Last week, Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s prosecutorial style of questioning Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for Defense Secretary, came so close to innuendo that it raised eyebrows in Congress, even among his Republican colleagues. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, called Cruz’s inquiry into Hagel’s past associations “out of bounds, quite frankly.” The Times reported that Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, rebuked Cruz for insinuating, without evidence, that Hagel may have collected speaking fees from North Korea. Some Democrats went so far as to liken Cruz, who is a newcomer to the Senate, to a darkly divisive predecessor, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, whose anti-Communist crusades devolved into infamous witch hunts. Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, stopped short of invoking McCarthy’s name, but there was no mistaking her allusion when she talked about being reminded of “a different time and place, when you said, ‘I have here in my pocket a speech you made on such-and-such a date,’ and of course there was nothing in the pocket.”
Boxer’s analogy may have been more apt than she realized. Two and a half years ago, Cruz gave a stem-winder of a speech at a Fourth of July weekend political rally in Austin, Texas, in which he accused the Harvard Law School of harboring a dozen Communists on its faculty when he studied there. Cruz attended Harvard Law School from 1992 until 1995. His spokeswoman didn’t respond to a request to discuss the speech.
Cruz made the accusation while speaking to a rapt ballroom audience during a luncheon at a conference called “Defending the American Dream,” sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, a non-profit political organization founded and funded in part by the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch. Cruz greeted the audience jovially, but soon launched an impassioned attack on President Obama, whom he described as “the most radical” President “ever to occupy the Oval Office.” (I was covering the conference and kept the notes.)