Like many Americans outside of Texas, I had never seen freshman U.S. Senator Ted Cruz at work until he made a national splash bullying my California Senator, Dianne Feinstein, during the recent markup proceedings on her legislation to reinstate the ban on assault weapons. The Rachel Maddow Show showed a video clip, and then a few days later, local Los Angeles television stations were playing the clip. Again this week, I saw the video exchange when Majority Leader Harry Reid decided not to include Sen. Feinstein’s assault weapons ban in the gun law legislation now making its way to the floor of the U.S. Senate. Her proposal will be offered as an amendment.
If you missed the Cruz and Feinstein exchange, here is a link to the video (with a transcript), and below, I have explained the gist of what happened.
The Cruz vs. Feinstein Exchange
Sen. Cruz first gave Sen. Feinstein, who is not an attorney, a pedantic lecture as a preface to his question: “It seems to me that all of us should begin as our foundational document with the Constitution. And the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights provides that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” After mentioning that the term “the right of the people” is found in the First Amendment (speech and religion) as well as the Fourth Amendment (unreasonable searches and seizures), he asked (and I have condensed his remarks here) if she would “deem it consistent with the Bill of Rights” and “constitutional for Congress to specify” that the First Amendment applied only to certain books and that the Fourth Amendment applied only to certain specified individuals? His point being that to specify assault weapons as not enjoying the protection of the Second Amendment would be contrary to how matters are treated under the First and Fourth Amendments.
Cruz delivered his lecture and question as might a slightly bored Constitutional law professor who was teaching U.S. Supreme Court practice. In fact, Cruz had indeed once taught such a course. But it was not the type of question typically employed among Senate colleagues, nor was Cruz’s tone the proper tone to be used with someone long your senior in the U.S. Senate. Cruz was grandstanding, while engaging in the kind of academic and hypothetical sophistry that is too often the norm in appellate court arguments.
Not surprisingly, Sen. Feinstein was annoyed, and unprepared to play his game. Politely, she told off her colleague. But as is typical of those with a personality like Ted Cruz’s, rather than back down, he continued to press her to answer. Not surprisingly, she fumbled her answer. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, few of the video clips of the Cruz-Feinstein exchange had her Democratic colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee correcting Cruz’s hypothetical, and countering it by explaining that indeed the U.S. Supreme Court has, in fact, ruled that Congress can legislate control of firearms under the Second Amendment, and mentioning well-known exceptions to the First Amendment right of free speech ( e.g., shouting fire in a crowded theater) as well as exceptions to the Fourth Amendment (e.g., court-ordered electronic surveillance) to name just a few.
Watching Ted Cruz in action, I was pretty sure that I was observing an authoritarian conservative at work, one of those political creatures whom I have studied and written about at some length. See my book Conservatives Without Conscience (Penguin, 2007). I’ve not added a URL here because I’m not trying to sell books (it had a wonderful run as a New York Times bestseller) rather, I mention the book merely to note my long interest in watching these politicians, because I believe they are potentially dangerous to our democracy.
So I looked closer at Sen. Ted Cruz.
Who Is Senator Ted Cruz?
Ted Cruz has an impressive CV. He graduated from Princeton University, where he was a national debating champion, and Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of The Harvard Law Review and active with the conservative Federalist Society. After Harvard, he clerked first for Judge J. Michael Luttig of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and then (1996-97) for Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist—two of the most conservative jurists ever to sit on the federal bench.
In 2000, Cruz worked for the presidential campaign of George W. Bush, and when his candidate won, Cruz got a job at the Federal Trade Commission (as the head of Policy Planning), and then as an Associate Deputy Attorney General at the Department of Justice. When working on the Bush campaign he met his wife Heidi, who later worked at the National Security Council under Condi Rice, then moved to the Treasury Department, and finally became an assistant to the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick.
From 2003 to 2008, Cruz was appointed by the Attorney General of Texas to serve as Solicitor General of Texas, and from that post, he went into private practice to make some money before running for the U.S. Senate in 2012.
Cruz says he has authored over seventy U.S. Supreme Court briefs and delivered seven oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court. He says that these were not just run- of-the-mill briefs; rather, they won the Best Brief Award by the National Association of Attorneys General for best U.S. Supreme Court brief from 2003 to 2006. And, as I mentioned, he served as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Texas Law School, where he taught U.S. Supreme Court Litigation.
Clearly Ted Cruz is an intelligent man. Yet his beliefs and behavior suggest a shortage of common sense, if not good judgment.
Colleagues Call Cruz a Wacko but Actually He’s a Troll
Cruz won his Senate seat as a long-shot underdog with the backing of the Tea Party, along with national conservative organizations and money like Club for Growth and Freedom Works for America. He was embraced by conservative personalities like former Attorney General Ed Meese, RedState blogger Erick Erickson, syndicated talk show host Mark Levin, Senators Jim DeMint and Rand Paul, and presidential wannabe Rick Santorum, plus Tea Party entertainer-at-large Sarah Palin.
Given his education, one wonders if Cruz honestly embraces the radical views he espouses, or if he is simply willing to say anything to win. For example, Think Progress offered (and documented) five things people should know about his views: (1) Ted Cruz Believes George Soros Leads A United Nations Conspiracy To Eliminate Golf; (2) Ted Cruz Wants To Gut Social Security; (3) Ted Cruz Wants To Party Like It’s 1829; (4) Ted Cruz Is An Islamophobe; and (5) Ted Cruz Campaigned On How He Helped Texas Kill A Mexican. Politifacts Texas has him truthful about half the time, which is above average for the Tea Party.
Since Cruz’s arrival in the Senate, many have been surprised that Cruz has made a point of pushing the boundaries of civility, as he did with Sen. Feinstein. Before that incident, during the confirmation hearings of former Senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense, Cruz asked Hagel whether Hagel had pocketed money from the North Korean government, which resulted in fellow Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham publicly chastising Cruz. It was an interesting question from someone who once represented a company based in communist China, but not a surprising one, since Cruz claims there were communists on the faculty when he was a student at Harvard. The never-shy McCain publicly called Cruz’s views “wacko.”
Indeed, even the conservative commentators are finding Cruz’s behavior beyond the pale, particularly his encounter with Sen. Feinstein. For example, Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer almost never corrects other conservatives, pointing out their bogus arguments. But Cruz’s gratuitous attack on Sen. Feinstein prompted Krauthammer and many others from both the right and the left to speak out. Here is a small sample:
Krauthammer and Others on Cruz’s Trolling
In a special report, Krauthammer said that “Cruz overshot” with Sen. Feinstein. Krauthammer explained that Cruz’s argument was that “you wouldn’t tamper with the First Amendment on free speech,” and therefore you should not tamper “with the Second [Amendment] in restricting it by making some weapons illegal.” But, Krauthammer noted that that contention was not well-based because “pornography” is illegal under the First Amendment, and pointed out that Cruz’s radical posture in claiming absolute rights under the First, Second, and Fourth Amendments was baseless. Krauthammer criticized the manner in which Cruz asked his question to Feinstein, finding it “a little bit offensive,” and noting that Cruz had done nothing to “help himself” in his exchange with Sen. Feinstein.
Amy Davidson, writing for the New Yorker, noticed how Cruz showed not the slightest embarrassment when called by his Senate colleagues on his sophistry. Ms. Davidson also raised the obvious point regarding the effect of Cruz’s treatment of Feinstein: That Cruz is certainly not endearing himself to his Senate colleagues. And she noted that his argument and his question were both based on a “truncated and ahistorical view” (citing Jeffrey Toobin) of the Second Amendment.
Frankly, I thought that Crooks & Liars caught the essence of what Cruz was doing. They said that Cruz was trolling. They also defined a troll: “One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.” That is exactly what Cruz has been doing ever since he arrived in the Senate, in order to draw attention to himself.
Cruz Is a Classic Authoritarian Conservative
Actually, Ted Cruz’s behavior is totally consistent with, and indicative of, that of all authoritarian conservatives. These personalities have now congregated in the Tea Party wing of the GOP. While they are still a distinct minority, they have increasingly been able to control the Republican Party, largely by threatening well-funded primary contests against any incumbent Republican with whom they take issue.
Common sense is almost unknown to authoritarian personalities, who excel nonetheless, because they are extremely highly-motivated, and driven by their usually well-hidden fears. More often than not, they ignore common decency, because they feel so strongly about the correctness of their thinking, and because they believe they can do no wrong since they are addressing a greater good.
To friends, and strangers, they can be perfectly charming, for they are highly manipulative, and always seeking influence. Yet, even more easily, they can be nasty and ruthless in pursuing their goals and ambitions. Cross them, and you will pay.
Nonetheless, such authoritarian conservatives are totally expedient in the means with which they choose to achieve their ends. So I was not surprised to notice that there is one Tea Party tenet that Cruz does not embrace: The birthers’ claim that Obama, who was born to a Kenyan father and an American mother in Hawaii, was actually born in Kenya, which would mean that he would not be a natural-born citizen. Under our Constitution, you must be a natural-born citizen to be president. So Obama, the birthers say, is not a legitimate president. Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz was born in Canada of a Cuban father and American mother, and moved to Texas when four years old. It is not difficult to see that Ted Cruz wants one day to be President of the United States, and so he rejects the birthers’ argument of his fellow Tea Party members about who is, and who is not, a natural-born citizen.
Warning: Keep an eye on Ted Cruz, as he is a very able authoritarian conservative, and as such, he has an agenda. But authoritarian conservative presidents have been always been disasters. Start with the presidencies of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush/Dick Cheney, for a few leading examples.