One of the great truths in life is that talented people don't have to work as hard in their chosen field. Just by showing up, they can often outshine others who are putting forth more effort but lack their natural ability. All too frequently, truly talented people are characterized by laziness and complacency, as they never learn the habits of hard work that lesser lights make part of their routine in order to achieve success.
This phenomenon often leads to the truly talented becoming bored, and engaging in self-destructive behavior. Witness the death of so many talented musicians due to drug overdose, or the sad public unraveling of the lives of talented athletes like Terrell Owens, or actors like Robert Downey, Jr. People who are possessed of genuine, world class talent AND a healthy work ethic - the Tom Bradys and Peyton Mannings of the world - are hard to come by.
The difference between the two can be striking. Here is just one example. Kevin Durant and Hasheem Thabeet are basketball players, who were both taken as the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft in successive years. If you follow sports even a little bit, you probably know who Kevin Durant is, since he is universally regarded as one of the best five basketball players on the planet right now. Even though Hasheem Thabeet is the same age as Durant, and was regarded as being of roughly equal value coming out of college (based on his draft position), you have probably never heard of Hasheem Thabeet unless you are a sports junkie.
Former ESPN writer Bill Simmons one day a few years ago noted the following two tweets within a 10 minute period. Kevin Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder had just been knocked out of the first round of the playoffs in his third season as a pro - a season in which he led the league in scoring and finished second in MVP voting. Hasheem Thabeet, meanwhile, had just spent time in the NBA D-league, which indicated that the very future of his pro career was on the line. You might think Durant would have been enjoying himself a cheeseburger and some well deserved rest after a long and pretty successful season, while Thabeet would have been busting his butt to make sure he didn't wash out of the NBA entirely.
Q: Thought you would enjoy this 10-minute stretch on Twitter today:
3:50 p.m.: Hasheem Thabeet says: "Late LUNCH before i go for a NAP!!! Mhmmmm Yummy."
4:00 p.m.: Kevin Durant says: "Good workout..worked on ballhandling, finishing thru contact, pull up jumpers, pick n rolls, and making tough shots with a man on me!!!"
Can you tell which one of those No. 2 overall draft picks just spent time in the D League?
I think of this particular exchange often when I watch the unfolding campaigns of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio as they head down the home stretch.
There is no doubt in my mind that Marco Rubio is the most talented politician in either party's field this year - by a quite substantial margin. I've said here numerous times before that he is the most gifted politician I have seen since Bill Clinton. His ability to answer questions, to convey emotion through a television screen, and to deflect hostile media questioning are without a doubt much more on point than Ted Cruz's.
But I don't see in Rubio the same ruthless desire to win that I see in Cruz, at all. I get the sense that Ted Cruz gets up every single morning and thinks to himself, "I am going to convince some people to vote for me today," and I don't see that in Rubio.
Even CNN reported recently on Cruz's work ethic on the trail. With apologies for the length of this excerpt, the whole thing is worth a read:
Waverly, Iowa (CNN)Jerry Calease was the final voter in the final room on the final night of a 28-county bus tour.The rows here at the Wartburg College auditorium were cleared out. Ted Cruz had worked the room to extinction.
Cruz swung by the TV cameras to wish his tired press corps, on the road with him for six days, adieu. He quipped that under President Cruz, the economy would be so booming that they'd be able to afford the therapy that he jokes they'll need if he is actually elected.
"Alright, back to Texas," he added, with a triumphant clap.
Then Calease asked him for a word.
"The RFS (Renewable Fuel Standard) would deadline in 2022," he said. "Would you be willing to step forward and increase the RFS to continue as is moving forward?"
It's an end to the moment of levity -- and back to the hustings. Cruz, who had spent a week answering seemingly unending questions about his controversial position to end popular ethanol mandates here, obliged and indulged.
* * *
Steve King, the Iowa congressman admired by farmers who has stumped with Cruz all week, jumped in to defend his favorite candidate.
Cruz ceded control of the conversation to the Iowa native. As he has all week, Cruz was leaning hard on some of Iowa's most respected figures, especially those like King with deep relationships to Iowa farmers.
Cruz's aides, tasked with keeping him on schedule and ending conversations that run endlessly, motioned for him to leave. Cruz wouldn't. He was committed to changing a voter's mind.
The quiet scene spoke to Cruz's intense challenge in the state where he leads GOP polls. He is increasingly under fire for his plan to phase out the RFS over five years, but the voters who asked him for his position at nearly every event often seemed unsatisfied.
* * *
"If somebody brought a bill like you defended -- if you were president -- to alleviate the RFS instead of letting it run through its course, would you sign that? Similar to the one you co-signed a couple years ago?" he asked.
Cruz, usually self-assured, quick-witted and policy-fluent, took a long, three-beat pause. The chances of that bill making it to his desk, he said, would be "very slim." But if it did, he wouldn't support it.
It's been almost 10 minutes since Cruz told reporters he hoped they would have a day off to rest. ("We got to go," his body man whispers.)
He is locked in a conversation that, by itself, won't decide the Iowa caucuses. But the broader question -- whether Cruz can convince Iowans that they've been hoodwinked by the state's powerful corn lobby -- is on an exaggerated display.
King promises Calease a meeting. Cruz aides are able to finally whisk him out the back door.
Calease isn't convinced. He's still undecided.
"Take care, thank you," Cruz says to the barren room, waving and nodding to no one in particular. "God bless."
I've had the pleasure of meeting and observing both Cruz and Rubio in person over brief stretches of time throughout the years thanks to the generous way both have consistently lent their time to attend the RedState gathering. Rubio has always been perfectly generous with his time and I don't mean to imply anything different. But what I have observed of Cruz is consistent with what is described here in this Iowa meeting. If you disagree with him about anything, even strenuously, he will go the extra mile to stay and talk to you. If you present him with new information he has not considered, he will consider it and actually allow it to possibly influence his thinking.
Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, a state that Rubio absolutely needs to finish no worse than second in, he is facing some (quite possibly justified) criticism from other candidates that he isn't spending any time there.
This kind of stuff matters in Iowa. Although both Cruz and Rubio are coming down the home stretch in good position in Iowa, the way the two rivals are approaching the finish line could not be more different. Cruz is planning a frenetic tour across Iowa to press the flesh with Iowa voters. Rubio, who is running a more old-fashioned campaign, is going to blanket the state with... a TV ad blitz:
Marco Rubio is poised to dominate Iowa’s television airwaves with about 7,000 ads scheduled to run from Jan. 1 until caucus day — an effort that accounts for more than one-third of all political ads slated to air during that time.
The purchases on Rubio's behalf make up more than half of the $9.4 million in total spending for ads that are scheduled to air across the state during the final month of the caucus campaign.
The TV ads won't hurt, but it's an open question as to how much they will help in a time period where people depend less on processed ads than they used to. Also no word yet how many of these ads will be about football.
There's nothing wrong with Rubio's strategy, according to conventional wisdom. It's just an open question as to whether it's enough in today's environment, or will be enough to counter the energy of Cruz.