For the media’s so-called “fact checkers,” you must admit that Ted Cruz is a target-rich environment. But so are most politicians, when it comes down to it.
For Cruz, however — a man who speaks the languages of hyperbole and exaggeration fluently — our beloved gatekeepers rejoice in the prospect of a Cruz candidacy. The Texas senator has a special relationship with the truth — he doesn’t sweat the small stuff. So what if he inflates the number of IRS agents or the number of people who have been forced into part-time work because of Obamacare? The important point is that the IRS sucks and Obamacare, well, sucks too.
Just a cursory examination of stories about Ted Cruz today shows that many media outlets are piling on — and not hiding their glee in doing so. I’ve found several sites that insist on “fact checking” the senator’s speech at Liberty University announcing his candidacy.
• Cruz railed against a “government … that seeks to ban our ammunition.” The Obama administration sought to ban a certain type of armor-piercing bullet, not all types of ammunition. The proposal has since been postponed.
• Cruz claimed that as a result of the Affordable Care Act “millions … have lost their health insurance.” In fact, about 10 million people on net gained insurance between September 2013 and December 2014, according to the Urban Institute.
• Cruz also claimed that as a result of the law “millions [have been] forced into part-time work.” There’s no solid figure on how many may have had their hours cut to part time, but one analysis of monthly labor surveys said the number was “likely” a few hundred thousand.
I guess this is what passes for “fact checking” — putting words in Cruz’s mouth for starters. Cruz did not say, nor would he ever say, that the government was trying to ban all ammunition. That’s an absurdity that reveals the “fact checker’s” bias.
And I suppose that Americans only matter in the aggregate and not as individuals. Over 5 million people had their insurance taken away from them because of Obamacare mandates. The net total of those covered may have increased, but tell that to the 5 million people who lost their plans. I’m sure it will be very comforting.
As for the senator’s claim that “millions” of people have been forced into part time work because of Obamacare, Cruz is neither wrong nor right. We simply don’t know. No one is going around with a clipboard asking part-time workers why they are working part time.
It probably isn’t “millions,” but what if it’s a million? In this case, the point Cruz is trying to make is well taken. Besides, we’ll really get a feel for how many employers are going to downsize the hours of their employees next year when the small-business mandate goes into effect. Those companies with more than 50 workers but fewer than 100 will be deciding whether to eliminate some or most full-time jobs or refuse to cover the employees anyway, forcing them on to the exchanges.
Fact-checking politicians is a fool’s errand and with Cruz, it’s no different. But you can’t fact-check paranoia. A large portion of Cruz’s exaggerated rhetoric that sends conservatives into paroxysms of joy smacks of fear mongering. He is trying to evoke the Man on a White Horse syndrome and you don’t have to guess who is riding to our rescue.
The Atlantic’s David Ludwig quotes liberally from Richard Hofstadter’s famous essay on the “Paranoid Style in American Politics” and eventually manages to get to some hard truths about Ted Cruz, the candidate:
Historian Richard Hofstadter described the use of “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy” in American political life. Hofstadter called this phenomenon “the American paranoid style,” built on the perpetuation of conspiracy theories and the use of apocalyptic prose. “[The] demand for total triumph leads to the formulation of hopelessly unrealistic goals,” Hofstadter wrote. “Since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s sense of frustration.”
While this style has been employed by both the right and the left, one place it finds current expression is in Cruz’s appeals to conservative and Tea Party audiences. The freshman senator’s willingness to stand up and fight for “hopelessly unrealistic goals” was perhaps clearest during his 21-hour-and-19-minute Senate filibuster to defund Obamacare in 2013. “I will say standing here after 14 hours, standing on your feet, there’s sometimes some pain, sometimes some fatigue that is involved,” Cruz told the Senate chamber. “But you know what? There’s far more pain involved in rolling over, far more pain in hiding in the shadows, far more pain in not standing for principle, not standing for the good, not standing for integrity.”
Although Senator Cruz’s speech had no serious chance of derailing the Affordable Care Act, his hours-long rebuke of Obamacare resonated with supporters. “I’m proud of our good friend Ted Cruz, who is doing what he promised voters he would do, which is fight at every turn to protect American families and businesses from the President’s disastrous health care law,” wrote Tea Party Express Chairman Amy Kremer afterwards.
At the time, I referred to Cruz and his supporters as the “King Canute Caucus,” referencing the utter futility of what he was attempting to do: defund Obamacare in the Democratic Senate.
But that’s not the only time Cruz led with his face:
In 2010, the former Texas solicitor general claimed that Harvard Law School had employed a dozen communist professors during the time he studied there. Running for office in 2012, Cruz warned supporters about a George Soros-led United Nations environmental initiative to banish golf courses from the local American communities. And during former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s nominating hearing in 2012, Cruz earned rebukes from both Democrats and Republicans for questioning Hagel’s character. Among other things, Cruz insinuated that Hagel had taken money from foreign governments, didn’t fully support Israel, and that his nomination was being “publicly celebrated by the Iranian government” (a claim that was, at the very least, exaggerated). These intricate conspiracies avoid the ambiguity of reality in exchange for simple and easy to understand narratives. Instead of wading into complex issues and weighing ramifications, Cruz sets up straw men, which are easy—indeed, necessary—to oppose.
It appears that Cruz is the Randall “Tex” Cobb of politics. Cobb was a professional punching bag back in the 1980s whose bout against then-heavyweight champion Larry Holmes was so one sided and bloody that it drove Howard Cosell from the ringside microphone. (Cobb quipped: “Hey, if it gets him to stop broadcasting NFL games, I’ll go play football for a week too!”)
But despite taking on opponents he couldn’t possibly defend himself against, Cobb ended up on his feet: he took his skills to Hollywood and became a professional bad guy in the movies. And yeah…he was a punching bag for the good guys, too.
Cruz may not be as big a loser as Cobb was, but he has precious few victories to crow about. What he apparently possesses more than anything is an ability to raise the temperature of conservatives by suggesting the absolute worst about his opponents. Do the American people need to be told that the world is ending, or that it’s “on fire” as he told a New Hampshire audience recently?
A little less exaggeration and hyperbole, a little more nuance and an acknowledgement of the complexities of the world, and who knows? Ted Cruz could emerge as a top-tier candidate for the Republican nomination.
But I’m not holding my breath.