If I were to mirror the example of the delusional right-wing folks who have spent seven years creating apocalyptic fantasies about how Barack Obama is a communistic, Muslim Antichrist, I could probably manufacture some scary characterizations of the first announced candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Ted Cruz — but I won’t. Instead, I want to compare him favorably to his ideological soul mate, Sarah Palin, which may be even more scary.
Both the Texas senator and the former Alaska governor oppose abortion and same-sex marriage. They both want a smaller federal government and a more confrontational foreign policy. They want to repeal Obamacare and seal up the borders. Both are darlings of the tea party. Neither believes climate change is real. When they are in front of evangelical Christian crowds, they talk freely about salvation and prayer warriors. Both are so ambitious that they barely warmed the seats in their first major elected offices before jumping into campaigns at the highest level of national politics.
On just about everything, Cruz and Palin are on the same page. The difference is that the page Cruz reads from is in a law book, while Palin’s is in People magazine.
Palin is pretty much the embodiment of scatterbrained. Her off-the-cuff speeches are hilarious, nonsensical contortions of the English language. Her occasional stints as a pundit on Fox News are so daffy that even the sympathetic conservative hosts seem baffled by her blather. She is an attractive celebrity who is a good fit for a TV reality show, not for any position that would allow her to get her manicured fingers on the nuclear codes.
Cruz, on the other hand, has a sharp mind that has been marinated in conservative thought since he was a teenager. After graduating from Princeton University, he went to Harvard Law School where, according to one of his professors, Alan Dershowitz, Cruz excelled. He went on to a stint as a law clerk for Chief Justice William Rehnquist and eventually served as solicitor general of Texas. Cruz has written 80 Supreme Court briefs and presented oral arguments before the justices nine times.
Just as conservatives reflexively assume liberal politicians are America-betraying quasi-socialists, liberals dismiss conservative politicians as backwoods hicks with minds full of jingoism and Jesus. Actually, that does describe a number of GOP congressmen quite well, but not Cruz. To liberals, his political positions sound as nutty as Palin's or any other tea party goober, but with Cruz, those positions are grounded in legal training and expressed in the context of longstanding conservative philosophical principles that define the proper size and scope of government.
As a candidate, Cruz is eager to engage in a debate that has been ongoing since the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. The convention was called to deal with the defects in the Articles of Confederation that governed the fledgling republic after the American Revolution. The articles failed to give the central government of the United States enough authority to operate effectively, so the delegates crafted a new document that established a balancing act between the prerogatives of the states and the enhanced power of the federal government. Some passages of the Constitution were left purposefully vague in order to reach necessary compromises that would win support for ratification. The assumption was that future generations would sort out the details.
That sorting out process has certainly happened, especially after the nation's fourth chief justice, John Marshall, established the Supreme Court’s central role in interpreting the Constitution. Since Marshall, court rulings have dramatically expanded the role of the federal government in American society. Many, if not most, constitutional scholars agree that judicial elaborations on the Constitution’s original text have allowed the document to stay relevant and have been a key driver of American prosperity, the expansion of rights to all citizens and the stability of the U.S. political system. However, there is a narrow group of conservatives in the legal world who disagree. They believe the words of the Constitution mean exactly — and only — what they say. They would be happy to roll back most of the jurisprudence of the last couple centuries. Ted Cruz is one of those people.
That makes him pretty radical. His views place him in the same camp as all of those throughout U.S. history who have resisted federal authority — including slave owners, Confederate politicians, rapacious industrialists and die-hard segregationists. Because most Americans are not keen on going back to the 18th century, chances are reasonably good that Cruz will be no more successful in national politics than Palin has been. Still, he could be a much more formidable voice in the presidential race. Cruz can articulate a complex argument for his point of view.
I wish someone would sponsor a debate on constitutional law between Cruz and Dershowitz — or Barack Obama, if the president has time on his hands. It would be an entertaining and informative exchange. Can anyone imagine Sarah Palin delving into such a debate? Not a chance. There would be way too many “gotcha questions.”