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“First Impressions”: Ted Cruz Is The Next Jim DeMint

As the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. That isn’t to say that first impressions are necessarily immutable destiny in politics, since there are those who have bombed in their national debut and turned things around, and others who looked terrific at first but turned out to be something less. Bill Clinton gave a famously terrible speech at the 1988 Democratic convention, and Sarah Palin was dynamite in her speech at the GOP’s 2008 gathering. Nevertheless, there are some things you just can’t overcome, particularly if what caused them wasn’t a bad night’s sleep but the very core of your being.

A year or two ago, if you asked Republicans to list their next generation of stars, Ted Cruz’s name would inevitably have come up. Young (he’s only 42), Latino (his father emigrated from Cuba), smart (Princeton, Harvard Law) and articulate (he was a champion debater), he looked like someone with an unlimited future. But then he got to Washington and started acting like the reincarnation of Joe McCarthy, and now, barely a month into his Senate career, we can say with a fair degree of certainty that Ted Cruz is not going to be the national superstar many predicted he’d be. If things go well, he might be the next Jim DeMint—the hard-line leader of the extremist Republicans in the Senate, someone who helps the Tea Party and aids some right-wing candidates win primaries over more mainstream Republicans. But I’m guessing that like DeMint, he won’t ever write a single piece of meaningful legislation and he’ll give the Republican party nothing but headaches as it struggles to look less like a party of haters and nutballs.

It’s kind of remarkable how quickly things went south for Cruz. First he made a splash at Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearings by implying, without any evidence, that Hagel was on the payroll of foreign enemies. Lindsay Graham called it “out of bounds,” and even grumpy John McCain, who hates Hagel’s guts, rebuked him. Then on Friday, Jane Mayer of The New Yorker revealed that in 2010, Cruz made a speech in which he charged that when he was at Harvard Law School, “there were twelve [members of the faculty] who would say they were Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government.” This is what scholars of rhetoric call a lie. By way of explanation, his spokesperson said that what Cruz said was accurate, since there are people on the Harvard Law faculty who advocate Critical Legal Studies, which back on Planet Earth does not actually involve overthrowing the United States government. It’s kind of like someone saying, “Ted Cruz advocates stoning disrespectful children to death,” then saying that the statement is true, because Cruz once approvingly quoted the biblically-derived saying “spare the rod, spoil the child.” (For the record, I have no idea if Cruz approves of corporal punishment, nor if he has actually participated in any child-stonings.)

So the idea that Ted Cruz is an up-and-comer with a bright future is pretty much dead, replaced by the idea that Ted Cruz is an ideological extremist who employs some of the most shameful political tactics you can imagine, including just making stuff up about people he doesn’t like. Maybe this was inevitable, since by all accounts he really is kind of a jerk, and really does have some crazy ideas. He may end up a favorite of right-wing talk radio, and a hero to Tea Partiers, but he’s not going to be a real power in Washington.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 25, 2013

February 26, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Taking McCarthyism Literally”: Ted Cruz’s Ruthless And Baseless Witch Hunts Against His Perceived Rivals

When his detractors talk about Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the one word that seems to come up more than any other is “McCarthyism.” The point, of course, is to draw parallels between Cruz’s worst habits and those of former Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-Wis.), who led ruthless and baseless witch hunts against his perceived rivals — while mastering the art of guilt by association — before being censured by the Senate in 1954, in an effort led by McCarthy’s own Republicans colleagues.

Though Cruz is nowhere near McCarthy’s level — give the Texan time, he only joined the Senate last month — the accusations are not without merit. We saw repeated examples of this during Cruz’s campaign against Chuck Hagel’s Defense Secretary nomination, which led Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to recently note, “It was really reminiscent of a different time and place, when you said, ‘I have here in my pocket a speech you made on such and such a date,’ and, of course, nothing was in the pocket. It was reminiscent of some bad times.”

It was a trick Cruz leaned on repeatedly to question Hagel’s loyalty and patriotism, going so far as to suggest, without evidence, the former Republican senator may have received unreported funds from foreign enemies of the United States.

But Jane Mayer reports today that it wasn’t too long ago that Cruz delivered a speech at a Fourth of July weekend political rally, sponsored by the Koch brothers’ political group, accusing Harvard Law School of harboring secret Communists on its faculty

Cruz greeted the [2010] audience jovially, but soon launched an impassioned attack on President Obama, whom he described as “the most radical” President “ever to occupy the Oval Office.” (I was covering the conference and kept the notes.)

He then went on to assert that Obama, who attended Harvard Law School four years ahead of him, “would have made a perfect president of Harvard Law School.” The reason, said Cruz, was that, “There were fewer declared Republicans in the faculty when we were there than Communists! There was one Republican. But there were twelve who would say they were Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government.”

A Harvard Law spokesperson told Mayer the school is “puzzled” by Cruz’s accusations.

Of course, this shouldn’t come as too big a surprise. Most Americans look at McCarthy’s record as a stain on our political history; Cruz seems to look at McCarthy’s record as how-to guide.

Postscript: Long-time readers may recall that I’ve been fascinated for several years with the right’s willingness to re-embrace Joe McCarthy and his brand of politics.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has endorsed bringing back the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC); Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has said she supports investigations to determine which members of Congress are “pro-America or anti-America”; and in Texas, right-wing activists rewriting the state’s curriculum have recommended telling students that McCarthy was a hero, “vindicated” by history.

If I thought they’d appreciate it, I’d gladly chip in to buy copies of “Good Night, and Good Luck” for Cruz and his allies.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Mddow Blog, February 22, 2013

February 23, 2013 Posted by | McCarthyism, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Texas Jerk Ted Cruz”: Joe McCarthy May Have Simply Been Many Years Ahead Of His Time

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) can barely contain his glee at being criticized for being a jerk, as reflected in this Reuters report from Corrie MacLaggan.

First-term Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas on Tuesday staunchly defended his aggressive, in-your-face style that already is raising eyebrows in Washington and has led a Senate Democrat to suggest his tactics reminded her of McCarthyism.

“Washington has a long tradition of trying to hurl insults to silence those who they don’t like what they’re saying,” Cruz told reporters on a visit to a Texas gun manufacturer. “I have to admit I find it amusing that those in Washington are puzzled when someone actually does what they said they would do.”

Employees at LaRue Tactical near Austin cheered the senator enthusiastically during his appearance.

Cruz, 42, raised eyebrows in Washington by aggressively criticizing former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama’s nominee for defense secretary, during a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing.

Cruz angered lawmakers in both parties by suggesting, without giving evidence, that Hagel might have taken money from countries such as communist North Korea.

Charges that Cruz was being a lying bully were, of course, all mixed up with claims that he wasn’t being a good do-be freshman Senator who waits his turn and kisses up to those with more seniority. You get the impression his colleagues think he should have to earn the right to behave like Joe McCarthy.

But in any event, how much would Cruz pay to get that kind of reputation outside the Senate itself? Congress’ job approval rating is stuck in the mid-teens. He’s a member of a party that has raised hysterical unfounded attacks on the opposition into a virtually obligatory exercise (one of his critics, Lindsey Graham, was as unhinged in dealing with Hagel as Cruz himself), and part of an intra-party faction that thinks the GOP has been repeatedly betrayed by the civility (sic!) of its elected representatives. There is virtually no down-side to his current behavior.

Come to think of it, Joe McCarthy may have simply been many years ahead of his time.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, February 20, 2013

February 21, 2013 Posted by | Senate | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Party Of John C. Calhoun”: The Fall Of The GOP True Believers

Political parties rarely vanish altogether, and hardly ever over a single election cycle. So the demise of the Republicans as a national organization is probably exaggerated. At minimum, its strength across the old Confederacy and what Mencken called the “Cow States” should enable the GOP to keep Congress semi-paralyzed and the shrinking Fox News audience in a state of incipient hysteria even as it fights internal battles of surpassing nastiness.

In that sense, the fight over Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination as Secretary of Defense and Sen. John McCain’s erratic quest to turn the Benghazi tragedy into a huge scandal are symptomatic: all word-games, question-begging and make-believe indignation aimed not at governance, but TV appearances.

For all the theatrics, Republican senators apparently won’t filibuster their former colleague’s nomination indefinitely. I expect most are privately appalled at seeing Ted Cruz, the freshman senator from Texas, question Hagel’s loyalty—something I doubt he’d have the temerity to say anywhere except in front of a TV camera.

On Meet the Press, David Gregory asked McCain to stipulate what he thinks the Obama administration’s hiding about the Benghazi incident.

“A cover-up of what?”

“Of the information concerning the deaths of four brave Americans,” McCain sputtered.

What else could he say? The idea that the White House refused to call the assault on the U.S. Consulate a terror attack has been a media put-up job driven by the dark arts of selective quotation and malicious paraphrase. People who really care have long since figured that out; those who haven’t probably can’t.

Beyond mischief-making, however, there are signs that conservative thinkers are beginning to challenge moribund Republican orthodoxy. The water is moving under the ice. Heterodox opinions once limited to former GOP operatives like David Frum and Bruce Bartlett have started appearing all over.

Consider this shocking passage about tax rates by National Review editor Ramesh Ponnuru in the New York Times:

When Reagan cut rates for everyone, the top tax rate was 70 percent and the income tax was the biggest tax most people paid. Now neither of those things is true: For most of the last decade the top rate has been 35 percent, and the payroll tax is larger than the income tax for most people. Yet Republicans have treated the income tax as the same impediment to economic growth and middle-class millstone that it was in Reagan’s day.

Ponnuru adds that GOP “tight-money” fundamentalism and scare talk about runaway inflation make absolutely no sense after five years of near-non-existent inflation. When it comes to fiscal matters, in short, Republicans are confronting today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions, substituting dogma for problem solving, and excommunicating heretics instead of encouraging independent thought. If Ponnuru can’t quite bring himself to agree with President Obama about the need for economic stimulus, at least he doesn’t sound like a parrot.

Far less polite is former GOP congressional staffer Michael S. Lofgren, who delivers himself of a veritable jeremiad in the Huffington Post. “As with many religions,” Lofgren writes, “political parties have a tendency to start as a movement, transform into a business, and finally degenerate into a racket designed to fleece the yokels. One organization which has gone out of its way to illustrate this evolution is the Republican Party.”

If that doesn’t clear your sinuses, Lofgren’s title might do it: “Scientology for Rednecks: What the GOP Has Become.” Now, as a matter of principle, I dislike the term “redneck,” an offensive ethnic insult like any other. A writer is on shaky ground objecting to racially coded attacks upon President Obama while using a term like it to characterize Republican voters.

Lofgren’s larger point, however, is well-taken. “Compared to the current crop of congressional GOP freshmen and sophomores, even George W. Bush looks like Henry Cabot Lodge.” Republicans have allowed themselves to become the anti-science party, indebted to tycoon-funded “think tanks” and in thrall to paranoid talk-radio ravers who encourage its dwindling voter base to see themselves as a “martyr-like… persecuted remnant of Real Americans.”

In consequence, GOP True Believers have rendered themselves incapable of noticing “the complete failure during the last 30 years of tax cuts for the wealthy to increase revenue, kick-start economic growth, or help the middle class.” They’re getting screwed, and blaming the wrong people.

Writing in The New Republic, Sam Tanenhaus launches an even more fundamental critique. “Conservatism Is Dead,” he writes, replaced by “inverse Marxists” preaching backward-looking utopianism that promises a return to an America that never existed.

In a companion piece entitled “Original Sin,” he laments that “the party of Lincoln—of the Gettysburg Address, with its reiteration of the Declaration’s assertion of equality and its vision of a ‘new birth of freedom’—has found sustenance in Lincoln’s principal intellectual and moral antagonist. It has become the party of [John C.]Calhoun.”

That is to say, of “nullification” and the Confederate States of America.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, February 20, 2013

February 21, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“An Angry Old Man”: John McCain Plants His Flag In The Fever Swamps

It wasn’t that new or surprising, but Sen. John McCain’s insistence on Meet the Press yesterday that the Obama administration was engaged in a “massive coverup” of Benghazi! is an indication that conspiracy-shouting on the subject among Republicans won’t go away any time soon, or perhaps ever.

Now maybe I’m wrong, but it seems any line of inquiry about a past event that consists solely of questions rather than any specific allegations or even suspicions is designed to be eternal. All the semi-legitimate concerns about what happened and why should have been resolved by the State Department’s December report. Does it explain every utterance about the event by administration figures? No, because they really just don’t matter except in terms of some master narrative of Obama knowing the War on Terror is a more urgent priority than ever and deliberately hiding the evidence because he’s soft on Muslims or hates Israel or something.

Perhaps this is just McCain being an angry old guy who can’t let go of anything; he is, after all, about to vote against Chuck Hagel’s confirmation for Secretary of Defense because Hagel won’t admit he was wrong about McCain’s precious Iraq “surge.” But it also illustrates how fiercely today’s Republicans will hold onto any topic that leads into the soggy turf of vague but infamous fears about the 44th president.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Editor, Washington Monthly Political Animal, February 18, 2013

February 21, 2013 Posted by | Iraq War, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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