Commentary Magazine


How Dare Ted Cruz?

Democrats might well be spending the day after the unsuccessful attempt to end debate on the nomination of Chuck Hagel pondering why President Obama and Vice President Biden were so obsessed with shoving an unqualified and incompetent candidate down the throats of the Senate. Politico has a fascinating story about why President Obama and Vice President Biden were unwilling to listen to sense about Hagel and went all in on the nomination even after clear signs of trouble about the former senator were apparent. But owning up to the sorry truth that what the White House likes best about Hagel are exactly the qualities that have made his confirmation such a tough slog — weakness on Iran, hostility to Israel and an unwillingness to stand up for the needs of the department he’s slotted to run — would require liberals to ask some tough questions about the president’s goals for his second term. Instead, the chattering classes are obsessing about the alleged bad manners of one of the newest additions to the U.S. Senate.

The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus speaks for many in the capital today when she slams Texas Senator Ted Cruz for being mean to Chuck Hagel. Cruz had the temerity to demand five years of financial records from the nominee rather than the two he provided. He’s curious as to whether more detailed financial documents will reveal some embarrassing details as to who has funded some of the groups Hagel is involved with or paid for speaking engagements he has undertaken. These sound like reasonable questions to me and probably most Americans who think there’s nothing wrong with more transparency. This is a stand Democrats had no shame in adopting last year when they demanded that Mitt Romney reveal his tax returns and every last detail of his financial existence but as far as the Washington establishment is concerned, Cruz’s questions were a “smear.” They think he’s a bumptious, arrogant right-winger who doesn’t know his place and the chattering classes will do their best to besmirch his reputation until he pipes down. They shouldn’t hold their breath.

I don’t agree with Cruz on every issue. I think his qualms about the bipartisan immigration reform proposal put forward by other senators are unpersuasive and worry whether his desire to cut back spending places him among those who would denude our national defense. Yet what really bothers Washington liberals about Cruz is that he didn’t come to Washington to enjoy the benefits of being a member of one of the most exclusive and powerful club in the world — the U.S. Senate — and to play the time honored go-along to get-along game that greases the wheels of the country’s big government spending addiction. He intends to stand up for his principles and speak out.

I’m skeptical that more digging in Hagel’s financial records will reveal anything that will derail his nomination. But there’s nothing offensive about Cruz’s insinuation that Hagel might have something to hide. As has been made clear in just the last couple of days, what we already know Hagel’s extreme views about making nice with Iran and offensive statements about Jews and Israel may be just the tip of the iceberg. What the Washington establishment and the White House wanted was a collegial confirmation process for Hagel that would give the appearance of scrutiny rather than a genuine investigation about his suitability for a sensitive and powerful post. And that is something that a man like Cruz won’t tolerate.

In his first weeks in office, Cruz has not played the usual role of freshman senators and kept quiet. Instead, as another Politico story noted, he has stepped on a lot of toes and the owners of those toes aren’t happy. They say it will decrease his influence. Others will agree with Marcus about his bad manners and do their best to shun him.

About that, I have two thoughts.

One is that liberals don’t always think ill of freshman senators who don’t defer to senior colleagues. When Barack Obama arrived in the U.S. Senate in 2005 he might not have been as tough as Cruz but he wasn’t shy about asserting himself. As one senator told me, he showed up acting as if he had been there for 20 years and his colleagues didn’t like it one bit.

The other is that all the blather we’ve been hearing lately about the virtues of compromise can be overrated. It is true that politics is the art of the possible and that getting anything done requires accommodation as well as advocacy. But the problem with Ted Cruz isn’t so much that he strikes some Washingtonians as obnoxious as it is that he won’t play the part assigned to him in their vision of the future of the Republican Party. We may need dealmakers but we also need politicians who take ideas more seriously than the kabuki dance of Capitol Hill manners.

The Hagel contretemps illustrated perfectly why we need people in the Senate who won’t pull their punches. Given the commitment of the president to his nominee, stopping an unsuitable and dangerous man like Hagel from being given the Pentagon required courage and a willingness to drop the faux courtesy that would have allowed him to skate through without tough questions or real scrutiny.

I daresay Ted Cruz isn’t bothered by Marcus’s jibe that he isn’t going to win Senator Congeniality. Neither should the voters of Texas who sent up there to speak up and not fit in. A few more like him wouldn’t do the Congress any harm.

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