Saturday, September 14, 2013
Ted Cruz is Disgraceful
I'm not sure anyone realized until this week just how far Ted Cruz was willing to go with his evil demagogue act. Twelve years ago, When Trent Lott said he wished the Dixiecrats would have won in 1948, he lost his leadership position over it, as he should have. It is not and ought not be acceptable for modern politicians to wish the White supremacists had won. Lott was held to an appropriate standard of decency. Now Cruz is offering an extended homage, not off the cuff remarks, to the last of the out and proud White supremacists, Jesse Helms. So this is a test. Will he face consequences for it? He doesn't have a leadership position to lose, but I suppose the party could strip him of his committee assignments. I'm not sure how that works. What I do know is that as a political matter, the party can't punish him because it would produce a full-scale revolt from the base. Draw your own conclusions about what that means.
I think moments like this are important. There has to be some kind of price to be paid for this behavior, and if Cruz's party won't do it, the media has to. He's planning to run for President. Ok. Ask him about these comments at every public appearance over the next three years until he offers a full and unequivocal apology. Until he offers that apology, just give straight news reports framed as, "Cruz stands by his support for White supremacist." Symbolism is important. We can't allow a United States senator from one of our biggest states to spit in the face of every person of color in this country along with every moral White person, and face no consequence.
I think we know what Cruz's apologists will say. He was praising Helms for other aspects of his career! He was applauding his broader sense of conservatism! Of course he wasn't talking about race! And of course, that's obviously true. No doubt Cruz wasn't talking about race. The offense is that he thought it is intellectually coherent or morally acceptable to do that. It just can't be done. You can't offer up fairly comprehensive, general praise and then say, "oh no, I wasn't talking about his life's main work!" As a historian and as a person with a conscience, Cruz's remarks are akin to this: a Senator says we need more presidents like Hitler. Called out on it, he says, "oh don't be silly! I was talking about how Hitler brought the German economy out of the Depression! We need good economic leadership!" You just aren't allowed to make those kinds of arguments, and no decent person would want to. So this is a test. Is Ted Cruz a decent person? And will the media demand an answer?
For a sense of how evil Jesse Helms was, check out this old David Broder column from when Helms announced his retirement in 2001. Keep in mind, this is David Broder, the epitome of the old-school beltway guy who wrings his hand about saying anything mean and doesn't want to take sides.
"What really sets Jesse Helms apart," Broder said, "is that he is the last prominent unabashed white racist politician in this country -- a title that one hopes will now be permanently retired." Broder surveys the racist campaigns Helms ran and the symbolic stands he took to insult Blacks. But the more important point that Broder doesn't really get at is that throughout his career Helms continued to work in substantive ways to hurt Black people. He wanted to repeal the foundational civil rights laws. Yes, his campaigns and tv ads were noxious, but the substance of his efforts was even worse.
If I sound perturbed, it's because I'm genuinely surprised by this. I had thought we were kind of at the bottom of the barrel and we would no longer have major Republican figures (Steve King doesn't count) embracing racism in such explicit terms. But here we are. And Ted Cruz is one of the front-runners for the GOP nomination as far as some are concerned. It reminds me of something I should know by now. Until conservatism acknowledges the existence of racism as a real thing, an important thing that affects real people, these kinds of comments will continue to occur. For most conservatives, having the right view on taxes is more important than having the right view on racism. If you don't prioritize the fight against White supremacy you'll find yourself unwittingly making common cause with its defenders. That seems to be what has happened to Cruz.