Public Privacy

For people who dislike Texas Senator Ted Cruz (and there seem to be a lot of people in politics who fall into that category), it seemed almost too good to be true. Reports of the Republican presidential candidate engaging in behavior typical for politicians — telling donors one thing, and voters another — could seriously damage his campaign for president, especially coming at a time when he has surged in the polls and, despite his unpopularity with the powerbrokers in his party (or perhaps because of it), his path to the nomination is being seen as the most plausible of any of the candidates. But for a man whose unpopularity and appeal are due to his branding himself as the only “reliable conservative” in the race and someone who, unlike the “establishment,” can be trusted by the base, getting caught speaking out of two sides of his mouth would almost certainly be a death blow to his candidacy.

Cruz, of course, denied doing any such thing. The media then started releasing “secret tapes” from the fund-raisers, saying that the tapes proved their case. When most people heard that there were secret tapes, they all but bought in to the charges of inconsistency. After all, they wondered, what’s the point of saying something in private if it is consistent with what you’d say in public?

Marco Rubio sought to distinguish himself from his opponent, saying “My message is pretty consistent, whether it’s in a private meeting with an individual [or] donors, or in a broader setting.” A radio ad by a Super PAC supporting Mike Huckabee is airing an ad on Iowa radio reminding Iowans that “the next time you hear Ted Cruz tell you he shares our values, [remember] there are two Teds.”

Unfortunately for his opponents, it seems that it is indeed too good a story to be true. The tapes released actually showed an amazing consistency on the part of the senator and, in truth, only serve to help Cruz. Some commentators even wondered, only half-jokingly, whether his team wasn’t really the party behind the leaks.

Cruz isn’t the only candidate who has shown discipline in being consistent whether he is speaking in public or behind closed doors. Rubio — the candidate most experts believe will be the strongest opponent against Hillary Clinton, was the subject of a scathing article in The Conway Daily Sun, a daily newspaper based in New Hampshire. The author, Erik Eisele, called Rubio “a man so stuck on script it doesn’t even matter when the cameras are off,” when criticizing his apparent working with an “expectation of perfection” in an age where smartphones mean that anything said in private may just very well be secretly (or not even secretly) recorded and broadcast for the entire world.

While people like Eisele (and, apparently, most of the political world) don’t appreciate the value of acting and speaking the same in private as in public, it is definitely something that is a very basic part of our value system. The Gemara (Bava Basra 3b-4a) relates that after Hordus killed all the chachamim who wouldn’t accept the validity of his kingship, he left Bava ben Butta alive (but blind), so he could avail himself of his counsel.

One day, Hordus, presenting himself as someone else, tried to get Bava ben Butta to speak ill about the king. After he refused multiple times, Hordus pointed out that they were alone, and he should feel free to express himself in private. Bava ben Butta responded by invoking the passuk (Koheles 10:20) which says, “Ki of hashamayim yolich es hakol, u’baal knafayim yagid davar — for a bird of the heavens will carry the voice, and a winged creature will relate the matter.”

We aren’t meant to limit this approach to only things we say. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 74a) tells us that during a she’as hashmad (when there are decrees that are meant to undermine our ability to practice our religion), the principle of yehareg v’al yaavor applies to all aveiros, not only the three cardinal sins to which it usually applies. This is true whether a person is being forced to transgress in front of others, or whether it took place “bechadrei chadarim — in one’s innermost chamber.” The Ran explains (Chiddushim) that the reason a decree that seeks to destroy the Torah needs to be fought in this way is because even death itself is not worse than undermining the Torah. Even if one only acquiesces in private, says the Ran, “hadavar misparsem — it will become publicly known,” and it will end up having the same deleterious effect.

With the advent of the smartphone, this has become easier and easier to understand. While the concept may have been more abstract just 10 years ago, today nobody has a hard time understanding, in a very tangible way, that there is very little difference between what is known to the public and what is said or done in private. It always was the case that “the walls have ears”; it was just harder to realize it. We must be doing an awful job being consistent if Hakadosh Baruch Hu is showing us that there is a need to be that way in such a perceptible manner.

If even politicians are catching on to this, it must be pretty obvious.