"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“The Security To Take Risks”: Secure Enough To Explore The Possibilities Of Our Ideals

In his interview with Tom Friedman, President Obama discussed how his foreign policy is guided by a principle I haven’t heard him articulate before.

What struck me most was what I’d call an “Obama doctrine” embedded in the president’s remarks. It emerged when I asked if there was a common denominator to his decisions to break free from longstanding United States policies isolating Burma, Cuba and now Iran. Obama said his view was that “engagement,” combined with meeting core strategic needs, could serve American interests vis-à-vis these three countries far better than endless sanctions and isolation. He added that America, with its overwhelming power, needs to have the self-confidence to take some calculated risks to open important new possibilities — like trying to forge a diplomatic deal with Iran that, while permitting it to keep some of its nuclear infrastructure, forestalls its ability to build a nuclear bomb for at least a decade, if not longer.

We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk. And that’s the thing … people don’t seem to understand,” the president said. “You take a country like Cuba. For us to test the possibility that engagement leads to a better outcome for the Cuban people, there aren’t that many risks for us. It’s a tiny little country. It’s not one that threatens our core security interests, and so [there’s no reason not] to test the proposition. And if it turns out that it doesn’t lead to better outcomes, we can adjust our policies. The same is true with respect to Iran, a larger country, a dangerous country, one that has engaged in activities that resulted in the death of U.S. citizens, but the truth of the matter is: Iran’s defense budget is $30 billion. Our defense budget is closer to $600 billion. Iran understands that they cannot fight us. … You asked about an Obama doctrine. The doctrine is: We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.”

The notion that Iran is undeterrable — “it’s simply not the case,” he added. “And so for us to say, ‘Let’s try’ — understanding that we’re preserving all our options, that we’re not naive — but if in fact we can resolve these issues diplomatically, we are more likely to be safe, more likely to be secure, in a better position to protect our allies, and who knows? Iran may change. If it doesn’t, our deterrence capabilities, our military superiority stays in place. … We’re not relinquishing our capacity to defend ourselves or our allies. In that situation, why wouldn’t we test it?”

I say that I haven’t heard him articulate this principle before – but that’s simply because I haven’t heard him apply it to foreign policy. But the minute I read this portion of the interview, I thought of something a young Barack Obama told Tammerlin Drummond back in 1990 not long after he’d been elected the first African American President of the Harvard Law Review.

The post, considered the highest honor a student can attain at Harvard Law School, almost always leads to a coveted clerkship with the U.S. Supreme Court after graduation and a lucrative offer from the law firm of one’s choice.

Yet Obama, who has gone deep into debt to meet the $25,000-a-year cost of a Harvard Law School education, has left many in disbelief by asserting that he wants neither.

One of the luxuries of going to Harvard Law School is it means you can take risks in your life,” Obama said recently. “You can try to do things to improve society and still land on your feet. That’s what a Harvard education should buy – enough confidence and security to pursue your dreams and give something back.”

I believe that what the President is talking about is something we all know deep inside ourselves but rarely allow to take hold. Too often our fears feed our sense of insecurity and keep us from taking the kinds of risks that could improve things. We embark on a never-ending quest to find more (money, power, etc) and never recognize that the ground we are standing on is already secure enough to allow us to let go and explore the possibility of our ideals.

The damage that kind of cycle does to an individual is very similar to how the fear-mongering from Republicans is affecting our country right now. It is in this way that President Obama embodies what is truly exceptional about the United States. He knows that just as a young man with a degree from Harvard Law School could afford to take some risks with his career (and look where that got him!), the richest and most powerful nation on this earth is secure enough to be able to take some risks to promote engagement and the potential for peace.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 7, 2015

April 8, 2015 Posted by | Diplomacy, Foreign Policy, President Obama | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Invincible Arrogance”: Ted Cruz’s Conceit And Fringe Politics Is A Recipe For A Very Scary Personality

Since we are for the time being required to think of Sen. Ted Cruz as a significant force in American politics, it’s helpful now and then to consider how the world looks from his perspective. TPM’s Josh Marshall suspects that being told his whole life how incredibly smart he is has not been good for his character:

[B]ack when he showed up at Harvard Law School in 1992, he stunned his fellow classmates by putting up flyers around campus for an ‘elite study group’ with the instructions ‘only magnas from top Ivys need apply.’ In other words, at a place where arrogance is like air and self-awareness a precious commodity, Cruz managed to stand out on day one as a triple-ply arrogant ass.

Cruz never seems to have grasped that there are people every bit as sharp as him who didn’t go to an Ivy League School (even a ‘top Ivy’). My read on Cruz, from talking to people who knew him very well in college and law school, is that he’s so confirmed in his belief in his own rectitude and genius that he’s likely impervious to what most of us would interpret as rejection or failure. This didn’t work? Well, too many stupid people or cowards who didn’t flock to my banner. That seemed to be the gist of his speech before the vote. And my guess it wasn’t just puffing but represented his genuine belief.

Moreover, in a “populist” wing of the Republican Party that is very self-conscious about its lack of ethnic diversity, its transparent anti-intellectualism, and its tendency to lionize pols that are aggressively proud of their ignorance, Cruz has been an all-purpose antidote, and hears more testimony to his brilliance every day than most very smart people hear in a lifetime.

His situation reminds me of the central character in Walker Pecy’s novel Lancelot, who gets an unearned reputation for brilliance among his teammates on the LSU football team:

Being “smart” on the football team meant that you read Time magazine and had heard of the Marshall Plan. (“You don’t believe he can tell you about the Marshall Plan? Ask him! He’s one more smart sapsucker.”) They, my teammates, admired “smartness” more than anybody I’ve met before or since.

Now add in the fact that Ted Cruz happens to espouse a political philosophy (and for that matter, a religious faith) based on a very rigid concept of what’s right and wrong at all times and in all circumstances, along with Cruz’s legendary rhetorical skills, and you have a recipe for a very scary personality.

I once read a letter to the editor from a man who explained that in opposing legalized abortion and homosexuality he was expressing “the mind of God.” “Now that’s self-confidence,” I thought. Add into that equation a mind that’s used to being described as almost God-like, and invincible arrogance–if not an actual God Complex–will be the result every single time.

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 18, 2013

October 20, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“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

“The Cruz Litmus Test”: If Republicans Won’t Call This Guy Out, They Haven’t Learned A Thing

Parallel to the ongoing discussion of whether or not the Republican Party has any serious interest in curtailing the right-wing bender it’s been on since at least 2009 (and arguably a lot longer), we have the interesting phenomenon of a new and very loud Republican Senator who stands proudly for the point of view that the bender needs to get a lot crazier. Here’s the most succinct version of his argument that Republicans are losing because they aren’t standing up for “conservative principles:”

“Why did we lose? It wasn’t as the media would tell you: because the American people embraced big government, Barack Obama’s spending and debt and taxes. … That wasn’t what happened. I’m going to suggest to you a very simple reason why we lost the election: We didn’t win the argument,” Cruz said before pointedly lowering his voice. “We didn’t even make the argument.”

Yeah, not a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties, as George Wallace used to say back in the day.

But beyond this continuation of the ludicrous proposition that Republicans are too moderate and compromise-oriented (which really hasn’t been a credible argument since 1990, if then), Cruz is already distinguishing himself as the kind of mendacious bully-boy–sort of a smarter version of the Rick Perry who first emerged on the 2012 presidential campaign trail roaring and strutting around and threatening to tear the godless liberals limb from limb–who makes any sort of bipartisan discussion absolutely impossible. And while a few Republicans whisper about him obliquely or off-the-record, he’s mostly been lionized for this behavior:

“Senator Ted Cruz came to Washington to advance conservative policies, not play by the same old rules that have relegated conservatives, and their ideas, to the back bench,” Michael Needham, president of the influential Heritage Action said on Tuesday. “It should come as absolutely no surprise the Washington Establishment – be it the liberal media, entrenched special interests or even wayward Republicans – are now attacking him in the press for following through on his promises.”

Frank Cannon, president of the American Principles Project, said: “It’s about time someone annoyed those who have been complacent in doing what is necessary to get the country back on track. We applaud Senator Ted Cruz’s dedication to conservative principles and being an articulate spokesman for those principles. We are pleased he is shaking up Washington and doing exactly what the people of Texas elected him to do.”

Having brought back memories of Joe McCarthy in his nasty interrogation of Chuck Hagel, Cruz is back in the news right now for smearing left-wing Harvard Law School professors as communist revolutionaries (his effort to back-track on the smear without admitting it didn’t work too well).

As both Steve Kornacki and Greg Sargent have argued today, the acceptance of Cruz by his fellow-Republicans as a hail-fellow-well-met (and perhaps the future face of the party!) shows the shallowness of the talk about “reform” in the GOP (or alternatively, the shallowness of the MSM’s understanding of what conservatives mean when they talk about “reform”).

So I propose a litmus test for all those Republicans who say they learned their lesson and want to build a GOP that is free of the rancor and extremism of the recent past. Let’s ask them: what do you think of Ted Cruz? Because if they won’t call this guy out, then they haven’t learned a thing.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, February 25, 2013

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

“The Red Menace Of Texas”: Ted Cruz’s McCarthyism And The Christian Right

The wonderful Jane Mayer recounts an Americans for Prosperity rally she covered in Texas two and half years ago, at which now-Texas Senator Ted Cruz “accused the Harvard Law School of harboring a dozen Communists on its faculty when he studied there” in the early 1990s. The revelation of these baseless, McCarthy-esque accusations sheds light on the origins of Cruz’s baseless, McCarthy-esque questioning of Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel. (The best part of Mayer’s piece is the bewilderment of Charles Fried, a Republican who served in the Reagan administration and later taught Cruz at Harvard, who diplomatically told Mayer that Cruz’s statement “lacks nuance.”)

Mayer adds:

[Cruz] 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.”

Cruz’s communist conspiracy theories pre-date his Tea Party associations; in 2009, he gave an interview to Marvin Olasky, editor of the evangelical WORLD magazine, and former provost of The King’s College in New York City. In the WORLD Q&A, Cruz made the same accusation about Obama and Harvard:

Q: Then on to Harvard Law School: What was that like? Understanding Harvard Law School is very important to understanding our president, Barack Obama. He is very much a creature of Harvard Law. To understand what that means you have to understand that there were more self-declared communists on the Harvard faculty than there were Republicans. Every single idea this president has proposed in the nine months he’s been in office has been orthodox wisdom in the Harvard faculty lounge.

Q: Why are they so far to the left? The communists on the Harvard faculty are generally not malevolent; they generally were raised in privilege, have never worked very hard in their lives, don’t understand where jobs and opportunity come from. If you asked the Harvard faculty to vote on whether this nation should become a socialist nation, 80 percent of the faculty would vote yes and 10 percent would think that was too conservative.

About a year later, in 2010, I heard Olasky interview David Noebel, one of the leading lights, as it were, of the Christian anti-communist movement and founder of the “Christian worldview” educational organization, Summit Ministries. Olasky hosted Noebel for an audience at The King’s College (the evangelical former home to the disgraced Obama conspiracy theorist Dinesh D’Souza). The pair recounted the Cruz comments about Harvard with noticeable glee, and Olasky was so admiring of Cruz that he predicted he’d be a “future president of the United States.” About Harvard Law School, Noebel added, Cruz “told you the truth about who’s involved there.”

Noebel would know about how to make wild accusations about the “red menace” in the halls of power; in his book, You Can Still Trust the Communists To be Communists (Socialists and Progressives too), a 2010 reissue of the 1960 edition by the Christian anti-communist Fred Schwarz, who died in 2009, Noebel extensively quotes the Cruz WORLD interview to explain how Obama “has been swimming in radical, shark-infested Socialist waters for much of his life.” Noebel also insists that “most Americans are totally unaware that the US House of Representatives crawls with a large, well-organized assembly of Socialist organizations,” and that these organizations “quite literally comprise a Socialist Red Army within the very contours of the House of Representatives.” This is all owing to members of Congress not adhering to Noebel’s “Christian worldview,” which he claims is locked in a cosmic conflict with other “worldviews,” specifically Islam, secular humanism, Marxism-Leninism, cosmic humanism, and post-modernism.

In the WORLD interview, Cruz took care to point out that he “was raised a Christian and came to Christ at Clay Road Baptist Church in Houston. In terms of political views, I’m a plain and simple conservative: I’m a fiscal conservative, I’m a social conservative. I think there are absolute truths about what is right and about what works.”

In the postscript of his book, Noebel asserts that Schwarz “greatly influenced the newly rising conservative movement that ultimately produced leaders” including Ronald Reagan, James Dobson, Olasky, Tim LaHaye, Phyllis Schlafly, Bill Buckley, Jerry Falwell, and others. Perhaps he can now add Cruz to that list.


By: Sarah Posner, Religion Dispatches, February 22, 2013

February 24, 2013 Posted by | Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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