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Washington Builds a Bugaboo

How does Senator Ted Cruz tick off liberals? Let us count the ways.

Sep 23, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 03 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
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Having been found guilty as a McCarthyite, Cruz is of course granted no license for hyperbole, even among friends (and donors!). When Cruz attended Harvard Law, in the mid-90s, it was still the intellectual locus of a dying movement called Critical Legal Studies that was explicitly inspired by Marx, whose other followers, history shows, seldom reconciled themselves to the U.S. government. Earnestly, with that mock disinterestedness that characterizes the most dutiful of the mainstreamers, the reporter got an “equal-time” comment from a spokesman for the law school. The spokesman confessed to being “puzzled by the senator’s assertions.” For the record.

There is a professor at Harvard Law famous for, among other things, being a Republican. The New Yorker sleuth tracked him down. He told her that in fact, during Cruz’s Harvard years, 4 professors had publicly confessed to Republicanism. There were over 200 faculty at the law school at the time, but none, according to the New Yorker’s investigation, called for the Communists to overthrow the government. The question in the New Yorker headline answered itself.

The essence of McCarthyism is bullying, and Cruz is frequently called a bully—not only of men like Chuck Hagel but also of women like Dianne Feinstein, the California senator who redoubled her efforts for gun control after the killings at Sandy Hook elementary school. For his part, as a private lawyer, solicitor general of Texas, and now as a senator, Cruz expresses a special, not to say obsessive, fondness for the widest possible reading of the Second Amendment. 

In a widely replayed exchange, Cruz asked Feinstein to explain why she felt that the Second Amendment allowed the government to restrict the kinds of weapons citizens were allowed to buy, when she would never allow similar restrictions on the First Amendment or the Fourth. 

By any objective reading, Cruz’s point was weak—no constitutional right is completely unrestricted—and his unblinking insistence on pursuing it was unsettling to watch, but his tone was never harsh or disrespectful or, for that matter, bullying. It was Feinstein’s wounded, girlish reply, which quickly caromed around the Internet, that allowed his opponents to portray Cruz as a bully. 

“Senator, I’m not a sixth-grader,” she said, adding, in a non sequitur, that she had, as a mayor in the 1970s, seen people who were shot. Therefore she didn’t need a “lecture” on the Constitution.

Feinstein’s reasoning was no more careful than Cruz’s. His larger transgression, however, was threatening to filibuster the gun bill with his Senate colleagues Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky. In Cruz’s telling, the threat led to a delay in the Senate vote on the bill. This bought gun control opponents enough time to turn weak-kneed Republicans against it. The result was that a major piece of legislation that had looked unstoppable was turned back over a weekend. Gun control, for now, is dead as a federal issue. 

In a more respectable cause—blocking an anti-abortion measure, for example, or stopping a cut in food stamp funding—Cruz’s defeat of the gun bill would look like what it was: a daring and skillful piece of parliamentary maneuvering. Instead it rendered him guilty of an offense even greater than bullying: effectiveness. 

 "Well, it’s been an interesting eight months,” he said one afternoon in August, when I met up with him in his Houston office. He is an unlikely bugaboo by the look of him. He’s of middling height, round of shoulder and wide of hip. His flat black hair, held in place with a touch of pomade, is starting to thin out as he approaches his mid-forties. His voice is a reedy tenor, and his suits hang from his frame as if they really would prefer to be somewhere else. His most distinctive feature as a public figure is his style of speaking. Even for full-dress speeches, such as his national debut at the Republican National Convention last year, he forgoes the traditional podium and standing mike. Instead he clips on a lapel mike and roams the stage right to left and back again, gesturing expressively, like one of those macro-biotic pitchmen who take the airwaves during PBS pledge-drives. Occasionally he turns to face the audience square with feet planted wide, hands folded in front, at which point the pitchman looks like he’s setting a screen for the power forward on his high school basketball team. 

 

 

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