Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Past the Cover of Your Books Profound

This is not a Ted Cruz bashing item. As far as we know from the record, Cruz is an intelligent man.

This is a NYT-bashing item, for Erik Eckholm's profile of Cruz today: "Senate Candidate in Texas Is Known as an Intellectual Force." This isn't a headline exaggeration of the contents of the article; Eckholm says experts predict Cruz will be an "intellectual force in the Congress," and in fact uses the word "intellectual" four times in the piece.

And yet...other than having a few people (mostly political allies) saying that he's smart, Eckholm gives us very little to go on even for that, and nothing at all that would hint at "intellectual." No book. No learned article. Not even an op-ed piece. We do learn that he wrote an undergrad thesis at Princeton, but nothing about it. No ideas associated with him, or his campaign. No brilliant speech that everyone cites (at least Mario Cuomo had a couple of those). The only time we get to hear Cruz's voice in the whole thing, it's when he's giving standard Republican rhetoric and punch lines.

I don't have any sense at all of what the truth is. Perhaps he is poised to be a leader in developing new conservative ideas in the Senate, but Eckholm just didn't figure out how to convince me of it in his profile. Perhaps he's just a smart guy who will vote and act like a generic Tea Party Senator but otherwise leave little mark, and Eckholm was just duped. I have no idea! All I know is that it's bad newspapering to tell me the guy is about to be an intellectual force in Congress without giving me either any reason to believe it's true or any hint about the content of that force.

15 comments:

  1. Cruz calls the Council on Foreign Relations "a pit of vipers":

    http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/1011/A_pit_of_vipers_also_his_wife.html?showall

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  2. Yeah I'd have to say this is a great example of bad journalism, that is labeling someone some great intellectual force without explaining why or where that intellectualism is coming from and going. This is a big part of modern journalism, it's always sort of been there but seems to be growing, where you simply don't spend the journalistic foot leather to figure out whats going on. You can see this in a lot of issues like the health care debate where the issues surrounding America's healthcare system are treated as a sort of abstract with almost all the coverage devoted to political horse race questions. Oh so little was written about how our healthcare system was formed (did you know that Blue Cross Blue Shield plans which cover about 100 million Americans are the direct institutional descendants of medical plans in the Gilded Age logging industry and Baylor University?), how it functions (or doesn't function) and how it impacts all of our daily lives.

    Now there are probably a lot of reasons for this. Journalists are overworked and underpaid in a highly competitive and shrinking industry which makes coverage of complex issues difficult. And laziness is a big factor to, why do the work of looking into someone's intellectual background when you can call up one of their buddies from the State Legislature and get a press release? But it is really treating the readers, especially with a paper proud of how above the rest it is like the Times, poorly. That said everyone said Paul Ryan is some sort of intellectual tour de force but as far as I can tell he knows little if anything about health care policy or the Federal budget and he's never said anything to change my mind.

    I liked what Kilgore wrote about this from the political side of things: http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal-a/2012_08/cruz_the_intellectual038954.php

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  3. I don't agree with this post. The article says he was the editor of the Harvard Law Review and that he argued a number of cases in front of the Supreme Court. Perhaps the author could have done a slightly better job of explaining the importance of that to non-lawyers, but I think its pretty self-evident.

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  4. File this under "in the kingdom of the blind, the one eyed man is king" where the kingdom is Congressional Republicans.

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  5. His accomplishments as an attorney speak to his intellect. And for a very conservative Republican, he seems to have maintained a proper respect for the Constitution... I'll take his view of the NDAA over Obama's or Warren's:

    http://blog.chron.com/texaspolitics/2012/02/cruz-criticizes-ndaa-while-protesters-rally-outside-capitol/

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  6. To be fair to the Times, the article delivers what the headline promises: People knowing Ted Cruz as an intellectual. Whether those people are correct or have any justification for their beliefs is I guess unimportant. Nor is it important that we are exposed to any objective corroboration of those beliefs. What matters, in the context of this story, is that there people who know Ted Cruz and think of him as an intellectual. Great journalism.

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  7. Couves: Intellect, in my book, is not the same as intellectual. Again, I'm not saying anything at all about how smart he is, and I do think that there's some evidence in the story that he's a smart guy. But neither that, nor positions on issues, make someone IMO an "intellectual."

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    1. Jonathan,

      He clerked for Rehnquist... would you say that Rehnquist had "intellectual heft"?

      If you want to get real technical with the use of language, I would agree that we don't have enough evidence to claim he's "an intellectual." But the article is only using "intellectual" as an adjective, and I think it's fair to say he has more intellectual heft than the average lawyer, politician or candidate for US Senate.

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  8. Just because he's appears to be a successful attorney who has argued cases before the Supreme Court doesn't mean that he knows diddly-squat about governing, about economics, or about what's right for this country.

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    1. LOL at "appears to be" a successful attorney.

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  9. "We do learn that he wrote an undergrad thesis at Princeton..."

    And every single Princeton graduate writes a thesis, so this is even less impressive than it sounds.

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  10. Jonathan,

    I have to agree with Cuoves. There is enough in the article to justify the term intellectual as it is used in the political press. Obama was called an intellectual in 2007 on the basis of a less accomplished legal career and the quality of his autobiography/convention speech.

    If you don't have problem with Obama being labeled as an intellectual (who also never wrote any significant academic articles), I don't see how you can justify an issue with Cruz.

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  11. C'mon. Obama had written an acclaimed memoir, plus a couple of highly regarded speeches, before the campaign, and added at least one more (race/Wright) during the campaign. That's perfectly reasonable "intellectual" credentials.

    As to the point Couves makes...well, we read the article differently. I guess if all they're claiming is that he's smart, then I think it's a probably unfair cheap shot at the current set of GOP Senators, many of whom are probably smart, too. I read it as saying more, that he has some engagement with the larger world of ideas (to be cliche about it), and yet it isn't backed up with any examples.

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    1. Jonathan,

      I wouldn't say he's just smart. In the legal profession, clerking for Rehnquist is considered an impressive indicator of intellectual heft.

      Most people make assumptions based on a thumbnail sketch of someone’s background. I didn’t need to read Obama’s memoir or attend one of his constitutional law classes to conclude that he was a Senator of significant intellectual attainment.

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    2. I think a working definition of what it means to be an "intellectual" (as opposed to what it makes to have intellect) could be helpful here, but I'm not sure that it would do us that much good.

      The problem is that, were we to have an agreed-upon definition of these terms, that would only be our agreement. It wouldn't necessarily extend to the NY Times or their readership.

      So, we could come to an agreement about what a good measure would be, apply it to Cruz, and then find the NY Times story either lacking or not. But, since we have no guarantee that we are talking about the same thing as is the NYT, all we're left with is whether their justification of the usage of that word comports with our definition of it. Which is pretty weak sauce.

      I'm not sure debating this gets any of us anywhere.

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