‘President’ Ted Cruz: Mission Impossible?

December 12, 2014

When I told one of my Australian friends recently that I was meeting with Ted Cruz, he excitedly shouted back to me over Skype:

” Hey, that’s great. Tell him I loved him in Rain Man.”

That Cruz should be confused with Tom Cruise the movie star is not so surprising, but not because of the similarity in the pronunciation of their names.   Among certain conservatives he has developed a star power almost as efflorescent as that of his namesake.

I met Cruz, with about 15 other people, in a swanky Beverly Hills Hotel last Friday afternoon.  He was affable and down-to -Earth  and began our conversation by suggesting that we throw no soft balls, only hard ones.

That’s fine because there a quite a few to toss.

Why, for instance, has he taken such a strong stance outside the mainstream Republican Party and created a division which could eclipse the potential for sending a conservative president into the White House in 2016?

How, by now threatening to prevent the continued funding of the government unless the President  agrees to withdraw his executive action on immigration, is he going to win over the Reagan Democrats who are necessary to achieving victory for Republicans in 2016 ?

Does he still believe that his filibuster in September 2013, in which the government WAS actually shut down, was ultimately effective for the purposes of the Party?  Did it not make the Republicans look like spoiled children who won’t eat their Wheaties unless they get their way?

These are not questions Cruz has failed to field before and he was quite ready for them.

He related to me a story about Ronald Reagan who in 1978 was identified by the great conservative commentator George Will as the founding member of  the ‘Kamikaze Wing’ of the Republican Party  – someone who was committing the Party to to political suicide.

Today that kind of characterization sounds laughable. There is almost no Republican alive who does not view Reagan as the savior of the Republican Party in the 1980s and as the Republican role model.

The point is that history shapes perceptions and what might seem extreme today will in the future seem reasonable and appropriate.

Cruz has no regrets whatsoever for any of his actions taken in the past few years. A freshman senator in 2012, he burst onto the national political scene as a more tenacious flame thrower than anyone had seen in staid Washington in decades. He quickly made a name for himself as a Tea Party poster boy, determined to push conservative values and principles, even at the expense of Republican unity.  No kowtowing to party dowagers John McCain and Lindsay Graham for this guy. He was going for broke.

Going for broke is something Cruz seems to have been doing for years.

He is son a former political prisoner of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. A brilliant student he started in conservative politics early where, in high school, as a member of the conservative program, the Constitutional Corroborators, he was required to memorize the U.S. Constitution and recite it at public events, and at times, speak about conservative ideas.

After high school, he enrolled in Princeton, and graduated cum laude in 1992 with a Bachelor’s degree. While there, Cruz was part of the highly successful university debate team, the American Whig–Cliosophic Society. In 1992, he was awarded  the U.S. National Speaker of the Year and was a member of the National Team of the Year. He was also named First Place Speaker at the North American Debate Championships.

After Princeton, Cruz went to Harvard Law, where he became the founding general editor of the Harvard Latino Law Review and served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review. After graduating magna cum laude with a law degree in 1995, Cruz clerked for Fourth Circuit Judge Michael Luttig for a year, before joining the office of Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

At 33 years old, Cruz became the youngest solicitor general in American history when he was so appointed in Texas. He resigned as Solicitor-General in 2008, and reentered private practice, serving as a partner at Houston-based Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, where he specialized in litigating appeals before the U.S. Supreme Court and federal appellate courts, becoming one of the finest litigators in the country.

Everything he turns his hand to, seems to succeed.

Last week Cruz called on Senate Republicans to follow through on their promise to “do everything possible to stop President Obama’s illegal amnesty.” Last Monday, his communications director, Amanda Carpenter, lashed out over the legislation that House Republicans were putting the finishing touches on. He failed to stop the funding bill  going through, but that does not seem to have affected his determination.  He cites ObamaCare as the gravest threat to both American prosperity and American freedom since the Wilson Administration.

“It is amazing that the wisdom of the chattering class to the Republicans is always, always, always ‘Surrender your principles and agree with the Democrats,’ ” he told us. “That’s been true for my entire lifetime. The chattering classes have consistently said, ‘You crazy Republicans have to give up on what you believe and become more like Democrats.’ And, I would note, every time Republicans do that, we lose.”

He goes on to tell us how only those Republicans who ran as true conservatives – Nixon,  Reagan, George H.W.Bush and George W. Bush won presidential elections (how they governed, however, is another matter) while Ford, Dole, McCain and Romney lost because they ran as moderates.

I think he is forgetting Barry Goldwater, the first true conservative of the modern era, whose candidacy went down into flames under the avalanche of the Johnson landslide in 1964.

But no matter.

Today, polls show Cruz in the middle of the pack for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, along with Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and Bobby Jindal.  Last year he won the Values Voter Summit’s Presidential straw poll; Six months ago, he won the straw poll at the Republican Leadership Conference and, not surprisingly, the straw poll at the Texas G.O.P. convention.  That is pretty impressive for someone who in 2011 had never run for public office and has only served in the Senate for 24 months.

As for his 21 hour filibuster speech last September, where he read, among other things, selections from Dr. Seuss and the work of Ayn Rand in order to prevent a government funding bill which included money for ObamaCare, Cruz is still defiant:

 ” Many voices in Washington say the fight that we had last fall was not successful,” Cruz told us. “Like any good litigator, at times you think of a battle as a long-term battle. You don’t always accomplish everything in the first skirmish. As a consequence of millions of people last summer and fall getting engaged in that battle, I believe we dramatically elevated the national debate over the harms of Obamacare. And today Democrats are running scared, and it is my belief that the  Republicans won control of the Senate because of Obamacare.”

Some of that is of course true.  The disastrous ObamaCare roll out that followed only a few weeks later seemed to validate his perspective and may have served to bolster his reputation – at least in the short term.

But the filibuster in September 2013 did have negative consequences, including exposing the deep fissures in the party between establishment Republicans and traditional conservatives and embittering the already caustic divide between Republicans and Democrats.

Cruz , of course, is unapologetic and keen to demonstrate that he will never back down, a lesson his  Republican colleagues are learning quickly about this brash firebrand from Austin.   And the truth is there is something deeply refreshing about the staunchness of his convictions.  He is certainly not some ‘wacko bird’ as John McCain has dismissively characterized him and he is not a political meteor, as others have contended, who will burn brightly for a while and then fizzle.  He seems here to stay and he will almost certainly continue to make his presence felt.

Today he has a huge Twitter following and perhaps he can indeed summon enough support to win the Republican nomination.   But could he ever convince an electorate swinging much more to the political left than anyone ever anticipated, that he can be president?   Will the shadow of Barry Goldwater haunt him?

Its a tough call.  But as his own record has shown, he is a man who sees all obstacles as challenges which he knows he can overcome and if his instincts prove correct, he may just turn out to be one of the most adept political tacticians in modern American presidential history.

Mission impossible?

Perhaps.  For some, Cruz doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell of becoming President of the United States. In response the Texas senator might take heart from his namesake in the first Mission Impossible movie who boasted:

             ” We just rolled up a snowball and threw it into Hell. Now we’ll see if it has a chance.”

It seems to me as if Cruz’s snowball is already accelerating deep into a particularly fiery political pit.   And it could have more than even chance of hitting its target.

A Pyrrhic Victory

March 22, 2010

Bells rang out across the land.   The people, freed from centuries of oppression by a feudal system of health care, rushed into village streets, banging drums and shaking timbrels.  Thirty- two million people, in one voice, wept with gratitude as their redemptive leader read them the new order.  No longer would they be at the mercy of avaricious insurance companies.  No longer would anyone reject them for a prior medical condition or their age;  no longer would a citizen’s income dictate whether or not he or she could see a doctor.

That certainly is the reaction for which Barack Obama is longing as he sets his pen to the most important change to national health care since Lyndon Johnson’s landmark Medicare legislation 45 years ago.

There are plenty of people around the world who are declaring that its about time.  After all, Germany had introduced government sanctioned  sickness and accident insurance  as long ago as 1883 when Otto von Bismarck was Chancellor and most European countries have enjoyed some variety of nationalized health for at least 60 years.

Yet, there were always good reasons the United States did not have a universal health care system.  For all their claims of success, the Europeans, Canadians and other Western nations’ systems have operated as notorious drains on their treasuries, reducing the overall quality of care and consigning many aged, terminally ill individuals to wait lists that sometimes extend years.

But more important than this is the notion that a Government managed health care system vitiated against the country’s bedrock belief in free enterprise and the efficacy of market mechanisms in regulating the application of a service vital service to the public.  Health care, for generations of Americans, was never regarded so much as a  right, as much as it was a privilege to which one worked hard to obtain – and then maintain.

Yesterday, that changed.  Health care has now become an entitlement in the United States of America which will almost certainly bring with it most of the other ills that have attached to similar systems. Who will pay for it in an era when government is already heaving under a merciless burden of debt, is still anyone’s guess.

For all the euphoria, it is not certain that anyone has a comprehensive understanding  of what is in this health bill.  From its earlier incarnations, pages  been ripped out, amendments slapped on to politically sensitive sections, whole chapters eviscerated – it has begun to resemble one of those study guides high school students carry into their open book exams with sections pasted in from assigned texts, yellow post-its dangling from its edges and hundreds of dog-eared pages marking important areas of concentration.     It may take many months for the final version to be published and even then there is no certainty that anyone willl be able to get a handle on its Byzantine complexity. Obamacare enters history as a modern day version of the Rosetta Stone, to be interpreted and reinterpreted by our judges and legislators for many generations into the future.

What then of the political maneuvering to took to get this bird in the air?   The Obama flight plan, which only two months ago, damaged by incessant flak with its engines on fire and billowing smoke, was in a tailspin, its future grim.  It now appears now to have pulled out of it of its death dive, albeit with its  fuselage singed and rattling away at low altitude.

But that might not be for long.  The extra cargo this administration has taken on in passing the legislation, with pet projects of representatives now demanding be fed, will be a heavy burden that it will only unload at great expense to its future.

And at least one thing is for certain.  Gone is any pretense of Barack Obama as this century’s first post-partisan president, having repudiated his election night promise that he would be the president of   “all Americans”.   We should not forget the other historical first achieved last night – the health care bill  legislation passed the House with not even one Republican vote.   Never in this country’s history has so important a piece of legislation failed to win any bi-partisan support.

The effect of this reality may be seismic.  Popular opinion in the country may be stirred in outrage, leading to a devastating rout for Democrats at the polls in only eight months time.  In that event, Obama’s great victory will have wilted into a tragic mistake that might have been avoided with the application of restraint and moderation.

The Obama  administration should therefore not forget  Plutarch’s retelling to Dionysis of the Pyrrhic Wars:

“The armies separated; and, it is said, Pyrrhus replied to one that gave him joy of his victory that one more such victory would utterly undo him. For he had lost a great part of the forces he brought with him, and almost all his particular friends and principal commanders and there were no others there to make recruits.  On the other hand, as from a fountain continually flowing out of the city, the Roman camp was quickly and plentifully filled up with fresh men, not at all abating in courage for the loss they sustained, but even from their very anger gaining new force and resolution to go on with the war.“.

The Obamaites would do well to heed Pyrrhus’ historical lesson.

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