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.)
It’s a very strange experience to have your friends think you’ve gone crazy. Some will tell you so. Others will indulgently humor you. Still others will avoid you. More than a few will demand that the authorities do something to get you off the streets. During one unpleasant moment after I was fired from the think tank where I’d worked for the previous seven years, I tried to reassure my wife with an old cliché: “The great thing about an experience like this is that you learn who your friends really are.” She answered, “I was happier when I didn’t know.”
It’s possible that my friends are right. I don’t think so—but then, crazy people never do. So let me put the case to you.
I’ve been a Republican all my adult life. I have worked on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, at Forbes magazine, at the Manhattan and American Enterprise Institutes, as a speechwriter in the George W. Bush administration. I believe in free markets, low taxes, reasonable regulation, and limited government. I voted for John McCain in 2008, and I have strongly criticized the major policy decisions of the Obama administration. But as I contemplate my party and my movement in 2011, I see things I simply cannot support.
America desperately needs a responsible and compassionate alternative to the Obama administration’s path of bigger government at higher cost. And yet: This past summer, the GOP nearly forced America to the verge of default just to score a point in a budget debate. In the throes of the worst economic crisis since the Depression, Republican politicians demand massive budget cuts and shrug off the concerns of the unemployed. In the face of evidence of dwindling upward mobility and long-stagnating middle-class wages, my party’s economic ideas sometimes seem to have shrunk to just one: more tax cuts for the very highest earners. When I entered Republican politics, during an earlier period of malaise, in the late seventies and early eighties, the movement got most of the big questions—crime, inflation, the Cold War—right. This time, the party is getting the big questions disastrously wrong.
Some liberals suspect that the conservative changes of mind since 2008 are opportunistic and cynical. It’s true that cynicism is never entirely absent from politics: I won’t soon forget the lupine smile that played about the lips of the leader of one prominent conservative institution as he told me, “Our donors truly think the apocalypse has arrived.” Yet conscious cynicism is much rarer than you might suppose. Few of us have the self-knowledge and emotional discipline to say one thing while meaning another. If we say something often enough, we come to believe it. We don’t usually delude others until after we have first deluded ourselves. Some of the smartest and most sophisticated people I know—canny investors, erudite authors—sincerely and passionately believe that President Barack Obama has gone far beyond conventional American liberalism and is willfully and relentlessly driving the United States down the road to socialism.
But Cain’s gaffe on Libya or Perry’s brain freeze on the Department of Energy are not only indicators of bad leadership. They are indicators of a crisis of followership. The tea party never demanded knowledge or concern for governance, and so of course it never got them.
This article has a lot of good tidbits:
It is precisely these disaffected whites—especially those who didn’t go to college—who form the Republican voting base.
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