Many political commentators have compared Texas Senator Ted Cruz to the infamous Senator Joe McCarthy of the 1950’s, which is a nasty insult for a U.S. Senator. McCarthy used bald faced lies, publicity and the rabid right wing of the Republican party to terrorize the American government until Republican President Dwight Eisenhower and the Senate finally stood up to McCarthy. On December 2, 1954, the Senate voted to censure Senator McCarthy by a vote of 67 to 22, making him one of the few senators ever to be disciplined in this fashion. To be called “Joe McCarthy” now, is to be called an unethical politician who uses lies or half-truths to scare the public to advance his own ambitions.
In his second senate campaign in 1946, McCarthy started publicizing his war-time nickname “Tail-Gunner Joe”, using the slogan, “Congress needs a tail-gunner.” McCarthy had flown twelve combat missions as a gunner-observer in a Marine dive bomber during World War II. McCarthy later lied and claimed he had flown 32 missions in order to qualify for a Distinguished Flying Cross medal, which he received in 1952.
Critics started referring to Ted Cruz as “Tail Gunner Ted” within months of Cruz joining the U.S. Senate in 2013.
Jane Mayer wrote in The New Yorker in 2013:
Last week, Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s prosecutorial style of questioning Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for Defense Secretary, came so close to innuendo that it raised eyebrows in Congress, even among his Republican colleagues. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, called Cruz’s inquiry into Hagel’s past associations “out of bounds, quite frankly.” The Times reported that Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, rebuked Cruz for insinuating, without evidence, that Hagel may have collected speaking fees from North Korea. Some Democrats went so far as to liken Cruz, who is a newcomer to the Senate, to a darkly divisive predecessor, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, whose anti-Communist crusades devolved into infamous witch hunts. Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, stopped short of invoking McCarthy’s name, but there was no mistaking her allusion when she talked about being reminded of “a different time and place, when you said, ‘I have here in my pocket a speech you made on such-and-such a date,’ and of course there was nothing in the pocket.”
Boxer’s analogy may have been more apt than she realized. Two and a half years ago, Cruz gave a stem-winder of a speech at a Fourth of July weekend political rally in Austin, Texas, in which he accused the Harvard Law School of harboring a dozen Communists on its faculty when he studied there. Cruz attended Harvard Law School from 1992 until 1995. His spokeswoman didn’t respond to a request to discuss the speech.
Here is part of what Rick Ungar wrote in Forbes in 2013 (click this link to read the full article):
For a politician seeking power at any cost, there are few tricks in the handbook more effective than the employment of innuendo, false implication and guilt by association—tricks that were once perfected to devastating effect by Joseph McCarthy, the Wisconsin senator who rose to extraordinary power through his mastery of these dark arts as he led the United States down the path to one of its darkest hours.
McCarthy learned the value of the half-truth and innuendo early on in his career.
In his first political campaign for a seat as a circuit county judge, McCarthy published campaign literature falsely claiming that his opponent was 73, senile and guilty of financial corruption—despite knowing that the gentleman was 66, in full control of his mental faculties and had never done anything that had so much as a whiff of corruption.
But it worked.
Indeed, it worked so well that during McCarthy’s next campaign, which was a primary race for his party’s nomination to run for the U.S. Senate, McCarthy perfected the science of dirty politics by moving away from the complete and total lie and into the more subtle art of innuendo and half-truths as he attacked his opponent, Robert La Follette, for not enlisting in the war effort during World War II.
McCarthy was technically correct, as La Follette was already 46 when Pearl Harbor was bombed and far too old to be accepted into the U.S. armed forces. McCarthy, of course, didn’t bother to mention that detail and the misdirection took a toll. McCarthy would go on to allege that La Follette had made huge profits—suggesting by implication that the man had been guilty of war profiteering—while Joe was out there fighting the war. Again, it was true that La Follette had made money during the war, however it was certainly not from war profiteering but rather from a local radio station in which he had invested.
Again, McCarthy’s low tactics worked as he eked out a narrow victory. La Follette went away from the race deeply injured by the attacks on his reputation—attacks that were believed by many despite being wholly untrue— and eventually committed suicide.
McCarthy never looked back as the smear tactics employed during his campaigns would pale in comparison to what he would do when applying his despicable brand of politics to what we would come to know as “McCarthyism”—the use of the smear against fellow Americans whom he sought to paint as Communists, destroying the lives of innocents to further the fortunes of Joe McCarthy.
Another skilled practitioner of the half-truth and innuendo was Richard M. Nixon. And while a review of Nixon’s proclivity for successfully employing the darkest side of politics as the means to win elections and defeat his political opponents is another story for another time, we all know where this approach to power led for Senator McCarthy and President Nixon—an eventual ticket to disgrace and political demise.
Newly minted Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) would do well to learn the lessons of these predecessors as he embarks on his own public career, one he has apparently chosen to build using the dark political arts of innuendo and smear.
While watching the Senate confirmation hearings for Chuck Hagel last week, my attention was grabbed when I heard Senator Cruz note that he had witnessed something “truly extraordinary, which is the government of Iran formally and publicly praising the nomination of a defense secretary. I would suggest to you that to my knowledge, that is unprecedented to see a foreign nation like Iran publicly celebrating a nomination.”
While I found this bit of information to be shocking (I had not heard this reported from any other news source) and more than a little difficult to believe, I had to agree with Senator Cruz that such a statement of support would not only be unprecedented but more than a little disturbing —if the Iranian government had, indeed, offered up such warm words of praise in support of Senator Hagel’s nomination.
Yet, the Iranians never issued any such statement or, for that matter, even came close.
It turns out that during a press conference, a spokesperson for the Iranian Foreign Ministry was asked by a reporter what he thought about Chuck Hagel’s views on Israel. In response, the spokesperson said, “We hope there will be practical changes in American foreign policy and that Washington becomes respectful of the rights of nations.”
Clearly, there was no rational basis for Senator Cruz to conclude that such a remark was an expression of public praise for the nomination of Chuck Hagel. So why would Cruz suggest such a thing?
The only possible explanation for Cruz’s remarks would have to be that he either misheard or misunderstood the statement of the Iranian spokesperson or, in homage to Joe McCarthy, he purposely twisted the remark to cast an undeserved dark shadow on Senator Hagel.