In a column in the New Republic last month, John B. Judis laid into newly elected Senator Ted Cruz of Texas for asking Chuck Hagel, during his confirmation hearings to become secretary of defense, about his relationship with Chas Freeman. Hagel was chairman of the Atlantic Council and Freeman served on its board. Hagel brushed aside the question during his Senate hearing but did call Freeman a “respected public servant for this nation.” Freeman, you may recall, was Obama’s pick to chair the National Intelligence Council in 2009 but withdrew his name after controversy ensued over past statements. Freeman later blamed “the Israel lobby”​—​an unfortunate descriptor Hagel is also fond of​—​for torpedoing his nomination.

For having the temerity to ask Hagel about his relationship with Freeman, Cruz was reminiscent of Joe McCarthy, Judis declared: “Americans who worry about democracy need to keep on [Cruz]. He is a not dumb drunk [sic] like McCarthy.” Recall that one of the reasons Chas Freeman’s nomination faltered was that he had defended the Chinese government’s slaughter of students and activists in Tiananmen Square in unequivocal terms. To sum up, Cruz is a threat to democracy for daring to ask Hagel about his “respected” colleague who happened to defend a Communist state that has slaughtered its democratic activists. Got it.

Nonetheless, the Cruz-is-the-new-McCarthy meme has taken off on the left. In one particularly repugnant item, Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall ran photos of Cruz and -McCarthy side by side, commenting on their “strong physical resemblance.” The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer asked, “Is Senator Ted Cruz Our New McCarthy?” Mayer dug up a speech from almost three years ago, in which Cruz said of his time at Harvard Law School in the 1990s, “There were fewer declared Republicans in the faculty when we were there than Communists! There was one Republican. But there were 12 who would say they were Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government.”

Of course, Mayer didn’t dispute there are Marxists on the Harvard Law faculty or that Cruz was wrong about their number—but she did try to downplay the matter. However, in a blog post responding to Mayer, New York attorney Dan McLaughlin, who was a year behind Cruz at Harvard, quotes the course description of one of the “critical legal theory” classes at length and accurately states that it would “fit comfortably on the syllabus at Patrice Lumumba University.”

Mayer also quotes Harvard Law professor Charles Fried saying Cruz was wrong because he could “count four ‘out’ Republicans (including myself)” that were on the faculty. McLaughlin, a former president of the Harvard Law School Republicans, is mystified by this comment. Mayer did not ask Fried to name the other professors, and the “Republican” Fried might be an unreliable narrator—he supported Obama and has been drifting left for some time. McLaughlin even posted a picture of the T-shirts Harvard Law Republicans printed after the ’94 election to make a point about the paucity of Republicans on the faculty. The shirt read: “U.S. House 53% U.S. Senate 54% State Governors 60% Harvard Law School 1%.”

Even accepting Fried’s generous calculation, Cruz would still be warranted in expressing righteous anger that self-identified Marxists would outnumber Republicans three to one on the faculty of America’s most prestigious law school. It seems laughable to call someone a McCarthyite for pointing out that being an avowed Marxist is no impediment to success.

It’s worth noting that McLaughlin rightly concedes Cruz is guilty of “hyperbolic flourish” in characterizing the radicalism of the professors in question. To be scrupulously fair, perhaps what Cruz should have said is that Harvard Law’s Marxists merely bear a “strong physical resemblance” to “Communists overthrowing the United States government.”

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