Saturday, January 16, 2016


By Finbarr Curtis

Everyone understands that Ted Cruz is a terrible human being.  Even Ted Cruz seems to think that Ted Cruz is a horrible person. You can see it in the knowing smirk he makes when he says some outlandish thing designed to offend do-gooders, the twinkle in his eye he gets when he talks about carpet bombing civilians, the wry chuckle he lets out when he makes fun of women who cannot afford contraception, the sense of smug satisfaction that oozes from every pore when he calmly informs the American public that he will reduce economic inequality by cutting taxes on the wealthy, and the look of serenity that appears when he nourishes his soul by informing a nervous working woman that he would happily deport her.

Cruz is a representative of a peculiar species of conservative often found sporting bow ties on the debate teams of Ivy League schools.  This breed of conservative cites his argumentative prowess as evidence of great intelligence.  What this means in reality is that they have just enough intelligence to formulate arguments that are perfectly designed to get people to hate them, but do not have enough intelligence to do the more difficult work of persuading anyone.  Designed to provoke rather than convince, the pontifications of Ivy League Young Republicans produce a feedback loop of ubiquitous loathing that perpetually confirms their elite superiority.  Nothing makes them happier than their being hated.

Cruz's grin was stretching ear-to-ear in Thursday's GOP debate when he was asked about his accusation that Donald Trump represented "New York values."  Answering a question from Brooklyn-born Maria Bartiromo, Cruz stated: "I think most people know what that means." When Bartiromo said she did not know although she was from New York, he explained: "You might not know because you are from New York."

At first glance, this is a paradox.  Common sense would tell us that New Yorkers, those who have the experience of the Big Apple in their bones, would best understand New York values.  But Cruz is not one to shirk from logical contradictions.  Right after saying that Bartiromo might not understand because she was from New York, he upped the ante from his claim that "most people" know to "everyone" understands.  According to Cruz: "Everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal, pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, focus around money and the media." There is a literal paradox here as well.  A dictionary definition of "everyone" as "every person" would include people from New York.  But New York values are comprehensible to everyone except New Yorkers.

Such mysterious references to what "everyone understands" led some commentators to assert that Cruz was employing coded Anti-Semitism.  His allusion to "money and the media" certainly sounds like the kind of oblique language that would have resonated with Annie Hall's Alvy Singer, who observed that New York was viewed as a collection of "Left wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers" and insisted: "The failure of the country to get behind New York City is Anti-Semitism."

As someone born in Manhattan's Beth Israel hospital (which I guess is about as far into enemy territory as one could get), I also have no idea what New York values are.  But Cruz's exchange with Bartiromo clarifies that this is to be expected.  New York values are not things New Yorkers understand because these are not what we talk about when we talk about values. While there are a number of technical ways to define the world value, in popular usage values have no content.  Ask someone to name "family values," for example, and the usual answers are to identify what they are not.  A family values crusader opposes abortion, same-sex marriage, and sex education in schools.  Attempts to identify support for health care or world peace as values do not gain much political traction because they fail to resonate with this kind of negative identification.

Values are one of a number of fuzzy words like "spiritual," "sacred," "conscience," or "freedom" that people use to mark a vaguely intuitive sense that something is important when they cannot offer any precise analysis of what that thing is.  Labeling things as values can lend a sense of depth and profundity to what would otherwise be ordinary social and political positions.  Values are understood to be different from other viewpoints because they are taken to represent some core or essence of a person.  Someone with good values is someone who was brought up the right way by good people in a God-fearing part of the country.  Invocations of family values or value voters or New York values, therefore, are strategies of identification rather than descriptions of political views. 

What Cruz's exchange with Bartiromo demonstrates is that most usages of an "everyone" depend upon the exclusion of someone.  Intuitive negative identifications allow you to covertly appeal to what everyone knows about "them."  While Cruz probably does not have any personal animosity toward individual Jews, Anti-New-Yorkism follows the same logic as Anti-Semitism by creating universal inclusiveness through particular exclusions.  By appealing to what everyone knows about the moral defects of some people, values-speak helps to produce common sense assumptions about who good people are and where they are from. Will this help Cruz win the GOP nomination? Who knows?

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