Ted Cruz is funny. I mean this in the most literal, genuine, congenial way. If you allow him to, he will easily make you laugh. But if you’re like me, you will not so easily give him that chance. 

I was excited and a bit incensed when I read that Ted Cruz, a senator from Texas, former candidate for President of the United States and Princeton University alum, would be speaking on campus. I hated Ted Cruz for a myriad of different reasons- the prevailing one being that he didn’t beat our current president in the primaries- the others having to do with his stances on various things: abortion, gay marriage, the separation of church and state- any social issue in general, really. I felt like the guy interpreted the constitution like any other conservative politician: with the interests and concerns of white men at the foreground of his decision making. But then he made me laugh and I found myself in a state of doubt.

I’ve always stood by the opinion that people’s character judgement should be derived from their actions. Then suddenly, I was sitting in the Woodrow Wilson School, agreeing with things someone who I had judged to be toxic and blindly conservative was saying. I was nodding along to Ted Cruz’s opinions and anecdotes and to me, for the first time, he was neither good nor bad- he just was.

I wasn’t suddenly thrust into agreeance with many of his opinions, but our differences failed to negate the fact that we shared similarities as well. We spoke, and smiled. I shook his hand and he was a person.

As he conversed with Professor Robert George, the Senator made a brilliant point. He said that we operate under the impression that “those who disagree with us are either stupid or evil, and they aren’t.”

He expressed that “competent, good people have different opinions than yourself [and] if you believe that something is right, then you should be able to defend that against intelligent people [who are] equally as passionate as yourself.”

I, as someone who has frequently found herself in positions which I’ve been forced to defend my actions and beliefs, whole heartedly agree that there are variances in opinion and that those discrepancies provide for development and learning and dialogue.

The senator commented that, “what education [and learning] is supposed to be about [is] having your views challenged.”

When you’re forced to defend your belief systems you’re also forced to confront their flaws which is frustrating but necessary; it’s a catalyst for change and innovation; it’s how we learn from one another and it is not a bad thing.

Now, I’ve always had certain, immovable positions on things I consider to be human & civil rights. Homosexual couples should be able to get married, women deserve the right to choose what happens to their bodies, there shouldn’t be any overlap of religion and the way in which our government creates and enforces policies- so on and so on. But the fact of the matter is that not everyone agrees with me. Those differing people don’t cease to exist just because I don’t surround myself with them. They live and learn and run for elected office. They become mayors and senators and yes- even president.

Despite my agreeing with him, Ted Cruz managed to remind me a few times throughout the discussion that he is in fact one of those people. He called President Trump “incredibly articulate” in his handling of the Paris Agreement. He said that “the substance of what is being done thus far is pretty good,” in terms of the Trump administration. He said that Justice Antoine Scalia was one of the best justices to date. But, he also told us stories.

I learned about his late sister who struggled with addiction and of his father who fought alongside Fidel Castro. He told us how he was the only U.S. Senator to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral and how he maxed out his credit card when he was a young lawyer just to send his nephew to school. Ted Cruz humanized himself and reminded me not to believe everything I see on TV. He’s not a bad guy, and I’m embarrassed that I so vehemently hated someone I didn’t know. I’m ashamed that I regarded him the way a lot of people regard me: without perspective, empathy or any sense of understanding.

I still believe that people are nothing if not their actions. But they are the sum of their behavior, not bits and pieces of it. Ted Cruz has voted against legislation I support, he’s said and acted upon sentiments I detest- but in conjunction with that he has helped people. He’s been a father and a brother and a husband. He has done things to make people’s lives easier, better- happier even. He, like all of us, has done good and bad and things that tread through the seemingly endless areas of grey.

I feel strange, having liked Ted Cruz as a person, because that required me to acknowledge that he is in fact more than an idea. He, and all public figures, are presented to the us in a one-dimensional fashion when in fact, they’re as equally complex and multifaceted as anyone else. With that, I feel thankful that I had the rare opportunity to have my mind changed. I’m glad that Ted Cruz made me think and question and wonder; I’m happy that he made me laugh.

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