Henry Adams said that politics is the systematic organization of hatreds. For the left in the past year, it has seemed at times to be the systematic organization of hatred of Ted Cruz.
The freshman senator is not the first Texan to be so honored. In fact, the state isn’t holding up its end if, at any given moment, it isn’t throwing onto the national scene at least one Republican reviled by the other side.
The party’s highest-profile Texans, George W. Bush and Rick Perry, tended to match inarticulateness with cowboy swagger and lend themselves to mockery as intellectual lightweights. Bush went to Yale and Harvard Business School, yet no one naturally thinks of him as an Ivy Leaguer. The two Lone Star State governors played into the left’s stereotypes so nicely that if they didn’t exist, the New York Times editorial board would have had to invent them.
Cruz is different: a Princeton and Harvard man who not only matriculated at those fine institutions but excelled at them. Champion debater at Princeton. Magna cum laude graduate at Harvard. Supreme Court clerkship, on the way to Texas solicitor general and dozens of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Cruz is from the intellectual elite, but not of it, a tea party conservative whose politics are considered gauche at best at the storied universities where he studied. He is, to borrow the words of the 2008 H.W. Brands biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt, a traitor to his class.
Democrats and liberal pundits would surely dislike Cruz no matter where he went to school, but his pedigree adds an element of shocked disbelief to the disdain. “Princeton and Harvard should be disgraced,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell exclaimed on MSNBC, as if graduating a constitutionalist conservative who rises to national prominence is a violation of the schools’ mission statements.
It almost is. Princeton and Harvard aren’t quite the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, the French school that trains that country’s political class, but they are close.
In a Washington Post column a year ago, Dana Milbank noted Cruz’s schooling and concluded that his tea party politics must be a put-on; that he is, underneath it all, an “intellectually curious, liberal-arts conservative.” Note the insulting assumption that an interest in books and ideas immunizes someone from a certain kind of conservative politics.
One of the left’s deepest prejudices is that its opponents are stupid, and Cruz tramples on it. At hearings, Cruz has the prosecutorial instincts of a ... Harvard-trained lawyer. Watching Attorney General Eric Holder try to fend off Cruz’s questioning on the administration’s drone policy a few months ago was like seeing a mouse cornered by a very large cat.
Cruz hasn’t played by the Senate rules that freshmen should initially be seen and not heard. In fact, he joined the upper chamber with all the subtlety of a SWAT team knocking down a drug suspect’s front door.
For people who care about such things — almost all of them are senators — this is an unforgivable offense. At another hearing, as Cruz says that the highest commitment of senators should be to the Constitution, another senator can be heard muttering that he doesn’t like being lectured. Chairman Pat Leahy (probably the mutterer) eventually cuts him off and informs him he hasn’t been in the Senate very long.
Cruz lacks all defensiveness about his positions, another source of annoyance to his opponents, who are used to donning the mantle of both intellectual and moral superiority.
None of this is to endorse all of Cruz’s tactical judgments or to deny he can irk his own side at times. His push to defund Obamacare this fall is a grass-roots-pleasing slogan in search of a realistic path to legislative fruition.
It is no secret that Cruz has presidential aspirations. Even if he ascends no higher, though, he will be a force in the Senate. He could spend decades making liberals recoil at what Princeton and Harvard hath wrought.
Syndicated columnist Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.