I have two things to say about Ted Cruz.
Cruz’s fans, and there are many, compare him to Ronald Reagan, who happens to be the 42-year-old senator’s boyhood hero. Cruz’s detractors, and there are many, compare him to Joe McCarthy, the controversial Wisconsin senator known for smearing his foes by innuendo and questioning their patriotism.
There are not many in between.
To Cruz, the swirling controversies of the past two months stem from his credo to “speak the truth,” whatever the consequences.
The Houston Republican’s first legislative proposal, as promised during his campaign, was a complete repeal of the 2010 health care law widely known as Obamacare. He was the only senator on the losing side of every key vote in his first month in office. He was one of only three senators to oppose the confirmation of John Kerry as secretary of state, and one of just 22 to vote against the Violence Against Women Act.
While assessments of Cruz’s job performance vary widely, there’s one thing all can agree on: The former Texas solicitor general is willfully ignoring the age-old adage that in the Senate, freshmen are seen but not heard.
1. Of all the criticisms one can make of Ted Cruz – and Lord knows, there are many – the one in which I am not interested is the criticism that “freshmen are seen but not heard”. For one thing, all that does is reinforce the Senate’s dysfunctional power dynamics. For another, if a freshman has something to contribute, who cares if they don’t know “how things are done around here”? I don’t want anyone telling Sen. Elizabeth Warren to sit down and shut up until she becomes conversant in Senate minutiae. Cruz is doing what he said he’d do. Anyone who’s surprised by it wasn’t paying attention last year.
The relevant question is whether Cruz wants to do more than what he said he wanted to do, which is basically lob spitballs and vote against stuff. If he wants to have a legacy beyond being flavor of the week for the teabagger crowd, at some point he will need to have some kind of positive accomplishments. If that does interest him – it’s not clear to me that it does, but I could be wrong about that – then I would suggest he study the legislative career of State Sen. Dan Patrick, who was Ted Cruz before Ted Cruz was Ted Cruz. Patrick entered Austin in more or less the same way that Cruz entered DC, as a brash loudmouth who disdained the traditions of the chamber he was about to join, didn’t know his “place”, and vowed to shake things up to be more to his liking. He spent his first session mostly making a fool of himself – remember his stunt where he had a press conference with a million dollars in cash as a prop? – and talk, both by and about him, far exceeded any action on his part. But then a funny thing happened – Patrick started taking the job seriously. He worked hard to learn about issues, he gained a reputation as someone who would listen with an open mind to the concerns of all stakeholders, he demonstrated an ability to work with others – see the CenterPoint right of way bill for an example – and six years later he’s the Chair of the Public Education committee, pushing major reforms. He’s far more dangerous now from my perspective than when he first got elected because now he’s actually effective and is in a strong position to get stuff done, and most (though not all) of that is stuff I don’t like. Depending on what he wants to do in DC, or subsequently back in Texas, Ted Cruz could choose to be Dan Patrick, or he could keep doing what he’s doing now, which would be a choice to be Louie Gohmert, or possibly something even worse.
2. The Express News puts this all another way.
True, there was no doubt who or what Texans were voting for at that time. Cruz, in fact, says he is doing only what Texans elected him to do.
But at some point, Texans are going to want Cruz to be for something rather than just against everything. Deal-making for the public good, after all, is a proud tradition among Texas leaders.
Texans might give Cruz the benefit of the doubt. Being new to a job is always tough. Wanting to prove your worth is always understandable. But there are ways of doing a good job — and standing on principle — without pushing the boundaries of civility.
The senator’s style certainly will endear him to some. Cruz will be the closing speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March, a coveted spot at what is said to be the largest gathering of conservatives in the country.
Previous speakers? Last year, Sarah Palin. Before that Allen West, who lost his House seat in Florida after one term in November, and, the year before, Glenn Beck, who redefined far-out politics.
That’s some telling company.
In the long run, Cruz’s current style will make him a fringe player in his own party. And Texas needs more than that from its senators.
There was a time when bringing federal funds to Texas for various things was considered worthwhile. Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison were both well known for it. Even today at least some of that persists – witness Rep. Kevin Brady promising to work with Houston to ensure that Hobby Airport has sufficient Customs staff, even though he opposed the Hobby expansion project. KBH was a champion of transportation funds, and was considered a good friend of Metro here. What will Ted Cruz do? More to the point, what will the business interests that got used to getting stuff from KBH do if Cruz decides that teabagger posturing is more important than anything else? Maybe they’ll spend some time regretting their choice not to oppose Cruz. Barring anything strange, we’re stuck with him for the next six years. Isn’t that going to be fun? EoW has more.