America needs to know:
Whether Chuck Hagel has sold nuclear secrets on E-Bay.
Whether he has a secret time-share sauna with Vladimir Putin.
Whether he's been a broker for toxic Chinese trinkets.
Whether he deals in marked-up black-market Persian rugs.
Don't stop now, Sen. Ted Cruz. So many beyond-the-pale, beyond-belief, totally shameless questions for you to raise about the defense secretary nominee. And so little time.
None of the above is even a shred more "beyond" what the freshman Texas senator has trotted out in reality. He suggested without a whiff of evidence that Hagel might have received big bucks from "enemies of America." North Korea, perhaps? Iran? Al Qaida?The Galactic Empire? What true American worth his official Sarah Palin Tea Party Decoder Ring would blame Cruz for asking?
Even John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both bent on putting Hagel on the rack for ritual partisan gratification, expressed mortification.
Cruz has emerged quickly to claim the reputation as the least deliberative in the most deliberative body in the free world.
The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus wasn't the only one comparing Cruz to Joe McCarthy: "He doesn't have the right to smear Hagel, with no supporting evidence, with insinuations." Indeed, Cruz doesn't need Marcus's testimonial. He appears to have earned the McCarthy parallel by acclimation, and is proud of it.
But of course, he'll point out, he didn't say Hagel was on the take from America's enemies. He was just asking extremely leading and loaded questions based on the fact that Hagel worked in firms doing foreign business. Say what?
It's the formula that kept Joe McCarthy in the spotlight in the '50s and now keeps Fox News in its lofty ratings perch. Choose your cable-ready GOP tempest: "Death panels." Black Panthers. ACORN. "We insinuate. You decide." Right, Senator?
Cruz voted against Hagel, as he did against John Kerry for secretary of state, saying he didn't trust their commitment to America's defense. Funny thing: Both men were sufficiently commited to shed actual blood — Purple Heart recipients — in Vietnam. Cruz, by contrast, studied these matters at the Dick Cheney Academy of Hands-off Militance.
Now, Cruz, whose upset of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the GOP primary affirmed the fact that the tea party is the life force of a not-so-vibrant party, stands to be a national standard-bearer for recklessness.
This may thrill citizens suckled on Glenn Beck's conspiracy theories and Palin's tweets, but it should frighten the GOP as an institution.
A walking grenade like Cruz is just what the Democratic Party needs to regain legitimacy in a red state like Texas.
Heady though his ascendance may be, he is vulnerability personified, along with the likes of failed tea party-backed nominees like Sharron Angle in Nevada, Ken Buck in Colorado and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware. Were it not for these candidates, each flaunting hard-right ideologies, each losing, the GOP would have captured the Senate in 2010. Add Richard Mourdock in Indiana and Todd Akin in Missouri in 2012; in their extremism they helped the Democrats add to their hold on the Senate.
Cruz needs to make rhetorical hay while he can. Based on his performance thus far, he'll be on the Senate's "most beatable" list when next he appears before voters.
As for the senator's assault on Hagel based on nothing more than a desire for his clanging voice to be heard, it's a shame that Joseph Welch could not be there to say what he famously said to Joe McCarthy in 1954:
"Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"
To which Cruz could have uttered the word that most personifies the politics he and his brand have brought to the nation's capital:
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.