Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
As a smart guy who went to Princeton and Harvard, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas must have missed the courses that taught how to do research. Some of the questions he asked former Sen. Chuck Hagel in recent hearings before the Senate Committee on Armed Services, which considered Hagel’s nomination to head up the Pentagon, demonstrated the most embarrassing ignorance, if not mendacity, that has been heard recently in the Senate. For now, I’ll attribute Cruz’s questions and comments to the former.
To demonstrate how questions can be used to cast aspersions on someone’s character, consider the following questions for Sen. Cruz.
Question: Mr. Cruz, do you now or have you ever associated with anyone involved, directly or indirectly, with the Cuban American National Foundation?
Question: Are you aware that the Cuban American National Foundation has been implicated as a terrorist organization because of its alleged support for planning and funding terrorist attacks within Cuba, including a September 1997 bombing that killed an Italian tourist in Havana?
Question: Have you ever been associated with or supported the Cuban-born anti-Castro terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, who claimed in 1998 that he received financial support from the Cuban American National Foundation for a bombing campaign carried out in 1997 in Cuba, and who has also been linked with the 1976 bombing of Cubana Airlines flight 455, which killed 73 passengers (all of whom were civilians)?
Question: Are you aware that several ranking members of the Cuban American National Foundation have been the subject of major drug trafficking prosecutions, including that of Gaspar Jiménez and Rolando Mendoza?
Question: Do you now support the extradition to Venezuela of the Cuban-born exile Luis Posada Carriles based on the terrorist activities he is alleged to have committed there?
These questions have more justification than those Sen. Cruz (R-TX) asked of Chuck Hagel during his confirmation hearings.. The aspersions Cruz cast against Hagel at the hearings were as close to McCarthyism as anything we have heard in recent years, as Cruz suggested that Chuck Hagel had received money from terrorist groups that have opposed Israel. Cruz wanted to know if Hagel had received speaking fees to address a group called “Friends of Hamas.” What led to these allegations is a comedy of right-wing error and dishonesty that would be tragic if the players had credibility with anyone except Cruz’s Tea Party friends.
New York Daily News reporter Dan Friedman explained on February 19 that he was the inadvertent source for the crazy (and false) right-wing notion that Hagel had received money from terrorist groups:
“When rumors swirled that Hagel received speaking fees from controversial organizations, I attempted to check them out. On Feb. 6, I called a Republican aide on Capitol Hill with a question: Did Hagel’s Senate critics know of controversial groups that he had addressed? Hagel was in hot water for alleged hostility to Israel. So, I asked my source, had Hagel given a speech to, say, the ‘Junior League of Hezbollah, in France’? And: What about ‘Friends of Hamas’? The names were so over-the-top, so linked to terrorism in the Middle East, that it was clear I was talking hypothetically and hyperbolically. No one could take seriously the idea that organizations with those names existed — let alone that a former senator would speak to them. Or so I thought.”
On February 9, a story at the website Breitbart.com suggested that the White House was ducking providing information about sources of Hagel’s foreign income because one of the sources of money was “Friends of Hamas.” It claimed that the White House refused to deny that information. The author, Ben Shapiro, tweeted about the matter to 40,000 people. The story was then picked up by RedState.com and the Nation Review’s The Corner. Fox News host Mike Huckabee commented on the matter while visiting Israel. Lou Dobbs, the gloating host of a business show on Fox, Andrew McCarthy of the National Review, and right-wing talk show host Hugh Hewitt all spread the false and malevolent information.
The allegation, in the form of a question, based on a fictitious name of a nonexistent group went viral. And none other than Sen. Ted Cruz used the completely false story to support his vote in committee against Hagel. The smear of Hagel was complete, for it supported the claim that he was anti-Israel. Republicans used it to justify a filibuster against a vote in the Senate on Hagel’s nomination, though it has been predicted that the nomination will be approved during the last week in February.
Cruz’s smear of Hagel also included an attack on Hagel’s patriotism. Cruz claimed that Hagel is anti-military. But even John McCain could not abide this attack. He upbraided Cruz by vouching for Hagel’s patriotism. After all, Hagel is a war hero who served his country with courage as an infantry squad leader, was wounded twice in Vietnam (for which he received two Purple Hearts), and has fought for the needs of veterans and military families ever since.
Cruz’s performance has been described by various commentators and reporters as disgraceful, appalling, embarrassing, slanderous, impertinent, uncivil, moralistic, swaggering, belligerent, nasty, disrespectful, and demagoguing. In an attempt to praise Cruz, Republican Sen. David Vitter from Louisiana, said that Cruz has a “really sharp sort of disciplined legal mind.” I guess honesty and integrity are not part of a “sort of disciplined” thought process.
Cruz appears to be just the sort of politician Texans still oriented toward the John Birch Society love to vote for, which is why they get elected again and again. But such politicians poison the political system with their mendacity, contributing to the cynicism of many voters. Only 48.9 % of eligible Texans participated in the 2012 election in which Cruz won his Senate seat. Cruz attracted the votes of less than 28% of the eligible voters, which is enough to win in this political culture.
When over 51% of eligible voters are so repelled by both major political parties that they won’t bother to vote, there is something terribly wrong in the land. I’ve often attributed this malaise to inadequate emphasis on the duties of citizenship, but it is difficult to convince disillusioned voters that the candidates of the major parties can make a difference in their lives or in the governance and direction of the country.
Until the major parties, or third parties still developing, talk and act convincingly about the need to change our civic culture, voters who sit on the sidelines will continue to allow the Ted Cruzes of the state to win by default. A few politicians moved that direction this past election by promoting the narrative that we are a country built on a social contract that means the government serves the needs of all the people so that commerce can flourish and no one is left behind because of inequality, misadventure, misfortune, or intentional exploitation by the powerful. They understand that those who succeed do so because of the help provided by a government that builds and maintains the infrastructure for us all, and because of the opportunities that some of us have, but not all of us enjoy, due in large part to the accident of birth.
But most Texans will require more to believe that our political, social, and economic systems now rigged in favor of the powerful can change. They have no reason to believe that our laws mean much when the powerful are not prosecuted for their misdeeds and crimes. Contrary to the common shibboleth, we are not a nation based on laws and the enforcement of those laws when the powerful are seldom held to answer for their transgressions, as in the Wall Street debacle of the past decade.
So long as corporations can dominate the country and pollute our earth, water, and skies with impunity, leaving the mess for the rest of us to clean up, or live and die with, there is little reason for non-voters to give up their disillusionment. These corporations make huge profits and slough off their polluting by-products for the rest of us to pay, so their executives and stock-holders can benefit.
All who open their eyes and minds can see that the deck is stacked against those who are not wealthy and powerful. Equality of opportunity and justice are just figments of the imagination, achieved only rarely in reality. People like Ted Cruz will always take advantage of such a system, destroying lives and reputations if necessary to achieve their goals.
And Cruz will never answer the questions posed above because he believes that terrorism against Castro’s Cuba is always justified, as is terrorism committed by the US and Israel. But it is his view that no other country or group should be allowed to take such actions to achieve their interests.
Ted Cruz is a man for all Tea Party seasons, who believes that extremism based on lies is no vice.
© Lamar W. Hankins, Freethought San Marcos
LAMAR W. HANKINS is a former San Marcos city attorney.