So what kind of senator will Ted Cruz be? Since he's never held elective office, it's hard to know really. All we have to go by is his campaign rhetoric. While it's no news that what someone angling for political office says may not match what they do once in office, it's all we've got, so we have to take what he says at face value.
In May in a speech to a Tea Party Express rally in front of the state capitol, Cruz, I hope by accident, quoted Bob Dylan when he said that "revolution was in the air." But this is not your granddaddy's revolution for equality and democracy, it is instead a return to a mythic 18th century America where all the Framers felt the same about limited-government so that you wonder what exactly did they debate in Philadelphia during the scorching summer of 1787 for four months.
Talking to Tea Party sympathizers, I'm always amazed at their tenuous grasp of American history. Those contemporaries of Madison who were for a strong federal government, like Alexander Hamilton and the Federalist Party, disappear as if by magic. And while they insist on Madisonian government, they forget that Madison was a notoriously weak President who led us into a disastrous war against the British, and who very importantly had a complete change of heart about the efficacy of limited-government after the War of 1812. Yes, that Madison, whose name is repeated like a mantra at Tea Party gatherings, became a backer of a strong federal government.
But in Austin, playing to the loud and profane cheers of the Madisonian Tea Party crowd, Cruz insisted on limited government. He would, he said, get rid of the Departments of Education, Commerce, and Energy. But he wouldn't be content with just gutting a fifth of the cabinet, he'd give the National Endowment of Arts and the IRS the boot, too. And to top it off, he'd audit the Fed and limit the power of the EPA.
These proposals are, to put it mildly, extreme. They represent a fringe element of the Republican party that is, at least in Texas, now ascendant. But while the rabble-rousing words of a practiced orator like Ted Cruz will elicit cheers at any gathering of the Tea Party faithful, governing is not a political rally or a debate society. Speeches filled with glittering generalities like "liberty," "freedom," and "independence" may sound awe-inspiring to those who believe that what we need to cure our 21st century woes is a "return" to limited 18th century Madisonian government; but in a country of more than 300 million people with a 21st century global economy, what Cruz proposes is not only unworkable but dangerous.
Our most pressing problem today is our unacceptably high unemployment, effectively at 15%. A competent and responsive government would now be doing all it could to get people back to work. To do otherwise is cruel and unnecessary. In Paul Krugman's End This Depression Now, the Nobel-prize winning economist makes the case that the Great Depression taught us how to get out of a downturn in the economy. So our government's main objective now should be to prime the economic pump, but it is failing at this, not nearly enough has been done.
And who's to blame for our government's inadequate response? According to economist Daniel Altman's Sabotage: How the Republican Party Crippled America's Economic Recovery, cynical Republicans in Congress are sabotaging the economy by holding up Obama's jobs bills. To what end? Why only to win the 2012 election, the American people be damned.
If the federal government had been allowed to help the states and other localities keep their public sector jobs, unemployment would be much lower, and our economy would be well on its way to recovery. But while we are mired in double-digit unemployment, Cruz's ideology would not allow him to do any thing about it, only to push for deeper and deeper austerity. Think of England and Ireland, whose economies have lately shrunk, as prime evidence as to the destructiveness of that idea.
And what of those resonant words spoken by Cruz, liberty and freedom? If the EPA is curtailed, we will have the liberty to breathe even more polluted air than we breathe now. If Obamacare is repealed, as Cruz desires, than the uninsured among us will have the freedom to be denied coverage for preexisting conditions and to die, I suppose. Some freedom? Some liberty?
And while any Republican senator Texas elected would be conservative, Cruz says he's on the side of no compromise. So we will have yet one more Tea Party Senator to gum up the works, to continue the ineffectiveness of the do-nothing 112th Congress, which in the words of long-time Capitol Hill observer Norm Ornstein is the worst Congress ever. Brilliant!
In a sane world, Texas, a majority-minority state with its most populous counties (Harris, Bexar, and Dallas) Democratic, would have a true two-party race for the Senate. But barring a small miracle, we are fated to be represented by an inexperienced ideologue, beholden to a fringe of the Republican party, whose main experience in government is, as Texas' solicitor-general, arguing for the trivial (a ten commandments monument) or the illogically cruel (trying to convince the Supremes that even though Texas had made a mistake when it sent Michael Haley to prison for 14 years for the high crime of stealing a calculator from Wal-Mart, that he still should not be released). It's fitting somehow that Texas is a red state. We all should be red from the sheer embarrassment of it all.