The Senate’s Cruz missile

    It’s a shame that politicians don’t walk the Red Carpet. But the imagination will do just fine:

    “Senator Ted Cruz! How marvelous you look on this exciting night! Do tell us, who are you wearing?”

    “My suit was tailored by Joe McCarthy.”

     

    Granted, McCarthy’s ignominious name is often invoked when a politician traffics in innuendo and guilt-by-association. The ’50s demagogue, who wrecked people’s lives by calling them commies and pinkos and fellow travelers (typically without a shred of proof), set a new low standard for senatorial conduct, and nobody in Washington is likely to match him any time soon. But Ted Cruz – the Texas tea party’s gift to the U.S. Senate, and a toxic symptom of our current dysfunction – will arguably come closest. He’s a man who bears watching, and I don’t intend that as a compliment.

    Anyone familiar with the Chuck Hagel hearings has already caught this whiff of McCarthyism. Cruz had barely been sworn in as a freshman senator when he stooped to emulate Joe. Cruz suggested (without a shred of proof) that Defense nominee Hagel had taken money from the enemy regime in North Korea. Cruz suggested that Hagel was anti-Semitic, because, back in 2008, Hagel had supposedly singled out Israel for perpetrating a “sickening slaughter” in Lebanon. (In truth, Hagel had said that “the sickening slaughter on both sides must end,” and that the antagonists, Israel and Hezbollah, should forge a cease fire.)

    Cruz also played guilt-by-association, seeking to link Hagel to Chas Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador who has criticized Israel’s hawkish government. Citing what he called “press reports,” Cruz asked Hagel: “You and he were part of a group that traveled to China. Is that correct?” Hagel’s reply: “I have never been on any trip with Chas Freeman…I haven’t spoken to Chas Freeman in years.”

    Shades of Joe! Flag any of the McCarthy hearings on YouTube, and you’ll see the same game. Joe in those days was the avatar of the right-wing Republican id, and Cruz seems set to walk in his shoes. Even some Senate Republicans are worried. John McCain said of the recent Cruz missile attacks, “No one on this (Armed Services) committee at any time should impugn (Hagel’s) character or his integrity.” McCain’s sidekick, Lindsey Graham, said that Cruz’s tactics were “out of bounds, quite frankly.” Graham said it’s fine to throw a punch, but, as a new senator, “you have to prove you can do a deal.”

    12 traitors at Harvard!

    But Cruz wasn’t elected to do deals. (Deals are so last century.) No, his mandate is to indulge the fanaticism of tea-partyers on the fringe; to be a showhorse, not a workhorse. Indeed, he won the ’12 Texas GOP primary because he had demonstrated to the party base that he was sufficiently fanatical. And that’s because he was already channelling Joe McCarthy.

    Back in the summer of 2010, at a tea-party luncheon bankrolled by the Koch Brothers (natch), Cruz regaled his credulous listeners by contending that his alma mater, Harvard Law School, had been infested with commie professors. When he attended the school in the early ’90s, “there were 12 who would say they were Marxists who believed in the communists overthrowing the United States government.” Which is why Barack Obama “would have made a perfect president of Harvard Law School.”

    Jane Mayer, who covers national security issues for The New Yorker, attended that luncheon. She saved her notes, and, in a piece late last week, she cited the quotes. They read like McCarthy heirlooms – a specific number of alleged commies (“12”), because specificity makes it seem more credible (McCarthy used numbers like “57” and “205”); and, as was often the case with McCarthy, a blanket condemnation without any proof (much less a list of actual names).

    This particular Cruz missile has turned off at least one prominent Republican, Harvard law professor (and former Reagan solicitor general) Charles Fried, who dryly tells Mayer: “I have not taken a poll, but I would be surprised if there were any members of the faculty who ‘believed in the communists overthrowing the U.S. government.'” Even if some Harvard faculty members were too leftish for Fried’s tastes (as was the case), that didn’t mean they were enemies of America. In a masterly bit of politesse, Fried said that Cruz’s wholesale smear “lacks nuance.”

    Cruz isn’t walking back his ’10 remarks; extremists don’t do nuance. A spokesman reportedly insists that his claim of 12 Harvard communists seeking America’s overthrow “was absolutely correct.” Nor has Cruz ever sought to walk back a McCarthyesque remark that he made at a conservative confab in 2011, during the same week when Obama was visiting the Chinese president: “World’s most powerful communist meets with…(dramatic pause)….the president of China!” Nor does he appear to grasp the irony of his recent declaration that Chuck Hagel and John Kerry are “less then ardent fans of the U.S. military” – the irony being that Cruz, who never served a day in the military, tried to slap the weakling tag on two guys who won Purple Hearts while serving in the military.

    Joe McCarthy discomfited and embarrassed his fellow Republicans for four years, before they finally summoned the courage to slap him down in 1954. Let’s hope the current Senate brethren don’t take nearly that long with Cruz. Politically, they can ill afford to let him run wild, parading the party’s id and reminding swing voters of why they currently prefer to keep the GOP out of power.

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    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

     

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