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Everything That Is Wrong With the GOP

How the Republican Party incentivizes the replacement of real policy thinking with fact-free paranoic fantasism.
 
 
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Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is an undeniably smart man. Cruz is by all accounts a brilliant litigator, one talented enough in the courtroom to clerk for a Supreme Court justice and win a number of difficult cases as Texas’ Solicitor General. It wouldn’t have been crazy to expect that Cruz would bring a degree of argumentative rigor into the Senate after his victory in the 2012 election.

Well, Cruz had two golden opportunities to showcase his keen analytical mind, as he sits on both Senate committees that held high profile hearings last week, one on gun violence prevention, the other on Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE)’s nomination to be Secretary of Defense. And Cruz distinguished himself alright. Just not in the way one might have hoped.

The Senator misrepresented official documents to the point of falsehood, placed the words of an raving call-in viewer on a television show in Hagel’s mouth, and played “six degrees of guilt by association” with Hagel’s record in a manner that would make Sen. Joe McCarthy blush. And yet, Cruz’ behavior, embarrassing as it was, was by no means irrational. Rather, it’s a perfect illustration of how the Republican Party’s internal structure, particularly its allied media and electoral base, incentivizes the replacement of real policy thinking with fact-free paranoic fantasism.

Let’s begin with Cruz’ monologue at the gun hearing. The proposed assault weapons ban bore the brunt of his ire. He  leaned heavily what he claimed were two Department of Justice papers — one from what he  sneeringly characterized as the “Janet Reno Department of Justice under President Clinton” — that had proven the 1994 ban failed to reduce gun violence. In  his words, the Senate was about “to reenact a law that, according to the Department of Justice, did absolutely nothing to reduce gun violence.”

Literally every claim in that sentence is false.

 

First, the Senate is not “reenacting” the 1994 ban. The law proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)  closes a series of  loopholes that even gun regulation proponents admit limited the first ban’s effectiveness. Second, the studies in question were not official judgments of the Department of Justice, as Cruz says, but research by Professor Christopher S. Koper supported by the Department.

Which brings to the third, and most important, point: any fair reading of Koper’s work suggests Cruz has entirely mischaracterized its findings about the ban – a reading shared by  Prof. Koper himself. Koper’s research found, among other things,  clear evidence that the 1994 ban limited criminal access to assault weapons as well  more tentative evidence that assault weapon shootings were more deadly. While it’s true the studies didn’t find evidence that the bans reduced the homicide rate, they didn’t, as Cruz suggests, conclude from that that the ban didn’t work. Rather, Koper said that he didn’t have enough data, given that the ban was only in effect for ten years, to prove for one way or another. That’s why Koper, in a 2004 op-ed, referred to the then-expiring ban as a “ work in progress” rather than, as Cruz suggested, a failure. And the assault weapons ban is far from the only issue on which Cruz  did violence to the facts in the gun hearing.

As fact-free as Cruz’ diatribe during the guns hearing was, it had nothing on his performance the following day during Senator Hagel’s confirmation. During the excruciatingly long proceedings, Cruz had three chances to interrogate Hagel, each time resorting to grosser distortions of the former Senator’s statements to prove that Hagel was every Israeli’s worst nightmare.

 
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