Statement in form not substance

As has been widely reported by media outlets, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) walked out of Nelson Mandela’s memorial service while Cuban president Raul Castro was speaking. Of course, Cruz framed the hasty egress as some kind of knock against the tyranny of the Castro brothers’ regimes.

As Cruz’s spokesperson, Catherine Frazier, said in a prepared statement: “For decades, Castro has wrongly imprisoned and tortured countless innocents. Just as Mandela was released after 27 years in prison, Castro should finally release his political prisoners. He should hold free elections, and once and for all, set the Cuban people free.”

We can all agree that the Castros are in many regards villainous, but Raul Castro’s speech had to come as no surprise. Why then did Cruz feel the need to behave rudely during a funeral service?

His early exit had all the spontaneity of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s infamous shoe-banging tantrum at the United Nations. Perhaps Cruz should have stayed at home if he couldn’t summon the propriety to just sit on his brains for a few more minutes. Then again, the ultra-conservative Cruz has risen to national attention with his signature blend of prattling intolerance and backward-looking buffoonery.

The saddest part of Cruz’s incivility rests in the fact that he mirrors a growing trend in society. That trend appears to accept and even value the comportment of churlish children — who want what they want right now! It is a culture of immediate gratification with little emphasis on rectitude.

We as a nation have become Sir Walter Scott’s “wretch, centered all in self.” What Cruz — as well as his contemporaries on both the right and left — have done is to raise this theater of ugliness to high art. Form plays the part of substance; volume plays the part of merit; and fanaticism the part of courage.

This march toward a culture of immediacy has many advantages. Products can be delivered more quickly, if not instantaneously. Information is exchanged at light speed. Technological innovation is on an upward trajectory as never before seen in human history.

Unfortunately, the darker side presents itself with equal celerity. Nowhere do we see this more clearly than the current arena of political discourse. Gone are the reasoned philosophical differences of Jefferson and Hamilton. In their place we have “super majorities” and the “nuclear option.”

We see a prime example of this here in Arkansas with the senatorial contest between incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor and first-term Republican Rep. Tom Cotton. Pryor, the dynastic heir, has spent his entire career trying to ride the line between being enough of a Democrat to pass party muster while not tilting so much that he raises the ire of the extreme right. Then there’s Cotton, whose predilection toward extremism has him constantly playing the part of hero patriot (who just happens to have gone to Harvard, but isn’t one of “them”). In short, we have a choice between two people who want you to believe that they’re just as proletarian as the rest of us — all the while running from their essential characters.

We hope that a day will come when political statements actually say something, will actually mean something.