So this is a real thing that happened. Ted Cruz reenacts an entire scene from “The Princess Bride” and unbelievably…nails it. For that, I was the first to applaud him. Loudly. Because a spot on Billy Crystal impression was all that was really worth clapping for.
Out of all my “candidate engagement” encounters thus far, meeting and speaking with Ted Cruz has been the most profound. I knew going into it it, having listened to this video below (you can find more on the VTEH site) of Senator Cruz responding to how he would offer help and opportunity to the poor – I knew we had some fundamental disagreements in our philosophy.
So I wanted to find a way to connect with him. I knew that he comes from a hard working family (maybe you didn’t know this but Ted Cruz comes from an immigrant Cuban family, and was the first Hispanic American to be elected as a U.S. Senator of Texas!) and we had that in common. I told my personal story of growing up in a working class family, being told that if I worked hard enough, I could do anything in this country and so I did just that. Unfortunately, I still experienced poverty deeply, and turned to government assistance in 2010. I then explained how SNAP truly helped lift my husband and I out of poverty. Without SNAP, we would never be where we are today. For us, it was a hand up – not a hand out.
Telling my personal story was a very hard thing to do with 8 other strangers listening, cameras rolling, and Ted Cruz giving me intense eye contact – but I thought of our 15 RESULTS Experts on Poverty who are continuously so brave and powerful in telling their stories. They gave me strength. And I knew, even if we disagreed emphatically on policy going forward, it was important that he heard me and that the rest of the room heard me as well. It was important that everyone saw another face of poverty.
I will say Ted Cruz did hear me and listen to me, and I really appreciated that. The rest of his response, not so much, as that conversation unfortunately devolved into a need for people to work harder (and “speak English” by the way!), and climb faster up the ladder, to not get “trapped into poverty” and to rely on charity when needed – a point on which I followed up to say that Charity does an amazing job to help but cannot possibly provide for all who are in need. See this nifty graphic from Bread for the World, and read more about myths surrounding SNAP here.
He also told the story of how, at his own church’s food bank, if they saw a healthy, young man come in day after day, they would not serve him (assuming he was “abusing the system”) and I couldn’t help but picture my own healthy young man of a husband who would have walked in and been denied. At some point, I was able to interrupt a barrage of bad information that Cruz had, declaring the truth that most beneficiaries of SNAP benefits are children, the elderly, and the disabled, and that most “able-bodied” adults are only on SNAP for 4-6 months max.
It’s hard to have an incredibly in-depth argument over waffles, but, at the very least, it was important that we had that conversation.
I do have to admit, I find I have this begrudgingly odd respect for Senator Cruz. His view on the poor is not some party line that he’s obliged to sell, it seems to truly be a fundamental part of his world view and at the core of him, I believe he believes he has the solution to poverty. So he’s wrong, but he’s not lying about who he is. More than we can say for some others in the arena, I’m sure. Perhaps that makes him more dangerous in the fight against poverty, but imagine if more of us spoke up and told our own stories, maybe he would back off a bit on the whole “poverty is a character flaw” bullshit. Maybe not. But for me, it’s worth a try.