Compare Ted Cruz’s faux-filibuster to Rand Paul’s real one and you’ll find the secret fault line that divides the Tea Party.
The ‘talking’ filibuster – that ancient relic of a once-functional U.S. Senate – made another appearance this week in the form of a 21-hour verbal jeremiad by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). While the freshman Republican may have diverged from telling Americans once or twice that Obamacare – the President’s signature domestic legislative achievement – is a very bad thing, Cruz has nonetheless set himself up as contender for the White House in 2016.
Aside from that and the fact that both he and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) – a fellow freshman Republican that also conducted a talking filibuster this past March – stood and talked for a long time in the Senate chamber of the U.S. Capitol, the two filibusters have very little in common. Indeed, the many differences between them highlight the differences between the two men and the different types of Tea Party Republicans who were elected to Congress in 2010 – and who are now struggling for control of the Republican Party.
First, take the content of the two speeches. Rand Paul’s filibuster in March, which he conducted to protest the nomination of noted drone warrior John Brennan to head the CIA, was about the increased use of unmanned drones by our various intelligence agencies to attack and kill our enemies abroad – including renegade Americans who have sided with al-Qaida. This new form of robotic warfare has, rightly or wrongly, unnerved many Americans, and Paul – heir to his father’s quixotic brand of Southern libertarianism – made his filibuster to get the Obama administration to acknowledge that Americans on American soil would not be targeted by drones but would, in fact, be dealt with by the law-enforcement and justice system.
This the White House eventually did do, but as far as process goes the Rand Paul filibuster was a nice example of how our creaky system of government is supposed to work. A Senator raised an issue publically, the administration answered, and life went on. Moreover, the Rand filibuster was done to formally elicit a point of constitutional principle from the White House over an area of great importance to the American people – the conduct of armed conflict at home and abroad. This is of concern to a lot of people across the political spectrum, not just conservative Republicans, and the public took notice by supporting Paul at the time.
Cruz, on the other hand, made his stand against, well, it’s hard to say what, exactly. Healthcare reform seemed to be a major target, but so too a hodge-podge of other issues including the Senate leadership of his own party, who have grudgingly accepted the fact – even if the Republican-led House has not – that Obamacare will become a reality in October. Indeed, the bill Cruz was filibustering was a House funding bill that stripped Obamacare of money – something the Texas Senator ostensibly supports. Cruz, it seems, was playing to the radicals in his own party, and not speaking to the country as a whole as was Senator Paul.
An authentic Tea Partier
So, aside from grandstanding and playing to the peanut gallery, it is difficult to say what, exactly, Cruz was trying to accomplish beyond protesting a bill he eventually voted for. The Democratic-controlled Senate will in turn strip the language from the bill and toss it back into the House’s corner – leaving it up to the Tea Party-controlled House to determine whether to shut down the government over health care reform. Whether a government shutdown will in fact come to pass remains to be seen, but Cruz’s filibuster will have little effect on it one way or another.
This highlights another part of the competition between Cruz and Paul that is worth taking note of. While there may seem to be but a dime’s worth of difference between the two from the perspective of those on the left, one has to admit that there is a substance and authenticity to Paul that Cruz seems to lack. Paul, for instance, seems generally concerned about such things as the war on drugs, civil liberties, the ever-expanding American empire and a host of other issues beyond the conservative mantra of lower taxes, deregulation, and God, guns and gays.
Paul is therefore a different kind of Republican, one for whom cooperation with liberals might not be such a farfetched idea. I on the left may disagree with where Paul’s principles lead him, and, to be sure, there is a touching naiveté to Senator Paul – especially on issues of race and class – that leads him to make gross errors about the nature and direction of American society, but these seem to be honest mistakes and not made will malice aforethought. Paul, to paraphrase the late Baroness Thatcher’s quip about Gorbachev, is a man we can probably do business with on many issues of mutual interest.
Loathing Obama in a vacuum
Cruz, on the other hand, seems to be little more than a right-wing populist thug of the McCarthyite variety who has ridden hatred of Obama as far as he can take it. His philosophy, such as it is, is an un-nuanced opposition to the president and Democrats on whatever the issue or position may be, even if that means criticizing the president for taking actions – such as on Syria – that the traditional conservative right would normally support. Cruz opposes the president not so much for what he believes or advocates, but for whom the president is – a non-White, non-Southerner lording it over Dixie.
So, as the Republican civil war plays out over the next few years in the run-up to the next presidential election, it would appear that the right is becoming increasingly split between the factions lead by Cruz and Paul. Normally, party elders and establishment types would, for the good of the party if not the country, ameliorate tensions caused by this fight. But with two straight presidential losses in a row and with gerrymandered districts being the only thing keeping the GOP a majority in the House, the conservative establishment that once held the GOP together has grown very weak.
This can be seen not just in the jockeying for position between men like Paul and Cruz, whose filibusters rankled establishment conservatives, but also in the slowly collapsing speakership of John Boehner – who seems day-by-day to lose more control over the crazies in his caucus. What happens next is anybody’s guess, but those on the left shouldn’t be too quick to take comfort in the confusion and conflict in the opposition’s ranks. A party that is simultaneously imploding and splitting between warring factions will only become more extreme and unpredictable as contenders for leadership attempt to show that they are, in fact, the nation’s ‘true conservatives.’
In other political systems, such a fractured, collapsing, increasingly regional party could be written off and safely blocked by the electorate from wielding power at the national level. In our system, however, it is increasingly clear that not only do we empower fanatical political minorities, but large majorities actually have no way to overcome them should they prove unwilling to engage in compromise – thus the looming government shutdown and the impending crisis over the debt ceiling. It is as if we have suddenly all become hostage to Republican versions of the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front from the 1979 Monty Python film “Life of Brian.”
Going forward, let’s all hope that the People’s Front of Judea Senator Paul wins his fight with the Judean People’s Front Senator Cruz. All things considered, Paul’s brand of conservatism has a lot more to offer than Cruz’s crude anti-liberal opportunism. There are principles there that can be argued about and reasoned over – perhaps even compromised on. With Cruz, on the other hand, all we get is a raw will-to-power that offers little other than its own ugly aggrandizement.
So look on the bright side of conservative obstructionism. Even though it is bringing the country to its knees through manufactured, totally avoidable crises, it is tearing apart the Republican Party and making its ugliest up-and-coming leader look like a fool. Given the state of the Republic, that’s probably the most we can hope for.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Mint Press News’ editorial policy.