Dismissing comparisons of tea party Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to the infamous Joe McCarthy, Jonah Goldberg suggests in his column Tuesday that Cruz instead "might be the conservative Barack Obama." Goldberg then requests that readers "bear with me."
Those three words should be taken as a warning sign.
When a writer asks readers to "bear with me," it often means he is about go out on a limb with an absurd proposition. And that is what Goldberg proceeds to do. After taking his readers out on a limb with him, the branch then comes crashing down under the weight of assumptions and mischaracterizations.
"What liberals hate in Cruz, they love in Obama," Goldberg writes, "a product of an elite education who confirms their feelings of superiority." Huh? What puts liberals off about Cruz is his unwillingness to compromise and his destructive brand of non-governance. Consider that Cruz voted no on aid to victims of Superstorm Sandy and on the Violence Against Women Act. Or that he just concluded a faux filibuster, ostensibly to block a vote on funding the Affordable Care Act. Yet Republicans and Democrats alike agree that this grandstanding will not affect any vote on the healthcare law.
What's more, it is a stretch for Goldberg to claim that Obama confirms liberals' "feelings of superiority." The liberals I know feel neither superior nor inferior about anything having to do with President Obama. We simply appreciate that we have an accomplished, thoughtful leader in the White House.
According to Goldberg, both Cruz and Obama "made political hay of their ethnicity." What exactly does this mean? Goldberg notes that Cruz proudly lists his "firsts" as a Latino on his official biography. This is ironic considering that Cruz was elected without Latino support and that he is against immigration reform, which he terms "amnesty."
Meanwhile, Obama has taken pains to down play his race. "I'm not the president of black America," he told Black Enterprise Magazine, "I'm the president of the United States of America." African Americans have at times felt that the president has not done enough for their community. So to imply that Obama plays the race card is unfair.
Goldberg describes the Affordable Care Act as "an entirely inside affair, an ugly partisan one involving mercenary horse-trading and countless backroom deals with industry and unions." First of all, healthcare reform was something voters wanted, otherwise Obama would not have been elected twice. Secondly, it was not a purely partisan effort. Republicans had input, and many of their ideas were included in the final bill. The "horse-trading" and "backroom deals" that Goldberg decries are his way of distorting the long, messy process of creating of a historic piece of legislation.
On the broader level, Goldberg's comparisons of Obama and Cruz are misguided. Obama has successfully connected with African Americans, Latinos, women, independent and moderate voters, and the LGBT community. His two national electoral victories were a triumph of coalition-building. Cruz appeals to his tea party base and -- well, nobody else. Obama the centrist has tried to forge compromises with Republicans, occasionally irritating liberals who felt he was being too conciliatory in negotiations with the opposition. Cruz is best known for his refusal to compromise with anyone. In his short time in Washington, he has become a polarizing figure within his own party; Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) once called him and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) "wacko birds."
On the other hand, the comparisons of Cruz to Joe McCarthy are appropriate. Cruz drew on unsupported innuendo in questioning former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) during his confirmation hearing for secretary of Defense. At a conservative summit in January, Cruz described Hagel and then-Sen. John F. Kerry as "less than ardent fans of the U.S. military," although both men are decorated veterans.
Goldberg is right on one important point: "The way you bring change to Washington is through elections." Obama has done this -- twice -- representing a moderate, mainstream wing of his party, in style as well as substance. In contrast, Cruz is a product of the far-right fringe. For this reason he will never be a viable presidential candidate, nor will his extreme agenda ever align with a majority of American voters.
Cruz will only ever be the GOP's Obama in Goldberg's wildest dreams.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney living in New York.
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