It shouldn’t have been this way.
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.