Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunday Reading

It’s All About Him — Jack Balkin in The Atlantic says Ted Cruz is a Leninist.

What’s Ted Cruz up to? Is he a political idiot or a political savant?

Many people have argued that his antics, however well designed to appeal to the Tea Party and the Republican-primary voting base, also seem equally well designed to anger his Republican colleagues in Congress, “establishment” Republicans, and organs of opinion like the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and, perhaps more important, big business and big-money donors whose support Cruz will need if he runs for president in 2016. And what he is doing won’t stop Obamacare. So it seems like his strategy of alienating his colleagues in the Senate is doomed to failure and he is just being intransigent for the hell of it.

But let’s suppose Cruz sees something (or is betting on something) that his opponents in the Republican Party don’t see. Then his actions make a lot more sense. He is not a terrorist or a bomb thrower. He is a Leninist. He wants to sow discord among his erstwhile allies so that he can seize control.

Suppose you thought that the Republican coalition is fracturing, that traditional Republican leadership can no longer hold the party together, and that the leadership is too willing to capitulate to its political opponents on the left.

Suppose you are also convinced that Obamacare will be a total disaster. Once in place, constituencies will form that will make it difficult to repeal, yet it will make most ordinary Americans deeply unhappy. Obamacare will be the big-government equivalent of crystal meth: an addictive substance that destroys your health. When the public finally realizes this, it will abandon the Democrats in droves and look for an alternative.

If you think both these things are true, then what Ted Cruz is doing makes some sense. Cruz wants to take over the Republican Party.


In some sense this is a repeat of the conservative movement’s playbook from 1964 on: Push moderates out of the Republican Party and make it a wholly owned subsidiary of the conservative movement. As George W. Bush would say, Mission Accomplished. The moderates are mostly gone. George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole would be RINOs today. Even Ronald Reagan would have to be sent to a re-education camp to extinguish his dangerously liberal tendencies toward raising taxes and nuclear disarmament. The “mainstream conservatives” the press talks about today are a misnomer. Mainstream conservatives aren’t moderate at all — they are very, very conservative in relation to the Republicans of days gone by. What distinguishes “mainstream” Republicans is that they are not much interested in what they see as the Tea Party’s suicide mission.

Enter Cruz. He sees that what is now called the Tea Party has actually been gaining dominance in the Republican Party for some time. He also notes that the Tea Party increasingly controls the primaries and that elected Republicans are more afraid of being attacked in a primary on their right than on their left. Thus, he notes that the wing of the party he wants to lead increasingly has the other parts of the party cowed. He likes that. He likes it a lot.

That One Thing — Frank Bruni profiles a conservative Republican who is facing a re-election challenge because he’s gay.

ORBISONIA, Pa. — MIKE FLECK, wholesome country boy, cruised to a second term in the State Legislature in 2008, running unopposed in both the Republican primary and the general election. He got 100 percent of the vote in a largely rural, religious, conservative district.

It was the same two years later: 100 percent. And the same again in 2012.

But for 2014, primary opponents are circling. Some supporters are fleeing. He’s in trouble.

And while nothing has changed — not his deep roots in the farmland here, not his degree from an evangelical Christian university founded by Jerry Falwell, not his fondness for hunting or his pride in the bear pelt from one of his kills — everything has. At the end of last year, he announced that his marriage of 10 years was over. And that he’s gay.

Plenty of people figured that he’d exit state politics after that. But on Monday he’ll announce his campaign for a fifth term. This time, it will almost certainly be a campaign, with rivals and an uncertain outcome, hinging on whether he can persuade his constituents that he’s the same politician they embraced before, the same man, apart from a reality owned up to, a truth embraced.

Their acceptance or rejection of that will be an unusually clear-cut referendum on attitudes about homosexuality in rural America, or at least in this verdant stretch of the heartland about 75 miles west of the state capital of Harrisburg. Fleck, 40, hasn’t changed his position on issues like gun control, of which he’s skeptical. (He owns a pistol, two rifles, one muzzleloader and 10 other firearms.) He didn’t come out of the closet in a swirl of scandal. There was no news about an intern, no talk of an affair. He just came out, because his marriage had unraveled, because the toll of staying in was too steep and because he saw an opportunity to challenge the bigotry in his community by presenting its residents with something that he certainly never saw when he was growing up here, an openly gay man who doesn’t conform to the sorts of stereotypes that are especially prevalent far away from metropolitan areas.

But his re-election bid isn’t just about what people in places like central Pennsylvania are ready for. It also poses the question of how they are supposed to change in the absence of examples like Fleck’s. If most gays and lesbians in rural areas stay silent or bolt for the city, there’s no one and nothing to push back at ingrained prejudices. “Will & Grace” and Ellen DeGeneres can do only so much.

“I love this area,” he told me. “I think it’s going to catch up. But it’s never going to catch up unless there are people like me out there. And that’s true not just of here but of the Bible Belt and a whole lot of America.”

Dear Customer Service — In The New Yorker, Rep. Steve Israel lets us see what credit default is like in the real world.

Dear American Express,

Thank you for sending me my monthly statement in which you ask me to pay for the charges that I incurred.

In response to my conversation with Ashley from customer care:

Yes, it is true that I used my credit card to buy dinner at the Sushi Buffet-All-Day in Marysville. And, yes, we did take our annual Goplin family trip to Old Testament Town. But that’s not the point! If we pay this month’s American Express bill, what will happen next month? Next year? What will happen to future generations of Goplins with American Express cards?

That’s why I’m declaring that now is the time for the Goplin family to stop spending! And to stop us from spending—including on that that amazing six-foot 3-D smart TV that I just saw at Big Sal’s Appliance City of Marysville—we must draw a line. We are drawing it at the October statement of charges. Do not expect my payment.

* * *
Dear American Express,

I have just spoken with Brian from customer care, and here is my response:

You just don’t get it.

Telling us that it’s our obligation to pay the bills we racked up is tired old rhetoric that this American Express-cardholder family rejects. We’ve been hearing this excuse since 1981 (according to the front of my card). It wasn’t our fault we bought that Sony PlayStation. And when the central air-conditioning went on the fritz, what were we supposed to do? Sweat it out? So you may be right that we spent. But, faced with a crippling thirty-two thousand dollars in “previous charges,” we can no longer afford such reckless spending. Enough is enough, American Express.

Doonesbury — A life in the day.