Everything That Is Wrong With the GOP
Continued from previous page
In round one, Cruz played a tape of a rather concerned man calling into a talk show on which Hagel was a guest. The video was spliced to make it appear Hagel agreed with the ranter’s accusation of “war crimes in Palestine.” In reality, Hagel was endorsing, on the program host’s instruction, the need for “moral leadership” by the United States and Russia on nuclear arms reduction, a point made clear by his reference in the full clip to President Obama and then-President Medvedev. After Hagel said he did not believe Israel was committing war crimes, and asked for the full context of the clip, Cruz lied, saying “that was the full context.”
Cruz’ second attempt to cast Hagel as Israeli Public Enemy #1 was equally dishonest. Cruz ventriloquized the claim that Israel had committed a “sickening slaughter” in Lebanon into Hagel’s mouth, even though, as Dave Weigel points out, Hagel was condemning deaths in war themselves rather than Israel’s behavior. And his third sally, a failed attempt to tar Hagel with the views on Israel of someone on the board of an organization he chairs (yes, it’s that remote), struck The New Republic‘s John Judis as “classic McCarthy tactics.”
Judged kindly, Cruz’ performance in each of these two hearings was aggressively inaccurate. Judged more harshly (and accurately), it was mendacious demagoguery at its finest.
So why would Cruz, an intelligent man, resort to such dishonest tactics? There are certainly no shortage of ways to make the case against gun regulation or Chuck Hagel without mischaracterizing research or wrenching stray comments out of context.
But that’s not nearly as fun.
Guns and Israel are two issues of paramount importance to staple GOP voting blocs. These voters don’t want mealy-mouthed, hedged defenses of their positions — as evidenced by the Great RINO Purge of the past few election cycles. Rather, these voters want Republicans who see the world as they do: President Obama and the Democrats are attempting to attack their fundamental liberties and eliminate America’s “exceptional” global role, most prominently by “throwing Israel under the bus.” For these voters, the Assault Weapons Ban isn’t just bad policy; it’s a nefarious, unconstitutional gun grab that strikes at the heart of American liberty. Chuck Hagel hasn’t been more qualified in his support for Israel than Republicans would like; he’s an anti-Semite.
Cruz rode this apocalyptic mood to power, pairing a worldview extreme enough to please the base with packaging just well enough to make him acceptable to more establishment folks. As Mother Jones‘ Tim Murphy writes in a profile of the Senator, “Cruz’s greatest asset is that he lives in both worlds;” he’s “an intellectual face on a movement and ideology that have long simmered beneath the Republican mainstream.” Cruz pioneered a marriage between extreme ideas with a manner of expression that allows the party’s “respectable” thought leaders to support it.
Understanding the central dynamic of Cruz’ political strategy is the key to unlocking his intellectually abysmal outings at the Senate last week. His base wants the fireworks, but straight-up calling Hagel an anti-Semite on the Senate floor might be a bit much. So Cruz wraps up more extreme versions of his arguments in intellectual-sounding garb, citing studies and TV clips that are just good enough to justify his firebreathing.
Now, this strategy would fail if the conservative media said base relies on weren’t interested in playing along to Cruz’ tune. But the writers who are supposed to serve as conservatism’s intellectual gatekeepers lapped it up. “It would be hard to do much better,” National Review‘s Peter Kirsanow wrote, “than one of Hagel’s interlocutors — Senator Ted Cruz.” In response to criticism of Cruz’s arguments as, well, totally made up, Kirsanow scoffed. “Cruz should be pleased to be the subject of such scorn. Smart, principled, aggressive, conservative Republicans are subject to special opprobrium from Beltway elites.”