Last week, Ted Cruz won the Republican U.S. Senate primary in Texas over a better-known, better-funded opponent. If you’ve followed the race, the narrative from the press has essentially been that Cruz is a Tea Party-backed firebrand whose knee-jerk ideology presages a rightward lurch for the GOP.
In a condescending New York Times column, Gail Collins said the following : “… We don’t really need to go over (Cruz’s) basic agenda because you can pretty much guess it. (Hint: cutspendingshrinkgovernment- repealObamacare.) Also, he memorized the Constitution in high school. And he wants to abolish the Internal Revenue Service.” (By the way, that last sentence is seriously misleading, implying that Cruz would get rid of taxes all together instead of reforming the system, as he has argued.)
Putting to one side the tone of bemused superiority that New York Times columnists typically reserve for Sarah Palin (more on that in a moment), I need to ask: Since when is it a liability for a Senate candidate to have memorized the Constitution? Wouldn’t it be nice to know that when a newly minted U.S. senator raises his hand to swear fidelity to the Constitution, he actually knows what he’s talking about?
Regardless, you can see a narrative that’s beginning to emerge, and it isn’t very kind. It’s the same one the far left stuck to Palin. It’s often implied and, on occassion, directly stated: These people just aren’t smart enough to govern.
But in this case, there’s a problem: Ted Cruz is no Sarah Palin.
In full disclosure, I’ve known Ted for nearly 20 years. When I first met him, he had recently graduated from Harvard Law School and was on his way to a clerkship with the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. For those who are unfamiliar with what that means, it’s without a doubt one of the most prestigious honors that can bestowed on a lawyer.
Each year, there are half as many Supreme Court clerks as Rhodes Scholars, and the primary qualification is intellectual ability. No more, no less.
The caricature the left would love to paint of Ted Cruz — a rabid, reactionary ideologue who hasn’t two brain cells to rub together — is not only wrong, it’s preposterous. In fact, I’ve met few people with a better foundation for their political philosophy than Ted. You may not agree with that philosophy, but it’s based on decades of personal experience, debate, reasoning, reading, intense practical study and — yes — memorizing the Constitution. Ted knows what he believes, and he can support it without hesitation with direct reference to America’s founding documents.
I’d offer the same view about the movement Ted is associated with, the Tea Party. The left would so dearly love to portray this group of Americans as at best Republicans, and at worst as ignorant, knuckle-dragging, troglodytic Republicans.
The reality, as usual, doesn’t match the cartoon. I’ve been to Republican Party meetings and Democratic Party meetings, but I’ve never heard either party discuss political philosophy or foundational documents (such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution) as much as the Republicans, Democrats and independents who make up the Tea Party. And for those whose eyes roll at the idea of anybody other than Republicans in the Tea Party, you obviously haven’t been to a Tea Party meeting lately.
The condescending parodies applied to the Tea Party and candidates like Ted Cruz are laughable. We should call them out for what they are: an effort to avoid substantive debate.
Rob Witwer is a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives and co-author of the book “The Blueprint: How Democrats Won Colorado and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care.”