I would argue that Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is the best rhetorician in Congress — possibly in politics. This is a man who knows how to target his audience; to use his oratory to move and persuade most admirably.
For example, if you listen to his speech announcing his presidential candidacy at Liberty University yesterday, you can hear how he clips the endings to words and leaves pregnant pauses in a way so indicative of great preachers and oh-so-very appropriate in a speech at a Christian university started by Jerry Falwell.
He doesn’t speak that way all the time. In debates and interviews and other speeches, you notice he speaks a bit faster and without so many pauses. But when he’s at an event with a large number of faithful (CPAC, etc.), he takes that rhetorical strategy. And it works.
I noticed during his run for senator that he was very persuasive. No wonder he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court a number of times, given his seemingly inherent ability to persuade.
Unfortunately, if you ask me, he fails to satisfy a famous historical requirement we get from Cato the Elder via Quintilian:
vir bonus, dicendi peritus
That is, a true rhetorician is a “good man speaking well.”
Ted Cruz speaks well but not good. He’s a smooth snake-oil salesman. His favored policies are destructive to our social fabric — from repealing health insurance reforms that keep freelancers like my wife and me insured and denying climate change to bashing gay marriage and his reliance on falsehoods to serve his arguments. That’s not true rhetoric. In my opinion, it isn’t sophistry either. (While both deal in contingencies, the latter, to me, allows for more relativity in argument. Often it is seen as the antithesis — the ugly sister — of rhetoric.) It’s hypocrisy and an effort to turn back time.
I don’t dislike Ted Cruz as a person. This isn’t personal. I just believe his policy positions are wrong. But he’s very persuasive in making them. I’ll give him that.