SACRIFICE: A woe-is-me claim by office-seekers who lament the hardships they’re supposedly enduring – in an entirely voluntary endeavor.
Consider Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who recently made out his 2016 Republican presidential bid to be an act of self-sacrifice. In a fundraising e-mail, Cruz complained of time away from his wife and two young daughters, plus the financial burden it was imposing.
Cruz told of his sacrifice of “sleep with long nights and constant travel. And the pizza diet is a staple on the campaign trail.” He added, “The cost of campaigning back and forth across the country for president is increasingly expensive, but Heidi and I are willing to invest our livelihoods into this sacrifice.”
That last part is particularly interesting, since campaign finance reports don’t show personal contributions to his presidential campaign. Unlike, say, Donald Trump, Cruz isn’t in a financial position to personally support his own presidential campaign for even a limited period of time.
Then there are the long hours, Cruz wrote to prospective donors: “Days start before dawn and many times don’t end until early the next morning. There is almost no personal time when you run for president.”
Paul Stob, a Vanderbilt University communication studies professor who studies presidential rhetoric, said Cruz’s use of “sacrifice” invites comparisons with George Washington, who was a reluctant first chief executive. Upon taking office, Washington recalled that when he learned he had gotten the job: “No event could have filled me with greater anxieties.” He described his home at Virginia’s Mount Vernon as “a retreat which was rendered every day more necessary, as well as more dear to me, by the addition of habit to inclination and of frequent interruptions in my health to the gradual waste committed on it by time.” But, he added, he felt the obligation to lead the new nation.
“My guess is that it’s not coincidental on Cruz’s part,” Stob said of the senator’s use of the word. “It’s interesting in that Cruz turns it on himself. Washington did something close to that – not sacrificing for a larger idea, but just ‘I’m going to put myself out there.’’’
Among other candidates, much of the “sacrifice” talk also has been mostly inner-directed. Before throwing his hat in the ring this week, ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) openly mused about whether he could run “where the sacrifice for my family is tolerable.” And South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) often says he would be willing to give up some of his own Social Security benefits to help others in need.
Throughout history, presidents and presidential candidates usually have invoked the notion of collective sacrifice as an attempt to unite voters. John F. Kennedy, of course, implored Americans: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Jimmy Carter, meanwhile, called on consumers to turn down their thermostats and drive less to save energy. And in 2008, John McCain repeatedly told audiences to devote themselves to “a cause larger than yourself.”
In the 2012 campaign, the perceived paucity of any similar rhetoric irked New York Times political columnist Frank Bruni. “Conditions, all in all, are ripe for a serious conversation about sacrifice,” Bruni complained. “But this presidential campaign has been noteworthy for its nonsensical insinuations or assurances that although we’re in a jam, we can emerge from it with discrete, minimal inconvenience.”
Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark write their "Speaking Politics" blog exclusively for Politics Voices.