Profiles In Courage … and Non-Courage

The Briefing, Vol. III, Issue 7 –

  • Indiana and the portrait of courage
  • Ted Cruz’s candidacy
  • Obama makes most effective push yet on Iran.

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso
Happy Easter, and Happy Passover. 


IranAt many points in his presidency, Barack Obama has shown an embarrassing tin-ear — a glaring lack of political acumen in dealing with situations that just weren’t really that difficult to handle. Take, for example, his reaction to his party’s loss in the 2014 midterm; or his reaction to the Fort Hood massacre; or the handling of the Bowe Bergdahl swap; or his flogging (at various points throughout his presidency, but recently as well) the idea of a robust economic recovery at a time when the economy wasn’t really improving much at all.

When it comes to Iran, Obama has had his tin-ear moments. But last week, he had a golden one. It was a CIB033015-obama-kerrypublic relations triumph in which Obama successfully papered over many important realities — chief among which that there was no actual agreement with Iran to announce. Obama managed to take the failure to reach an agreement by the March 31 deadline and turn it into something that seemed like and was covered like a victory.

Obama’s explanation of the (presumably forthcoming) deal challenged Republicans in a way previous versions had not. He argued that the U.S. is actually desperate for this deal because Iran is just months away from having what it needs for a nuclear bomb. If no deal is made, he pointed out, Iran can simply finish the job. He strongly oversold the idea that Iran is trustworthy and has upheld its obligations to date.

If Iran is trustworthy, then Obama may be right to frame the situation as a choice between the deal and another Middle Eastern war. Here’s the problem: If Iran is untrustworthy, then this is a false choice, because the U.S. could well get a nuclear deal with Iran this summer and then get a Middle Eastern war between Sunnis and Shiites to go along with it. In fact, the warring parties have already got a head start in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

President 2016

Indiana RFRA: The religious freedom bill that is currently causing so much controversy in Indiana is worth taking a moment to look at in this time of year, when Christians and Jews celebrate two unpopular ideas — the resurrection of Christ, in the one case, and in the other the deliverance of the Jews from captivity in Egypt through plagues sent by God on the Egyptians.

Both of those religions claim a divine origin — as do most others, including Islam. In this day and age (as in others) such claims are viewed with suspicion and frequently responded to with hatred. But these are by no means the strangest or least popular religious claims out there. Believers, to paraphrase Saint Paul, hold to many tenets of faith that the world considers foolishness, and that applies to nearly all religions.

In ages past, secular governments tried to enforce religious orthodoxy and uniformity as a matter of preserving civil order. The United States made a clean break from this practice — something for which people of all faiths can be grateful. Within reasonable limits that prevent the total undermining of the civil order, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is specifically designed to protect the least popular religious beliefs in any given era.

We know what that is today. Because of its intersection with the resurgent, popular cause of sexual liberation and gay equivalence, religious freedom will be a very important political issue going forward — a threshold issue for many on both sides.

This is not really the place to opine on the issue, but the premises of this debate among GOP primary voters must be clearly understood. The collective freak-out over Indiana’s new religious freedom law is part of a calculated effort to ostracize believers who will never privately, within the six inches between the walls of their skulls, accept gay marriage as an equivalent institution to traditional marriage. These believers were trying to negotiate the terms of their surrender in the culture war — the acceptance of legalized same-sex marriage, etc. — only to discover that the Left will accept nothing short of unconditional surrender. Society will remain incomplete so long as there is one professional photographer who expresses a moral objection to participating in a same-sex wedding, so those who resist in this way must be singled out, driven out of business, and sued into oblivion.

By going so far over the top in their response to this Indiana law, the Left’s culture warriors are trying to mount a head on a pike (perhaps that of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, but it could be that of others as well) and make an example of him so that this form of crimethink is permanently banished and forgotten within a generation or two.

This is how the Republican base views this law. Looking at it that way, how do Republicans address this issue and manage to avoid having their heads placed on pikes, yet also avoid violating their principles or at least upsetting their base?

Some of them had ideas of how to go about this. It is interesting to see how they did with their varied approaches. If nothing else, it tells us something about them.


CIB020415-Bush-150x150 (1)No one was surprised to see Ted Cruz (more on him below) give the law his full-throated backing at the earliest moment. But how about Jeb Bush? Despite his reputation as the moderate in the mix, Jeb was first out of the gate with a statement supporting Pence and the Indiana law, long before therewas any talk of “clarifying” it. Even as he gave that statement, Jeb (correctly) pointed out that the law does not foster or promote discrimination, and said he was opposed to discrimination against homosexuals.

Bush showed a lot of political savvy in handling the issue this way, and it does not seem to have hurt him to be bold on it. This is a necessity for Jeb, whose main goal between now and the Iowa caucuses, is to remind conservatives that before he was tagged with the moderate label, he governed like and was widely perceived to be a conservative.

Marco Rubio:

Another early adopter, Rubio was concise with his explanation: “[N]o one here is saying it should be legal to deny someone service at a restaurant or a hotel because of their sexual orientation. I think that’s a consensus view in America. The flip side of it is, though, should a photographer be punished for refusing to do a wedding that their faith teaches them is not one that is valid in the eyes of God?”

Rand Paul:

As of Sunday morning, Rand Paul had avoided making any comment on the law. Whether he is actually hiding or not, this doesn’t help him out at all. This is an obvious issue where social conservatives and libertarians can easily find common cause — it would have served him well to get in with a comment early on.


Gov. Scott Walker hedged his bets here. His first reaction was to point out that Wisconsin law bars discrimination and its constitution protects religious freedom already. As Jeb Bush gave his backing to Pence, Walker was saying, “That’s an issue they’ll have to debate in Indiana, it’s really not somethingthat we’re doing to be involved in here,” in Wisconsin.

A few day later, Walker gave a less equivocal statement of support and blamed the media for creating the controversy. He ended up in the right place, but once again excessive caution and timidity seem to plague his decision-making process. This is not the Walker who wrote (or approved) his book, Unintimidated. Walker will have to find that version of himself, and soon, if he wants to make himself and not Ted Cruz the conservative alternative to Bush.

Ted Cruz: 

As noted above, Cruz took an early stand on Indiana, and that put pressure on others to follow. Expect to see more of this dynamic. 

There is a certain danger in underestimating Cruz now that he has announced his presidential campaign. Say whatever else you like about him, Cruz is a principled man when it comes to his political convictions. He will have the fundraising firepower of grassroots donor email-lists built up over the last few years — especially during the “defund Obamacare” push and the government shutdown. His fundraising has been phenomenal in its opening stage for an insurgent candidate. Cruz’s presence in the race will influence many devoted GOP primary voters.

At the same time, do not overestimate Cruz. He is hyper-ambitious, and his ambitions are at this point way too big for his experience or his political savvy. Many conservatives admire him, but many others who agree with him on issues are suspicious, based on his short political career and his scorched earth Senate tactics. To whatever extent GOP primary voters base their preference on ability to win a general election, Cruz will suffer.

The two roles Cruz seems most likely to play in the coming race are (1) that of the conservative who keeps the other conservatives in the race honest, and (2) that of the spoiler, who helps divide the conservative vote, pushing a less conservative candidate over the top.  As in many other state-level races where a vote-splitting dynamic may or may not emerge, it’s very hard to see how the fault-lines form in advance.