Ted Cruz is No JFK! Or is He?

Ted Cruz is no John F. Kennedy!  So says the former president’s grandson, Jack Kennedy Schlossberg, in a new’ish piece on Politico.  The essence of his piece was essentially that:

Were my grandfather alive today, he’d be excited about how far we have come as a nation since 1963, he would feel a sense of urgency about the challenges that lie ahead and he most certainly would not be a Republican.

But there’s something more happening here than simply pointing out differences in policy and beliefs: namely the insistence on protecting the legacy of the heroes of our past.

In part, the piece spoke to me because it is all about inheriting legacy from much admired forbearers, and it came across my screen as I was preparing to observe the 3rd anniversary of my own father’s death, and he is certainly a much admired forbearer, at least for me.  It also spoke to me because it was shared by a new friend – one whose wisdom and expertise I am quickly coming to depend upon.

But that is all about me, and frankly I am writing about this piece not only because it spoke to me, but because I think it speaks to issues that confront all of us, especially in an election year when almost nothing is what we expected.

What’s especially interesting here, is that both Cruz and Schlossberg want to claim JFK’s mantle even as they could not disagree more about what that looks like, and both have claims that make a measure of sense, if not exactly equally so.  Perhaps that is the mark of great leaders – that they create enduring models which are so expansive, that people can debate which is the “true” version.

That is certainly how great rabbinic teaching has worked since the Mishnah – foundational text of Judaism that records conversations from around the time if Jesus until the late second century, not to mention how great constitutional thinking has worked as well, almost from the very beginning of the Supreme Court.  There is a powerful lesson there, though it is largely lost on both Cruz and Schlossberg i.e. that there is no single “true inheritor” to truly durable traditions, and that is often what makes them durable.

It would be so much better for American politics and our collective culture as it relates to most any polarizing issue, if each of these guys had the ability to recognize the significance of wanting to be in JFK’s image, rather than competing to re-cast JFK in each of their own images.

But since that is exactly the confusion that happens when people invoke God and religion, I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise when people do it with politics and great politicians.  It is however, yet another way in which we can use both the American and Jewish legal traditions to actually contribute to a healthier America and a more sophisticated and nuanced politics which would benefit us all, whether we identify more closely with Mr. Schlossberg or Sen. Cruz.

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