CARL DIGGLER EXCLUSIVE: I Debated Ted Cruz in College. Our Epic Battle Was One for the Ages

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It is the fall of 1989, and the hotshot captain of the Wellesley Debate Team is preparing to face a young up-and-comer on the Princeton squad. That cocksure Wellesley Man was me, the first male captain of a Seven Sisters debate team. And that Princetonian was future Senator Ted Cruz.

As one of just 9 male students at this historical women-only college, I was truly the Dig Man on Campus. In fact, some people believe that my alpha male swagger caused Wellesley to immediately switch back to being a women-only school.

We men of that temporarily trailblazing Class of ’91 were hungry to take full advantage of everything Wellesley had to offer. While the other fellas dove into Dance Team and fashion design classes (probably as a misguided attempt to meet ladies — not a problem at an all-girls school!), the Dig followed his natural proclivity for politics. I started a radical campus newspaper (The Moderate Maverick) and broke huge stories from “Jesse Jackson Bros Harass Women, People Of Color On Usenet” (2/12/88) to “Search Continues For Prankster Who Locked Respected Student Journalist Out Of Dorms In Towel” (11/1/89). I also brought my forensic talents to the vaunted Wellesley Debate Team.

Was 18-year-old Dig nervous about joining one of the most respected (and, until then, all-female) college debate teams in the country? Not at all. As a young child I spent many long nights glued to reruns of Washington Week and the McLaughlin Group, where paladins of punditry like Eleanor Clift and Pat Buchanan taught me how to win arguments using logic and respect for the discourse.

In fact, because of my prodigious talents, I was initially forbidden to join the debate team, as veteran members thought my presence would make it too easy for them to win. But one Title IX pro se lawsuit later, and I was on.

I was initially afraid that the presence of a virile and poised man would distract my female teammates, but the opposite happened. Many members, likely fearing their feminine charms would throw me off my game, abruptly quit. I admit back then I was a bit of a hot dog, showing off my debate prowess by proving to pizza delivery guys that tipping is illegal and laying out my romantic charms point-by-point at our beer bashes. But I never thought that I would command so much respect from my teammates that by Junior year all but one had quit, leaving me the debate captain.

By the day of Wellesley’s epic battle with Princeton, we had suffered a string of crushing defeats at the hands of frankly biased judges who failed to comprehend my tactical prowess of pointing out ad hominems and calling for a radical compromise between every pro and con. “You’re supposed to prove one point,” an irate moderator would insist. “Ah, and you just proved mine,” came my rebuttal.

Enter Ted Cruz. That morning I was prepared to break our losing streak by beating this callow Ivy League upstart. With a double-shot of Sanka running through my veins, I took my place at the podium and awaited the arrival of this so-called whiz kid. But there was no way I could have been prepared for what I saw next.

Onto the stage slithered this bulbous creature. His eyes were planted in his head like dough bubbles on a hastily made pizza. His skin was milky white in a deeply upsetting way–like a full moon beating into your eyes after you wake up sweating in the middle of the night. Like a mythical knight, I was presented with a hideous swamp monster to slay for the maidens of Castle Wellesley.

The topic was banning pornography. Ted took pro, and I took con.

Ted won the coin toss and delivered the opening remarks.

“Enumerated in the great founding document of the United States,” he started in a screeching, awful voice that nearly made me put my hands over my ears, “the blueprint for our liberty and the roadmap to prosperity forged by cartographers who did not even know where their union would end, is the First Amendment. The First Amendment guarantees a great a deal of things. One thing it does not protect is speech dangerous to public health. And that, my friends, is what pornography is.”

Every great athlete has one game, one moment where time stopped and they seemed to know their opponent’s next move. This was that night, but for me and Ted.

It was time for my rebuttal.

“What my friend has brought, in addition to some flowery language, is an assumption. An assumption that the lonely men of America do not have a right to enjoy themselves. Is this not part of the supposed ‘pursuit of happiness?’ Does a man in bed by himself, on a cold night in the midst of a lonely winter, not earn the right to enjoy some capital nudie images? Simply put: the untaken gentlemen of this country have a right.”

“Perfect appeal to the lighthouse fallacy from my coeducational friend,” retorted the broken radiator-voiced Texan.

It. Was. On.

Our volley was the stuff of legends. Cruz claimed that clauses enacted due to the Whiskey Rebellion make it legal for Congress to ban randy British pornographic magazines such as “Rude,” “Tattler,” and “East End Rumps.” I drew upon my moving life story and pointed out the deep loneliness I suffered as a high schooler, and how pornography could be considered educational material.

He claimed Appeal To Authority. I claimed No True Scotsman. He blocked and attempted ipso ergo propter hoc. I felled his parry and delivered a Reducto Ad Absurdum of my own.

Like two warriors who have taken each others’ best blows and had little left, we still smirked at each other with bravado. “That’s all you got?” Cruz’s disgusting lizard smile seemed to say. “I couldn’t even tell you were trying,” my copious neck sweat replied.

In Stalingrad, millions of civilians were killed by fierce fighting. I suppose that’s what the attendees of this debate, as well as both of our respective teams had in mind by hour 2 of this rousing contest. In fact, by the time Ted got to his lurid description of hardcore POV pornography, even the moderators had left.

While this left hours three to seven of our battle pure and unadulterated by capricious debate judges who no doubt went on to judge family court circuits, it also left us without a declared victor.

At the end, Ted and I agreed that we had both sufficiently proved our own points by our own logic, but no mortal was left in our realm to crown either of us. He extended his slimy appendage, and I shuddered as I shook the lukewarm ham byproduct he calls a hand to call an end to the brutal stalemate.

To this day, I think of our debate. It’s similar to the Korean War, where the conflict was never resolved, just paused.

Of course, we followed different paths after college. Ted went on to law school and the United States Senate. I became a powerful Beltway insider pundit whose cutting pen could make or break careers. Although we might still trade barbs today in the cat-and-mouse game of reporter and politician, that day, under those hot stage lights, we were just two young men in it for the love of the debate.

Ted, if you’re out there, maybe some day we should finally put a cap on this epic duel of ours, if you’re not too scared. After all, you did help me become the debater I am today, even if that makes me 10 times the point prover you ever were ;).

Carl “The Dig” Diggler has covered national politics for 30 years, and is the author of “Think-ocracy: The Rise Of The Brainy Congressman”. Got a question for the Dig? E-mail him at carl@cafe.com or Tweet to @carl_diggler.

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