By John Kotula
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here are entirely those of the author and do not represent in any form the position of the Nicaragua Network/Alliance for Global Justice. Nicanet/AFGJ has for 39 years opposed the bipartisan US policy of militarism and intervention in Nicaragua and other countries regardless of the relative political power of the two parties of the 1% in the US.
The contest for the US Senate seat in Texas that pits Republican Ted Cruz against his Democrat challenger Beto O’Rourke is one of special interest to people interested in Nicaragua. This is the case if for no other reason than that Cruz is the principal sponsor of and advocate for the NICA Act [Nicaragua Investment Conditionality Act] in the Senate. There is very thorough and compelling information on this terribly wrong headed legislation elsewhere in NicaNotes. In this essay I want to look at Cruz and O’Rourke as potential Senators from the perspective of someone interested in Nicaragua specifically and Latin America in general.
The image of David and Goliath is present very early in Nicaraguan culture, at a time when the underdogs were indigenous people and the top dogs were from Spain. In more recent times, Nicaraguans have seen the United States in the role of Goliath. There is a folk dance and street performance piece that dates from the colonial era called El Gigante. It is performed annually in Diriamba. All the characters from the bible story are represented by music, movement, masks and costumes. The narrative isn’t very linear or explicit, but the mask that represents Goliath is vivid and disturbing. He has a bloody hole in the center of his forehead.
There are probably older tales of top dog versus underdog, but let’s start with the bible, 1 Samuel 17. As is often the case with bible stories, when you read the tale of David and Goliath for secular insights rather than religious revelation, none of the characters come off very well. The giant is, stereotypically, a taunting bully who uses his size to intimidate and then humiliate the Israelites. Who wouldn’t be scared? After all the dude is over nine feet tall! Well, David wouldn’t, because he is cocksure in an annoyingly adolescent way. He is just a kid. What is he, 13, 14 years old? As the youngest son, he has stayed out of the war, tending the sheep at home with his elderly father. He is only on the battlefield to deliver some bread and cheese to his brothers and reassure his father that they are OK. And yet, from the moment he gets it in his head that he is the one who should go up against the giant, he never has a moment of self-doubt. Even his own brother says to him, “I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is…” (WTF, Dude! Get out of here and go back to your sheep.)
However, David hangs around talking smack against the Giant. He seems particularly incensed that the giant is uncircumcised. He keeps bringing it up. “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” Finally, he gets King Saul’s attention and cons him into letting him take on Goliath. He claims to Saul that he has killed both a lion and a bear to protect his sheep. However, we only have his word for this. You’ve got to wonder what wouldn’t this cocky kid say to realize his vision of himself basking in the glory of victory and the admiration of his people, not to mention the promise of riches and the king’s daughter in marriage. Maybe David is fearless because he knows he has god on his side or maybe he is delusional about his invincibility just like so many teenagers are.
The final confrontation is anticlimactic. The boy and the giant circle around trash talking each other without much style or creativity. Goliath: “Come here… and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!” David: “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head.” The little guy flings his rock with enough force to embed it in the giant’s forehead. Goliath face plants and the boy, good for his word, decapitates him with his own sword.
Ted Cruz is widely reported to be the most disliked person in the US Senate. Lindsey Graham said publicly, “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.” This was of course presented as a “joke,” but a joke with enough truth to it that people nod their assent while they are laughing. I have also heard this sentiment expressed as “If Ted Cruz was shot on the floor of the Senate no one would call an ambulance” and, “If Ted Cruz burst into flame on the floor of the Senate no one would…”
From all reports, Ted Cruz is the kind of guy – much like Donald Trump – who finds “toughness” – machismo, belligerence, aggression – a value in and of itself. His reelection slogan is “Tough as Texas.” He seems to think of civility and friendliness as irrelevant or a sign of weakness.
Despite a good deal of personal animosity between Cruz and Trump, it is hard to find an issue on which they are not in agreement. The difference is that Cruz’ radical, right wing beliefs come from a consistent, clearly formulated political philosophy, whereas Trump says whatever the hell is passing through his head at any given moment. Cruz is also an articulate, if somewhat flat public speaker. At the same time, he uses doublespeak with the best of them. In his press release on the NICA Act he plays the bullying Goliath role with Nicaragua once again in the role of David. He goes on at great length about how “the US stands with the people of Nicaragua.” Reading it is one of those frustrating experiences where you say to yourself, he’s lying, he knows he’s lying, he knows that you know he’s lying, but he is just going to keep on lying. He has no interest in the truth, rather only in stringing out “talking points” that obscure the truth.
Cruz recently said at a rally at The Redneck Country Club (yes, there really is such a place) outside Houston that the midterm elections offer Texans, “a crystal-clear choice in November”. He got that right. Beto O’Rourke is altogether a different man and a different politician than Ted Cruz.
On substance, he is consistently and unapologetically a liberal Democrat.
On style, at least so far, he does not tailor his message to what he thinks his audience wants to hear. Reportedly, he speaks to people on the issues, and just keeps speaking. He is willing to talk about difference of opinion and pitch why he believes his ideas are right for Texas. However, he does not back pedal or back down.
He also does not steer away from complex issues and often redefines the terms of debate. For example, where Cruz is a rabid, build-the-wall, anti-immigrant, xenophobe, O’Rourke says, “Much of our strength, success, and security as a state and as a country depends on the immigrants who contribute to our society as together we build the American Dream. Any honest immigration reform must reflect the value of immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers by providing a path to work, family reunification and citizenship. At a time when the border with Mexico has never been safer, and when we’ve never spent so much on border security, the surest way to improve safety and security is not to build a wall or spend billions more, but to ensure that we are maximizing the potential from everyone in this state, treating each other with respect and dignity.” He shifts the conversation from conflict to common interests and mutual respect.
What would a debate between these two candidates be like? They are so far apart on substance and style that it is hard to imagine them having a coherent dialogue… oh, wait a minute… I’m talking about a political debate in 2018. Of course they won’t have a coherent dialogue. However, all signs are that O’Rourke would actually like to.
Much of the media attention given to Beto O’Rourke’s candidacy has focused on his fundraising and his underdog status. Without taking PAC money, he has out raised Cruz and will have one of the best financed Senate campaigns in the country. And yes he is an underdog. It has been two decades since a Democrat has held a US Senate seat in Texas. None the less, sometimes underdogs win.
You say you’re not from texas
Man as if I couldn’t tell
You think you pull your boots on right
And wear your hat so well
So pardon me my laughter
‘Cause I sure do understand
Even Moses got excited
When he saw the promised land
That’s right you’re not from Texas
That’s right you’re not from Texas
That’s right you’re not from Texas
But Texas wants you anyway
The stakes of the 2018 midterm elections are such that every race is a national race. I vote in Rhode Island, a boringly safe Democrat state. I want to do what little I can to have broader influence. I think taking control of the Senate and house are essential, but not sufficient steps to getting our country back on track. The Democrats are of course no panacea. If they should get back in power, we will see again that it is necessary to hold them accountable and push them hard for progressive policies.
I have made a personal decision to donate money to and volunteer for Beto O’Rourke’s campaign. However, this essay is not an endorsement of one candidate or the other. Rather it is an invitation to pay attention to this campaign, one among many pivotal races this year, and decide to what extent you’d like to get involved.
- The Ministry of Energy and Mines announced that it began to install photovoltaic systems in Jalapa municipality, Nueva Segovia, last week. “Throughout this year, more than 11,000 photovoltaic systems will be installed in isolated rural communities of the country,” the Ministry of Energy and Mines said. (Nicaragua News, Apr. 13)
- Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and World Health Organization (WHO) Representative Dr. Socorro Gross announced that the United Nations will award a certificate of distinction to Nicaragua for being the first country in the Americas to eradicate the main vector that transmits Chagas disease. “This is a recognition of the Nicaraguan government efforts and its Community Family Healthcare Model. The official certification will be presented at a regional meeting with experts from Central America to be held in the next few days in Managua,” Dr. Gross said. (Nicaragua News, Apr. 12)
- In remarks during her visit to Managua last Monday, the Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), June Soomer, said Nicaragua is one of the leading countries in the region with respect to female empowerment. “We believe great progress has been made in terms of female empowerment and have much interest in learning about the successful Nicaragua experience”, Soomer said. (Nicaragua News, Apr. 10)
- A devastating forest fire in the Indio-Maiz nature preserve has been brought under control with the help of the US, Mexico, Honduras, and El Salvador. President Daniel Ortega said, however, that care had to be taken because “wind could increase and the fire could flare up again.” The irrational portion of the political opposition, with the help of the Guardian newspaper in the UK, criticized the government for turning down Costa Rica’s offer of help due to their not having the necessary equipment. The fire encompassed 22 sq. km. The UN Education, Science, and Culture Organization (UNESCO) has offered to help Nicaragua restore the damaged ecosystem. The government is still investigating the cause of the fire. Environmentalist Kamilo Lara stated that the destruction, which affected 1% of the forest preserve, should recuperate by means of natural regeneration and environmental restoration. (El Nuevo Diario, Apr. 13; Tortilla con Sal, Nicaragua News, Apr. 12; Informe Pastran, Apr. 13)
- The “Supreme Dream of Bolivar” is a joint oil distribution project in Miramar between the Venezuelan oil company, PDVSA, and Albanisa, a public-private Nicaraguan company created to handle Venezuelan oil aid for poverty reduction programs. The first phase, giant oil storage tanks, has been completed and is ready to be inaugurated. The project is the first Pacific distribution center for Venezuelan oil to Nicaragua and Central America. The project includes infrastructure and a road system connecting the tank farm with Port Sandino. The project will also include 2,325 solar lighting systems, 65 water wells, a one million plant reforestation project and 16 social housing units. (Informe Pastran, Apr. 13)