears for Our Children, these fragile listeners will run from the hall in tears and you will lose their votes for good.
Otherwise why do they insist on doing this?
Possibly there is some other explanation that I am missing. Possibly America is doing its best impression of King Lear, sifting through a slew of increasingly improbable, florid protestations to glean Who Loves Us Most. Possibly people who go to hear political speeches do not really care how the candidates think or how they differ from one another and are only there to have the maximum possible number of opportunities to cheer when someone says “AMERICAN DREAM” and “IT’S TIME TO TAKE THE COUNTRY BACK.”
But has no one who attends these speeches ever seen or heard another political speech before? You’d think they would grow weary of this. The Internet exists. We have heard this before.
Meanwhile, any actual ideas or concrete policy proposals are allotted a single sentence at best, and they must fight their way through a dense thicket of protestations about loving the country and being eager to give the next generation of Americans a kidney or two. We zone out for a second, miss them and are forced to decide elections based on asinine criteria like who is taller or whom we want to have a beer with.
I mention this because Rand Paul is running for president. Ted Cruz has been running for president for weeks now. We are just a few weeks into the Eternal Grind of Election and already the amount of time we have dedicated to this prerequisite pablum is alarming. It makes no difference who says it. It always sounds the same.
Even two candidates as different as Ted Cruz and Rand Paul wind up sounding like carbon copies. Here are their answers to the catechism of the candidate. See if you can guess whose was which. I can’t, and I assembled this myself.
Q: Is it time?
A: It’s time.
Q: What is it a time for?
A: “It is a time for truth. It is a time for liberty. It is a time to reclaim the Constitution of the United States.”(1)
Q: What else have we come for?
A: To take our country.
Q: Where must we take our country?
A: “We have come to take our country back.” (2)
Q: From whom must we take America back?
A: “We have come to take our country back from the special interests.” (3)
Q: How would you like to be heard?
A: “Loud and clear.” (4)
Q: Did you love your life in a small town?
A: I love my life as a small-town doctor. (5)
Q: And small businesses. Do you envision a good future for small businesses?
A: “Imagine small businesses growing and prospering.” (6)
Q: Do you want a return to prosperity?
A: “I want to be part of a return to prosperity, a true economic boom that lists all Americans, a return to a government restrained by the Constitution.” (7)
Q: Is the American dream an incredible opportunity?
A: “The incredible opportunity of the American dream, what has enabled millions of people from all over the world to come to America with nothing and to achieve anything.” (8)
Q: Are we a city on a hill?
A: “A shining city on a hill.” (9)
Q: What must we do for the promise of America?
A: Reignite it. (10)
A: Restore it. (11)
Q: Have you been able to enjoy the American Dream?
A: “I’ve been fortunate. I’ve been able to enjoy the American Dream.” (12)
Q: Do you worry that our sons and daughters will not have the same opportunities?
A: “I worry, though, that the opportunity and hope are slipping away for our sons and daughters.” (13)
Q: Does the promise of America seem closer or farther?
A: “The promise of America seems more and more distant.” (14)
Q: How do young people feel about the future?
A: “Today millions of young people are scared, worried about the future, worried about what the future will hold.” (15)
Q: Are you the one to fix it?
A: “I have a vision for America.” (16)
Q: Is this message for all Americans?
A: “This message of liberty is for all Americans, Americans from all walks of life. The message of liberty, opportunity and justice is for all Americans, whether you wear a suit, a uniform or overalls, whether you’re white or black, rich or poor.” (17)
Q: Is Washington broken?
A: “Washington is horribly broken.” (18)
Q: Does Washington have the answers?
A: “The answer will not come from Washington.” (19)
Q: Should our foreign policy encourage chaos?
A: “We also need a foreign policy that protects American interests and encourages stability, not chaos!” (20)
Q: Whom should God bless?
A: “God bless you. God bless America.” (21)
Q: Is God’s blessing on America?
A: “God’s blessing has been on America from the very beginning of this nation, and I believe God isn’t done with America yet.” (22)
We are prisoners of language, as Orwell once astutely observed.
Cruz: 1, 6, 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, 19, 22
Paul: 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 11, 12, 13, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21