Ethics Inquiry: Did Sen. Cruz Do Anything Wrong?

Cruz trip

As Bill Clinton might say (and probably has, maybe more than once), it depends on what your definition of “wrong” is.

Millions of Texans were left without electricity this week in the middle of the state’s power crisis following a massive winter storm. The Senator’s wife Heidi sent text messages to friends and neighbors complaining that their home was “FREEZING,” and that she wanted the family to escape on the 17th to someplace warmer, at least until Sunday. The mission, if her husband chose to accept it: get to the luxury Ritz-Carlton in sunny Cancún, Mexico. The destination is apparently a family favorite. The GOP Senator did accept, and the Freezing Cruzes fled Houston, hopping an afternoon flight. The consensus of the news media, the commentariat and social media was that…

In fact, you would think Cruz had been caught having a secret romantic rendezvous with a goat. Incriminating photos of Cruz and his wife boarding the flight launched a full-fledged scandal. How dare he flee a crisis when his state was in misery? Ted responded by playing the Parent Card, explaining he had flown to Mexico “to be a good dad” and to chaperone his daughters and their friends, and he promised he was coming back yesterday, which he did.

When he returned, Cruz admitted that his family trip had been a mistake. That is undeniable.

But was it unethical? Was it wrong?

One reason Cruz’s escape to warmer climes was a mistake was that it came on the heels of so many Democratic Party mayors and governors violating their own “don’t travel,” “stay out of crowds” and “celebrate Thanksgiving with your immediate family at home” edicts. The “laws are for little people” behavior of our elected class is still raw in everyone’s minds, and the news media was primed to go Medieval on any Republican who could be accused of following the same arrogant pattern. For all his flaws, Ted Cruz is a smart man and an astute politician. He just barely won re-election. How could he not know that leaving his constituency FREEZING while he, a millionaire with options they didn’t have, got out of Dodge (Do NOT tell me that Dodge City is in Kansas, you know what I mean) would look terrible?

This can be framed as a classic ethics dilemma, an example of unethical considerations overcoming ethical ones and muffling ethics alarms. Cruz was FREEZING himself. His family was unhappy, and his wife and children were lobbying him to go. The family/public service conflict is real and has had a greater influence on our elected officials’ conduct, and thus the journey of our nation, than we tend to think. Or maybe less—a large proportion of our leaders—I am tempted to say “most”—are pretty lousy parents and spouses, and their responsibilities on the home front are routinely delegated or ignored. I often describe non-ethical considerations as creating a giant magnet pulling the clapper on the ethics alarm away from its proper function. Often these non-ethical considerations are power, prestige and personal advancement, and for politicians, they work against the family’s need.

Cruz’s decision can also be analyzed as an ethics conflict, with ethical considerations on both sides of the equation, but pointing to opposite conclusions. Cruz’s duties to his family are ethical ones, just as his duties to his state, office and party are ethical duties. In ethics conflicts, the relative expected consequences of the opposite courses must be balanced as objectively as possible without being tainted by rationalizations.

There are many rationalizations that would point Cruz to Cancun. Among them (and I’m sure I missed a couple):

The Biblical Rationalizations, like “Judge not, lest ye not be judged,” and “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

The Trivial Trap (“No harm no foul!”)

The King’s Pass “Just this once!”

The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”

The Road To Hell, or “I meant well”

Self-validating Virtue

Murkowski’s Lament, or “It was a difficult decision.”

Ethics Accounting, or “I’ve earned this”

The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”

Woody’s Excuse: “The heart wants what the heart wants”

Juror 3’s Stand (“It’s My Right!”)

Frederick’s Compulsion or “It’s My Duty!”

The Favorite Child” Excuse

The Revolutionary’s Excuse: “These are not ordinary times.”

The Unethical Role Model: “He/She would have done the same thing”

The Comforting Accusation or “You would have done the same thing!”

The Miscreant’s Mulligan or “Give him/her/them/me a break!”

The Evasive Tautology, or “It is what it is.”

The Abuser’s License: “It’s Complicated”

Ethics Jiu Jitsu, or “Haters Gonna Hate!”

“Convenient Futility,” or “It wouldn’t have mattered if I had done the right thing.”

Narcissist Ethics , or “I don’t care”

The Hippie’s License, or “If it feels good, do it!”

The Universal Trump, or “Think of the children!”

The Ironic Rationalization, or “It’s The Right Thing To Do”

The Paranoid’s Blindness, or “It’s not me, it’s you.”

Twenty-six rationalizations, just sitting out there ready confound the Senator’s ethical decision-making process!

This situation was a perfect opportunity to apply, carefully, the Twelve Questions devised by Harvard Business School Professor Laura Nash in 1981. Let’s do it now:

1. Have you defined the problem accurately? In other words, “What’s going on here?” If the truth is that Cruz just wanted to get out of Texas and had the opportunity to do so, then that’s an ethics dilemma, and the ethical course—stay and suffer with your followers like good leaders do, is obvious. If it’s an ethics conflict, family vs. job, then there is a more difficult problem.

2. How would you define the problem if you stood on the other side of the fence? This one might have made the difference. From the other side of the fence, meaning outside his family, the situation looks like the elite and aristocratic being in charge of a government that is supposed to be democratic. It is irresponsible to foster such a perception.

3. How did this situation occur in the first place? N/A

4. To whom and to what do you give your loyalty as a person and as a member of the organization? As a person? The family. As a member of the Texas GOP, the Republican Party, and a citizen of the state who has been elected and is trusted to represent its citizens? To ask the question is to answer it.

5. What is your intention in making this decision? Get warm and make the family feel that they come first, when so often they do not.

6. How does this intention compare with the probable results?
Oh, that intention will be fulfilled. But Cruz had to consider the blow-back, which was absolutely predictable, as an undesired result.

7. Whom could your decision injure?
Ted Cruz. The Republican Party.

8. Can you discuss the problem with the affected parties before you make your decision? No, he could discuss the problem with half of the affected parties, all those in favor of one course of action. The fact that Cruz knew he couldn’t discuss the matter with his party, advisors, and constituents should have told him what the ethical course was.

9. Are you confident that your position will be as valid over a long period of time as it seems now?
I’m sure this never popped into Ted’s mind. He was not playing ethics chess.

10. Could you disclose without qualm your decision or action to your boss, the head of your organization, your colleagues, your family, the person you most admire, or society as a whole?

Let’s see…His boss? That would be Texans. NO. The head of his organization? NO. Colleagues? least not the smart ones. Family? Sure! The person you most admire? That would be Ted. Society as a whole? Well, we have the answer to that one now, don’t we?

11. What is the symbolic potential of your action if understood? If misunderstood? DINGDINGDINGDING! Cruz was only thinking about the real, tabgible, crisis-related consequences of his brief escape. He is a U.S. Senator, and has no power (just like Texas!) in a situation like this. It is literally not in his job description. However, Cruz’s profession is politics, where perceptions are crucial. A Senator leaving Texas for Mexico looks like the captain leaving a sinking ship by luxury yacht while the passengers remain trapped.

12. Are there circumstances when you would allow exceptions to your stand? What are they?
#12 is unnecessary, because the actual circumstances are an exception to his “stand,” which was, “I can’t do anything here, and my family is cold and miserable. There’s no harm in me leaving for a few days, and it will be good for the family.”

The Verdict: Cruz’s decision was wrong because it was incompetent. He’s a politician, and a leader, and both require trust. His getaway appeared to be disloyal and a breach of duty, and for leaders, appearances that undermine trust must be avoided at all costs. It was an unethical decision because it looked and felt unethical, and because a politician must maintain the appearance of trustworthiness, and because a leader must have public trust to be effective, Cruz’s action was, in fact, unethical.


Source: New York Times

30 thoughts on “Ethics Inquiry: Did Sen. Cruz Do Anything Wrong?

  1. And what about the wife and kids? Shouldn’t they know which side of their bread is buttered and what cow that butter comes from? Everything they have and will have devolves from the fact their husband and dad is a U.S. Senator. Couldn’t they, as a family, simply stay put? I suspect they have generators at their house or could certainly acquire some to run some space heaters. Or they could just shiver like everyone else and post photos of them with their dad, at home, to show some, dare I say it, solidarity with their father’s constituents. Or they could go to Mexico and look like dolts.

    As a side point, can U.S. citizens even get into Mexico these days? I thought travel was restricted to essential travel because the Mexicans don’t want covid cases being brought into Mexico? Are there even planes flying between Texas and Mexico. I thought not. What’s the deal?

  2. In 1978, a blizzard hit Indianapolis hard and buried us in snow that took a good while to dig out. My father got stuck on the road on the way home from work, had to get out, walk to his parents house and stay there while my mom dealt with four kids on a week-long snow holiday from school.

    Our mayor, William Hudnut, got outside and drove a snow-plow to help clear the roads.

    Granted, he was the mayor so city management was within his jurisdiction, but he wasn’t required to get on a plow. To this day, though, whenever it snows pretty badly (as it has this week), Hoosier memories recall Hudnut on a plow.

    Ted Cruz wasn’t responsible for any of it. He didn’t even have to get on a plow. But his leaving the country was an Ick Factor moment. I get that he wanted to please his family; I don’t blame him. Would it have been better to send the off to Cancun and for him to stay behind? It would have certainly been better optics. He has to know that anything he (or any other Republican does) will come under microscopic scrutiny.

    • The Great Blizzard of 1978.

      Mrs. OB and our kids sat through it in South Bend, IN. I drove to South Bend through its remarkable remnants. Solid packed snow polished to the sheen of sheet ice four or five inches thick on the Interstate all the way from Louisville to Indy. Traffic just crept along at about twenty miles an hour. Except for one Pontiac that blasted by at about sixty. I expected to see it up the road on its roof in a ditch but never did. Maybe the guy knew something about physics the rest of us didn’t?

      • They don’t make those cars like they used to, did they?

        The snow was packed so high that we could literally walk over the fence into our backyard via the drift. I remember being stupid enough to walk across the street to return a sweater to a friend without wearing a coat or gloves myself and spent a long time after that in massive pain.

        • Thirty-six inches fell in South Bend. The snow came over the roof and met the snow on the ground to block our front door. The only snow removal equipment Mrs. OB had was a little child’s plastic snow shovel. Fortunately, our neighbor was a pharmacist whom the National Guard came on snow cats to take to and from work. He’d bring milk and groceries to Mrs. OB. I had to park at the end of our street when I arrived a week after the storm. I’m not sure when our street was finally plowed. Mrs. OB learned how to play canasta while passing time with our neighbors across the street. “Back home again…”

  3. This was just a bonehead move. We have seen similar regarding the Wuhan Virus with the endless preaching only to find out that is just for the hoi polloi. Appearances are everything and with Cruz rolling out of town it comes across as an escape.

  4. Personally tired of “gotchas” of all kinds these days.

    Anybody else who could get away or send their family somewhere warm would, and undoubtedly has.

    Yes, he’s a leader, all of Jack’s points above etc., ad nauseam.

    If it were a Democrat we’d only find out about it if James O’Keefe had a gotcha video (ironically, the MSM is the left’s JO, I feel a little cheated as a conservative).

    Being in political office I guess means forgoing some opportunities the rest of us have available to us, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on.

    I’m uncomfortable with that.

  5. Given the state of the news media today, I’d wager that if Cruz had stayed and tried to do anything headlines would read something like ‘GOP Senator Cruz tries pandering to constituents after failing to ensure power during unprecedented winter storm’.
    Even a selfless act of kindness won’t save you from persecution, if you supported the wrong person politically.
    But we’ll never know, and it would have been easier to defend Cruz if he had stayed and tried to do something.

    • It would have been better if Cruz had stayed put and stayed silent. The situation is not his to deal with at the federal level. Inserting himself into the state recovery efforts would have been inappropriate.

  6. From a politics point of view I agree. But I also think that it’s unethical for Texans – or anybody – to dunk on him for leaving. As you stated, he had no power or responsibility for the current crisis (aside, it’s unlikely there were egregious mistakes in the handling of the event, but that’s a separate issue). Next time a politician will be blamed for keeping his fridge running because they have a generator instead of letting milk spoil like the rest of his constituents? Cruz made an unforced error, but everyone criticizing him is making an uninformed judgment and their opinions should be discounted.

  7. I think this would be a bigger deal if there was anything Cruz could do. He is a Senator, not a governor. He isn’t part of the emergency management team. I guess shivering like everyone else is showing solidarity, but his vacation had 0 effect on the issue at hand. Yeah, it looked bad, but there wasn’t anything he really could have done.

    Now, what in the world is wrong with Houston? I see on the news that they are out of food and everything? They didn’t get below 15 degrees! It doesn’t even look like they got snow. I am sitting a few hundred miles north with temperatures that hit -9, almost a foot of snow, rolling blackouts, pipes freezing, low to no water pressure for days, threatened natural gas cutoffs, washing my underwear in a sink because the washing machine drain is frozen, but things are still moving along. Sure, there is limited selection of bread and some popular items, but if you needed food, it was there through this whole ordeal (doubled the all-time record for sustained below freezing temps at 250 hours). The 3/$1 Mac and Cheese was still there. I bought 45 for the food pantry and I only made a dent in the pile and no one batted an eye. So, what’s Houston’s excuse? My city’s work crews have been working 24 hours/day in temperatures as cold as -6 to fix broken water mains in a state where many people don’t even own a proper winter coat. When my state asked Biden for emergency aid, he said he would send “HIs prayers”, but things are still moving on. I have a feeling my tax dollars are going to be sent to Houston to fix ‘their’ problems and I suspect that is the reason they are having problems.

    • Houston did get snow. I have relatives who live there, and they took video and sent it out before the power died. The whole state is borked. I also live in Texas, and have been sitting in the dark and cold for 3 days with no power. The grocery stores in my city have been closed, and when they do open it is only for a few hours with 2-3 hour lines (outside, in the sleet and snow, because COVID) to get in, if you can get there with the roads covered in ice. Then the grocery stores were sold out because no trucks could make deliveries, due to road conditions. I like to be prepared so I have stockpiles of non-perishable food in my house anyways. Aside from temperature, I was fairly well off in comparison to many people here. I can afford to buy just-in-case food, but many cannot.

      I agree that what the federal officials were doing is irrelevant. Cruz left. Big deal. What was he going to do?

      I’m pinning the blame for this squarely on the state government and city government. They all sat around blathering about politics while people were freezing to death and dying in accidents caused by efforts not to freeze to death. They opened “warming centers” in the middle of places that had power, that no one without power could get to because of road conditions. They did not plow, salt or sand the roads. People were calling 911 to get rides to places with power for their oxygen and dialysis machines. First responders, police, fire and ambulances, were the only ones doing ANYTHING to help anyone. The state and city government closed all the food kitchens, let the water supply get contaminated, and ran their mouths about how renewable energy was or was not to blame. That argument can wait until people are no longer stuck in sub-freezing temperatures with no source of heat! What are you planning to do RIGHT NOW?

      I wish the talking heads on the tv would shut up about Cruz, and talk about something relevant to the current disaster. Their obsession with damaging republicans blinds them to anything and everything important. I don’t even care what the democrat federal representatives were doing. Managing the power grid and in-state disaster recovery is not federal officials’ job. That is the governors job. That is the mayors job. That is the city councils job. Those people are doing squat. Talk about that.

      I think that it is notable that Biden did basically nothing while this was going on. Trump would have been flying around Texas checking things out for himself and providing whatever aid he could like he did with every weather related disaster while he was President. Biden is useless, and did not even pretend to care. Perfect opportunity to make himself look like he cared about unity, and nothing.

      • Whoever you are, Null Pointer, I LOVE you and your rant. Thank you. I’ll be quoting you today.
        Next – can I help YOU in any way?

      • Why is this happening? My point is that my area, with fewer resources, got hit worse and things are still moving along. They could only plow the essential roads, so they only plowed the essential roads, but that let the trucks get through. They only plowed 8 streets in my town, but that lets the traffic flow. Our water treatment facility ran out of chemicals because they were redirected elsewhere and are pumping lake water directly to my house, but things are still moving. The restaurants are still open, grocery stores still have food, the rolling blackouts weren’t really that bad. Only the schools are suffering because school administrators always seem to turn the heat off in buildings if they aren’t being used. This leads to water line breaks and massive damage. Just more excuses to keep from opening the schools.

    • I think you are being a bit unfair to Houstonians.
      Houston got snow. Not a lot but enough to cause havoc. We had rain and sleet on Sunday night, then the temperature dropped into the teens. Streets froze. Cars here don’t havecsnow tires and the drivers gave no clue how to drive in inclement weather. Houses are not built for that.

      Houston’s infrastructure is not set up for that kind of weather because it rarely happens. So, when it does happen, it is bad. Our local governments are ill equipped to handle the situation. The Mayor is a moron and the County Judge is a 30 year old Colombian natiinaal who from here from California after “leaving” Harvard and fancies herself to be the Houston version of Ocasio-Cortez, just not as brash, wreckless, and self-absorbed, but equally capable if doing and saying stupid things. People refer to her as “Dora the Explorer” because she is short and wears her curly hair in the same fashion. When she talks, she sounds like she is whinging and about to cry, definitely inspiring confidence. She has no clue what the position entails but won the seat in 2018 with Great Blue Landslide (straight ticket voting, you see), defeating Ed Emmitt who held the position for a very long time and was very good at it.

      The real problem is with ERCOT, the energy supplier. The levels of incompetence and mismanagement are staggering. They assured the state and local officials they were prepared. They weren’t. They never winterized their plants. Their equipment failed and caused the output to plummet. Additionally, there is speculation that they sold energy at lower prices to tge Northeast but didn’t want buy it back at inflated costs.


  8. I find it fascinating that the talking heads and mainstream media clowns have spent months talking about this already and have completely ignored Cuomo’s CoronaVirus scandal with the retirement centers, his lies about the numbers of people died as a direct result of hus order, the cover up, and his threats to ruin a city council member. That is a real story.


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