Monday, June 30, 2014

Full Disclosure: Making An Anti-Terror Omelet May Result In Breaking A Few Random Civilian Eggs

Tom Tomorrow infuses today's 'toon with a little savage satire. Droney, the anthropomorphic robot aircraft, attempts to gloss over mistaking a joyous wedding celebration for a terrorist training camp. The slopes of Mount Ethical Behavior are slippery indeed. If this is a (fair & balanced) demonstration that the ends justify the means, so be it.

[x This Modern World]
The Droney Memo
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political weblog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. More recently, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning.]

Copyright © 2014 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Welcome To The Motherless World Of Disney, Pixar, & Dreamworks

Today, Sarah Boxer deconstructs the portrayal of the family in the past half-century of animated filmmaking for children. She finds rampant misogyny in darkened theaters everywhere. If this is (fair & balanced) rejection of idealized fatherhood, so be it.

[x The Atlantic]
Why Are All The Cartoon Mothers Dead?
By Sarah Boxer

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Bambi’s mother, shot. Nemo’s mother, eaten by a barracuda. Lilo’s mother, killed in a car crash. Koda’s mother in "Brother Bear," speared. Po’s mother in "Kung Fu Panda 2," done in by a power-crazed peacock. Ariel’s mother in the third "Little Mermaid," crushed by a pirate ship. Human baby’s mother in "Ice Age," chased by a saber-toothed tiger over a waterfall.

I used to take the Peter Pan bus between Washington, DC, and New York City. The ride was terrifying but the price was right, and you could count on watching a movie on the screen mounted behind the driver’s seat. "Mrs. Doubtfire," "The Man Without a Face," that kind of thing. After a few trips, I noticed a curious pattern. All the movies on board seemed somehow to feature children lost or adrift, kids who had metaphorically fallen out of their prams. Gee, I thought, Peter Pan Bus Lines sure is keen to reinforce its brand identity. The mothers in the movies were either gone or useless. And the father figures? To die for!

A decade after my Peter Pan years, I began watching a lot of animated children’s movies, both new and old, with my son. The same pattern held, but with a deadly twist. Either the mothers died onscreen, or they were mysteriously disposed of before the movie began: "Chicken Little," "Aladdin," "The Fox and the Hound," "Pocahontas," "Beauty and the Beast," "The Emperor’s New Groove," "The Great Mouse Detective," "Ratatouille," "Barnyard," "Despicable Me," "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs," and, this year, "Mr. Peabody and Sherman." So many animated movies. Not a mother in sight.

The cartoonist Alison Bechdel once issued a challenge to the film industry with her now-famous test: show me a movie with at least two women in it who talk to each other about something besides a man. Here’s another challenge: show me an animated kids’ movie that has a named mother in it who lives until the credits roll. Guess what? Not many pass the test. And when I see a movie that does ("Brave," "Coraline," "A Bug’s Life," "Antz," "The Incredibles," "The Lion King," "Fantastic Mr. Fox"), I have to admit that I am shocked... and, well, just a tad wary.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The dead-mother plot has a long and storied history, going back past Bambi and Snow White, past the mystical motherless world of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, past Dickens’s orphans, past Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid, past the Brothers Grimm’s stepmothers, and past Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. As Marina Warner notes in her book From the Beast to the Blonde (1995), one of the first Cinderella stories, that of Yeh-hsien, comes from ninth-century China. The dead-mother plot is a fixture of fiction, so deeply woven into our storytelling fabric that it seems impossible to unravel or explain.

But some have tried. In Death and the Mother From Dickens to Freud: Victorian Fiction and the Anxiety of Origins (1998), Carolyn Dever, a professor of English, noted that character development begins “in the space of the missing mother.” The unfolding of plot and personality, she suggests, depends on the dead mother. In The Uses of Enchantment (1976), Bruno Bettelheim, the child psychologist, saw the dead mother as a psychological boon for kids:

The typical fairy-tale splitting of the mother into a good (usually dead) mother and an evil stepmother... is not only a means of preserving an internal all-good mother when the real mother is not all-good, but it also permits anger at this bad “stepmother” without endangering the goodwill of the true mother.

You may notice that these thoughts about dead mothers share a notable feature: they don’t bother at all with the dead mother herself, only with the person, force, or thing that sweeps in and benefits from her death. Bettelheim focuses on the child’s internal sense of himself, Dever on subjectivity itself. Have we missed something here? Indeed. I present door No. 3, the newest beneficiary of the dead mother: the good father.

Take "Finding Nemo" (Disney/Pixar, 2003), the mother of all modern motherless movies. Before the title sequence, Nemo’s mother, Coral, is eaten by a barracuda, so Nemo’s father, Marlin, has to raise their kid alone. He starts out as an overprotective, humorless wreck, but in the course of the movie he faces down everything—whales, sharks, currents, surfer turtles, an amnesiac lady-fish, hungry seagulls—to save Nemo from the clutches of the evil stepmother-in-waiting Darla, a human monster-girl with hideous braces (vagina dentata, anyone?). Thus Marlin not only replaces the dead mother but becomes the dependable yet adventurous parent Nemo always wanted, one who can both hold him close and let him go. He is protector and playmate, comforter and buddy, mother and father.

In the parlance of Helen Gurley Brown, he has it all! He’s not only the perfect parent but a lovely catch, too. (Usually when a widowed father is shown onscreen mooning over his dead wife’s portrait or some other relic, it’s to establish not how wonderful she was but rather how wonderful he is.) To quote Emily Yoffe in The New York Times, writing about the perfection of the widowed father in "Sleepless in Seattle," “He is charming, wry, sensitive, successful, handsome, a great father, and, most of all, he absolutely adores his wife. Oh, the perfect part? She’s dead.” Dad’s magic depends on Mom’s death. Boohoo, and then yay!

In a striking number of animated kids’ movies of the past couple of decades (coincidental with the resurgence of Disney and the rise of Pixar and DreamWorks), the dead mother is replaced not by an evil stepmother but by a good father. He may start out hypercritical ("Chicken Little") or reluctant ("Ice Age"). He may be a tyrant ("The Little Mermaid") or a ne’er-do-well ("Despicable Me"). He may be of the wrong species ("Kung Fu Panda"). He may even be the killer of the child’s mother ("Brother Bear"). No matter how bad he starts out, though, he always ends up good.

He doesn’t just do the job, he’s fabulous at it. In "Brother Bear" (Disney, 2003) when the orphaned Koda tries to engage the older Kenai as a father figure (not knowing Kenai killed his mom), Kenai (who also doesn’t know) refuses: “There is no ‘we,’ okay? I’m not taking you to any salmon run … Keep all that cuddly-bear stuff to a minimum.” In the end, though, Kenai turns out to be quite the father figure. And they both live happily ever after in a world without mothers.

So desperate are these kids’ movies to get rid of the mother that occasionally they wind up in some pretty weird waters. Near the beginning of "Ice Age," (Blue Sky/20th Century Fox, 2002), the human mother jumps into a waterfall to save herself and her infant, drags herself to shore, and holds on long enough to hand her child to a woolly mammoth. To quote an online review by C. L. Hanson, “She has the strength to push her baby up onto a rock and look sadly into the eyes of the mammoth, imploring him to steady her baby with his trunk,” but—hold on—she doesn’t have the strength to save herself? And by the way, if Manny the woolly mammoth is such a stand-up guy, why doesn’t he “put his trunk around both of them and save them both” rather than watching her float downriver with a weary sigh? Because, as the reviewer noted, “the only purpose of her life was to set up their buddy adventure.” Her work is done. Time to dispose of the body.

Many movies don’t even bother with the mother; her death is simply assumed from the outset. In "Despicable Me" (Universal/Illumination, 2010), three orphaned girls, Margo, Edith, and Agnes, are adopted from an orphanage by Gru, a supervillain. Gru adopts them not because he wants children but because he plans to use them in his evil plot. He wants to shrink the moon and steal it. (Hey, wait, isn’t the moon a symbol of female fertility?) But by the end of the movie, Gru discovers that his girls are more dear to him than the moon itself. And, as if this delicious father-cake needed some sticky icing, Gru gets to hear his own hypercritical mother—remember, it was her negativity that turned him evil in the first place!—admit that Gru’s a better parent than she ever was. The supervillain becomes a superfather, redeemer of all bad mothers.

Quite simply, mothers are killed in today’s kids’ movies so the fathers can take over. (Of course, there are exceptions; in "Lilo and Stitch," for instance, both of Lilo’s parents die and it’s her big sister who becomes the surrogate parent.) The old fairy-tale, family-romance movies that pitted poor motherless children against horrible vengeful stepmothers are a thing of the past. Now plucky children and their plucky fathers join forces to make their way in a motherless world. The orphan plot of yore seems to have morphed, over the past decade, into the buddy plot of today. Roll over, Freud: in a neat reversal of the Oedipus complex, the mother is killed so that the children can have the father to themselves. Sure, women and girls may come and go, even participate in the adventure, but mothers? Not allowed. And you know what? It looks like fun!

Dear reader, I hear your objection: So what? Hollywood has always been a fantasyland. Or, to quote the cat in "Bolt" (Disney, 2008), a kids’ movie about a dog who thinks he’s actually a superhero because he plays one on TV: “Look, genius... It’s entertainment for people. It’s fake! Nothing you think is real is real!” Get over it. It’s just a movie. Or, to quote the empowerment anthem from "Frozen" (in which both parents die), “Let it go.”

Okay, I will. But first, a brief dip into reality. Did you know that 67 percent of U.S. households with kids are headed by married couples, 25 percent by single mothers, and only 8 percent by single fathers (almost half of whom live with their partners)? In other words, the fantasy of the fabulous single father that’s being served up in a theater near you isn’t just any fantasy; it’s close to the opposite of reality. And so I wonder: Why, when so many real families have mothers and no fathers, do so many children’s movies present fathers as the only parents?

Is the unconscious goal of these motherless movies to paper over reality? Is it to encourage more men to be maternal? To suggest that fathers would be better than mothers if only they had the chance? To hint that the world would be better without mothers? Or perhaps we’re just seeing a bad case of what the psychoanalyst Karen Horney called “womb envy.” Or maybe an expression of the primal rage that the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein described as the infant’s “uncontrollable greedy and destructive phantasies and impulses against his mother’s breasts.”

Consider "Barnyard" (Paramount/Nickelodeon, 2006), a deeply lame reworking of the Lion King plot, in which the father bull, Ben, teaches his reckless, motherless, goof-off son, Otis, how to be a man. (“A strong man stands up for himself; a stronger man stands up for others.”) As pathetic as "Barnyard" is, there’s something truly staggering in it. Whenever the bulls stand up on two hooves, they reveal pink udders right where their male equipment should be—rubbery teats that resemble, as Manohla Dargis described them in The New York Times, “chubby little fingers waving toodle-oo.”

In the whacked-out, reality-denying world of animated movies, these chubby, wiggly four-fingered udders, which appear on both females and males, are my favorite counterfactuals, bar none. I love, love, love them. The first time I laid eyes on those honkers, my jaw dropped. Even Walt Disney himself, who cooked up pink elephants on parade, never tried this. It was as if the comical leather phalluses of ancient Greek theater had come back to life. As if the directors’ very ids were plastered on the screen. Not only do "Barnyard’s" bulls have bizarre phallic teats, but Otis rudely swings his out the window of a speeding stolen car while drinking a six-pack of milk—yes, milk—and, as the police chase him, shouts, “Milk me!” Is he saying what I think he’s saying? In a kids’ movie? Could udder envy be any more naked?

When I finally shut my jaw, I realized that "Barnyard" isn’t the only kids’ movie with a case of udder confusion. (In the third "Ice Age," Sid the Sloth, while trying to feed the three baby dinosaurs he’s adopted, starts to milk a musk ox before discovering that it’s a guy—ack!) But as far as I know, the "Barnyard" scene is the most violent instance; when the teated bull yells “Milk me!” it’s like he’s shouting at women everywhere: “You think you’re so hot with your tits and your babies. Well, suck on this! (And then die.)”

That’s how I see it, anyway, and I don’t think I’m alone.

In How to Read Donald Duck (1975), Ariel Dorfman, the Chilean American activist and writer, and Armand Mattelart, a Belgian sociologist, discuss the insidiousness of “the absence of woman as mother in Disney.” Rather than presenting any really maternal figure, they say, Disney offers up only “the captive and ultimately frivolous woman,” who lacks any tie to “the natural cycle of life itself”—Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White. And in the natural mother’s place, they note, Disney erects a “false mother Mickey,” a creature of “chivalrous generosity” and “fair play” whose authority looks benign and cheery. The absence of a real mother thus makes way for a new authority, a new “natural” order. The road to social repression, in other words, is paved with Mickey Mouse.

In today’s movie fathers, there’s plenty of Mickey Mouse. They’re magnanimous, caring, and fun. And I imagine these animated fathers look great to most kids. But let’s call a spade a spade. The ineluctable regularity of the dead-mother, fun-father pattern is not just womb envy at work, and not just aggression against the breast; it’s Mickey’s glove displacing the maternal teat. It’s misogyny made cute.

Dear reader, I hear you objecting again. Perhaps you’re getting irritated. Perhaps you like Pixar. Perhaps you’d like to remind me of some living mothers in a few animated movies: Isn’t that a single mother raising two kids in "Toy Story"? (Yes, she’s the one who keeps trying to give away the toys.) And isn’t that a mother at the end of "The Lego Movie"? (Yes, she’s the one who cuts short the nascent father-son bonding moment in the basement by announcing that supper is ready.)

What about Fiona, the ogre-princess in "Shrek" (DreamWorks, 2001)? She certainly seems to be someone’s caricature of a feminist—tough, competent, belching earthily with the boys. By "Shrek the Third" (2007), she’s pregnant. At her baby shower, she makes all her beautiful, single friends—Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Rapunzel—seem like spoiled, materialistic wimps. But when it comes time for Fiona’s own father, a frog king, to pass down the crown, he offers it not to her but to her ogre-husband, Shrek—who eventually turns it down because he has “something much more important in mind.” (He’s going to be a father!) That’s right: the male gallantly refuses all that power (sweet old Mickey) while the female, who should have been next in line for the throne, isn’t asked, and doesn’t complain.

Patriarchy is slyly served. We’ve been slipped a Mickey!

A similar thing happens in "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" (2009). When Ellie, a sassy woolly mammoth, goes into labor, she’s stuck on a cliff and her man, Manny, is off fighting predators. This leaves Diego, the saber-toothed tiger, to play birth coach. At one puzzling point, Ellie, the very picture of strength, yells to Diego, “You can do it! Push, push!” as if he were the one giving birth. He snaps back: “You have no idea what I’m going through!” (He’s fending off vicious blue dinosaurs—more work than childbirth, from the looks of it.)

It’s funny! The filmmakers, after all, don’t really think Diego is working harder than Ellie. (Sexism always slides down better with a self-ironizing wink and giggle.) But once the baby pops out, we get patriarchy in earnest: the father, Manny, fresh from his own heroics, reenters the scene. Ellie hands him the baby, which he secures with his trunk and declares “perfect.”

This cozy family scene reprises the original "Ice Age," when Manny the woolly mammoth saved the human baby—and not the mother—with his trunk. This time, though, the mother is allowed to live. Why? Because she never upstaged the buddy plot. Her death would have been, well, overkill.

Have we moved beyond killing mothers, to a place where it no longer matters whether they live or die? From the newest crop of kids’ animated movies, which are mostly buddy movies—"Planes," "Turbo," "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2," "Monsters University," "Free Birds," "The Lego Movie"—it sure looks that way. It seems as if we have entered, at least in movie theaters, a post-mother world.

In March, when I took my son to see "Mr. Peabody and Sherman" (DreamWorks, 2014), I suspected that we’d be watching a buddy movie, pure and simple, in which the presence or absence of mothers was immaterial. I was wrong.

Apparently, it was finally time to blast mothers out of history. At the start of the movie, Mr. Peabody—a dog, a Harvard graduate, a Nobel laureate, and the inventor of Zumba, the fist bump, and the WABAC (pronounced “wayback”) machine—says his dearest dream is to be a father. He adopts a human boy, Sherman; vows “to be the best father”; and is wildly successful at it. (He uses the WABAC to teach his son history by introducing him to figures like Benjamin Franklin, Vincent van Gogh, and William Shakespeare.)

The movie thus begins where other kids’ movies end, with the perfect father-son relationship. Nothing can threaten them—except, alas, two gals, Ms. Grunion, an ugly social worker (the evil-stepmother figure), who wants to tear dog and boy apart, and Penny, a bratty girl who is jealous of Sherman’s knowledge and gets him to take her on a trip in the WABAC. And there the adventure begins.

They go to Leonardo’s Italy. (Why won’t the Mona Lisa smile?) They go to ancient Troy. (“Don’t even get me started about Oedipus. Let’s just say that you do not want to be at his house over the holidays! It’s awkward.”) And they go to ancient Egypt, where Penny herself is inserted into history. Tellingly, she’s not given the obvious, powerful role—Cleopatra—but instead becomes the bride of King Tut, who’s destined to die early. (Her reaction to learning this bit of history? Vintage Valley Girl with a hint of gold digger: “Oh, trust me, I’ve thought it through. I’m getting everything!”)

But the key moment comes at the end of the movie, when we get to see George Washington muttering about changing the Declaration of Independence. I held my breath. Would the Founding Father (yes, Father) correct one of the most famous, glaring faults of the document? I listened for the magic words, and this is what I heard: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men—and some dogs—are created equal.” What?!?! (Insert spit take.) Given the chance to rewrite history, the filmmakers give rights to some dogs? But not to the bitches (I mean to the women)? Sure, it’s funny. Funny like udders on male cows. Funny sad. Funny infuriating. Funny painful.

The power of the WABAC to rewrite history, if only in fantasy, made me remember why I like animation so much. Just as time travel imagines the way things might have been, so does animation give the creator total omnipotence. With animation you can suspend the laws of physics and the laws of society and the laws of reason and the laws of biology and the laws of family. You can have a dog adopt a boy. You can turn a rat into a French chef. You can make male cows with big pink udders. You can change the Declaration of Independence. You can have a family in which every member is a doggone superhero.

As the Soviet film director and theorist Sergei Eisenstein wrote of Disney’s early work, you can have “a family of octopuses on four legs, with a fifth serving as a tail, and a sixth—a trunk.” You can do anything. Eisenstein marveled, “How much (imaginary!) divine omnipotence there is in this! What magic of reconstructing the world according to one’s fantasy and will!”

And yet, in this medium where the creators have total control, we keep getting the same damned world—a world without mothers. Is this really the dearest wish of animation? Can mothers really be so threatening?

I’d like to end on a hopeful note, with a movie that passes my test with flying colors—"The Incredibles" (Disney/Pixar, 2004), which happens to feature not only three major female characters, including a great mother figure, Elastigirl (a k a Helen Parr), who lives for the whole movie, but also a pretty credible father figure, Mr. Incredible (a k a Bob Parr). Unlike just about every other movie dad, Mr. Incredible is far from perfect. He daydreams during dinner. He is more interested in getting back to hero-work (he has been forcibly retired, along with all the other heroes) than in how his kids are doing at school. He even lies to his wife about where he’s going and what he’s doing. He is super-angry. When his car door won’t shut, he slams it so hard that the window shatters.

The hero of the movie isn’t Mr. Incredible, but the mother, who turns back into Elastigirl, a really flexible, sexy, and strong superhero, in order to save her husband. (“Either he’s in trouble or he’s going to be!”) At one point during the rescue mission, the plane that the mother is flying is hit by missiles and she and the kids have to eject. The mother uses her elasticity to reach out and grab her children and parachute them, with herself as the chute, to the ocean below. Then she transforms her body into a speedboat (her son, who has super-speed, is the motor) to reach the shore. It’s a view of what animated movies could be—not another desperate attempt to assert the inalienable rights of men, but an incredible world where everyone has rights and powers, even the mothers.

I should point out that Elastigirl’s superpower—flexibility, stretchiness, or what Eisenstein, back in the 1940s, termed “plasmaticness”—happens to be the very attribute he singled out as the most attractive imaginable in art, a universal sign of the ability to assume any form. He found this elasticity not only in his beloved Mickey Mouse but also in Lewis Carroll’s long-necked Alice, in the 18th-century Japanese etchings of “the many-metred arms of geishas,” in the rubber-armed snake dancers of New York’s black nightclubs, in Balzac’s La Peau de Chagrin, in Wilhelm Busch’s Max und Moritz, and in the stretched noses of the Tengu. Elastigirl, then, is not only a great character and a great mother, but the very picture of protoplasmic freedom.

For some reason, though, what really sticks in my mind is not Elastigirl stretching the limits of plasticity but rather a scene from "Ratatouille" (Disney/Pixar, 2007). Colette, the sole female in the kitchen of Gusteau’s restaurant, is trying to teach the basics of cooking to Linguini, the bumbling orphan boy who gets a job in Gusteau’s kitchen only because his mother slept with the great chef before she (yes) died.

As Colette chops away frenetically at some celery stalks, she shouts: “You think cooking is a cute job, eh? Like Mommy in the kitchen? Well, Mommy never had to face the dinner rush, when the orders come flooding in … Every second counts—and you cannot be Mommy!” Who is she shouting at? Linguini the lucky orphan? Herself? Men in general? Men who want to have it all? Women who want to have it all? Animators? Fathers? I really don’t know, but it’s a fantastic moment of pure rage. And it sure rings true. Ω

[Sarah Boxer is the author of a graphic novel, In the Floyd Archives (2001), and has recently finished its sequel, Mother May I? After graduating from Harvard (BA, philosophy), Boxer worked for The New York Times for 16 years — as an editor for "The Book Review," an editor at "The Week In Review," a photo critic, an ideas reporter, an arts reporter, and finally a Web critic.]

Copyright © 2014 The Atlantic Monthly Group

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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Meet Clint Dempsey: "Mr. Whatever It Takes"

On Tuesday, the USA men's team will play Belgium in the opening round of sudden-death in the 2014 World Cup; the loser goes home and the winner plays on; a draw (tie) in one of these games will be followed by two 15 minute periods of extra time to determine a winner. If the teams are still tied, a penalty shoot-out will be held. (Brandi Chastain, a member of the USA women's team in the 1999 World Cup, scored the winning fifth kick in the penalty shootout to give the USA women the win over China in the final game. Chastain spontaneously whipped off her jersey and fell to her knees in a sports bra, her fists clenched, flexing her arms. The removal of the jersey in celebration of scoring a goal was commonplace in the men's game. The image of Chastain became one of the more famous photographs of a woman celebrating an athletic victory.) What can Clint Dempsey do after scoring the winning goal in a final match with host country Brazil? If Clint rips off his jersey to reveal a sports bra, we will have come full circle. If this is (fair & balanced) Mittyesque musing, so be it.

[x Outside]
The Underdog King Of World Cup Soccer
By Matt Skenazy

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America’s relationship with soccer has always been a little complicated. For one thing, the entire universe cares more about the sport than we do—we refuse to even refer to it by the same name. Then there is the matter of our utter futility. Team USA’s best result at the World Cup—third—came back in 1930, long before the game had reached its competitive zenith, and since then just getting past the tournament’s first round has required agonizing struggle. That doesn’t exactly help sell the sport to a spoiled American public used to measuring success in World Series titles and Super Bowl rings, not advances to the second round. (We’re referring, of course, to men’s soccer. Our women’s team won the World Cup in both 1991 and 1999.)

And yet. Going into this summer’s World Cup in Brazil on June 12, our national team is more popular than ever. Why is that? Here’s one theory: America, a country founded on one of the biggest upsets in military history, misses playing the underdog. It’s no accident that the 34-year-old Miracle on Ice remains one of our most treasured international sports memories. It’s way more fun to witness the unexpected than, say, the joyless victory lap that USA’s heavily favored basketball team undertakes every four years at the Olympics. Slowly, we’ve even come to appreciate the joy in our fútbol failings. Each game, each crushing defeat, only builds anticipation for what might someday be a raucous celebration.

It’s fitting, then, that the man shouldering our underdog soccer fantasies, team captain Clint Dempsey, is the epitome of a dark horse himself. The 31-year-old striker ascended from a trailer home in East Texas—is there a state more seemingly predisposed to despise soccer?—to become arguably the most successful American to ever play the game. “As a kid,” he told me one afternoon last March, “I used to play in Mexican leagues on Sundays. I was playing against men out there, getting elbowed in the face. It forced me to be tougher.”

We were sitting in a training room in the bowels of CenturyLink Stadium in Seattle, where Dempsey had just finished practice with the Sounders, the Major League Soccer team he joined last year, when he became the highest-paid American player in league history, making a reported $32 million over four years. A nearly four-story-tall photo of Dempsey now hangs outside the complex. Wearing a flannel shirt and jeans, his jaw covered in three-day scruff, Dempsey came off as a mix of southern nice guy—he still calls people sir and ma’am—and wrong-side-of-the-tracks roughneck, with tattoos covering much of his torso.

Dempsey was telling me about his unlikely rise, which began in high school, when his nurse mother and carpenter father started ferrying him six hours round-trip between their home in small-town Nac­ogdoches and Dallas, where he developed his skills against better competition. (They burned through a Pontiac Grand Prix, a Mazda 929, and two GMC Suburbans.) In his high school yearbook, Dempsey was asked where he’d like to be in five years. His answer: “Playing professional soccer in Europe.” In 2004, he attended tiny Furman University in South Carolina, and after being drafted by the New England Revolution in 2004, he got his first call-up to the ­national team for a World Cup qualifier against Jamaica. Since then he has earned more than 100 caps and scored 36 goals, making him the team’s second-all-time leading scorer, behind Landon Donovan.

Developing players who can find the back of the net has always been America’s weakness, which is what makes Dempsey so special. He seems to generate chances through sheer willpower and instinct. “Clint has daring, quickness, and incredible ­technique,” says national-team coach Jürgen ­Klinsmann, who was one of the game’s canniest scorers during his prolific career playing in Germany. “And he can create something out of nothing.”

He’s also the antithesis of the stereotypical striker, the kind who falls in agony at the slightest bump in the way that drives so many American fans bonkers. In Dempsey’s first professional season in Major League Soccer, he played through two games with a broken jaw before it was diagnosed. Since then he has developed a reputation for dealing out as many elbows as he takes—both in the MLS, first for the Revolution and now the Sounders, and in the English Premier League, where he played six seasons for Fulham and Tottenham, scoring 57 goals and earning respect from some of the sport’s most discriminating fans. Dempsey plays with a gritty passion that Americans have often found lacking in Donovan, our other, more guarded soccer superstar. Dempsey pleads with refs, scowls at opposing players and fans, and thumps the tattoo on his heart after goals. (A tattoo, it’s worth mentioning, of an eagle.) He’ll do whatever it takes to win. Often overlooked in Donovan’s triumphant score in the final minutes of the game against Algeria, which advanced the U.S. past the knockout round in the last World Cup, is that Dempsey, after a full-field sprint, was the player who collided with the opposing goalie, allowing the ball to pop up right in Donovan’s path.

This summer’s World Cup campaign begins with the U.S. lodged in the dreaded Group of Death, facing Ghana, the team that knocked it out of the 2010 World Cup, along with Germany and Portugal, the number two and number three teams, respectively, in ­FIFA’s world rankings. At press time, Las Vegas put our chances of winning the group at eight to one. And winning the whole tournament? A daunting 160 to one.

“We have a difficult group,” Dempsey says, trying to downplay the ridiculous odds. “But we’re doing everything we can to do something special. The team is getting stronger and stronger.” No one is giving them a chance—and that’s just how he likes it. Ω

[Matt Skenazy is an Assistant Editor at Outside. Previously, he was a fellow at Pacific Standard and the Associate Editor of Surfing. Skenazy received a BA (journalism) from the University of California at Santa Cruz.]

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Now For The Bad News: We're In A Game Of Three-Card Monte — Pick A Winner Among The Shia, Sunni, & Kurds

Can anyone hear the choppers over the rooftops? Can anyone say, Saigon 1975? Will the last person leaving Baghdad please turn out the lights? If this is the (fair & balanced) final act of The Dubster's Folly, so be it.

[x New Yorker]
Choices At The Top
By Dexter Filkins

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President Obama won the White House in part by promising to end the war in Iraq, and since then he placed his faith in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to help him do so. It was Maliki who would hold together the state that the Americans had helped build. Obama had correctly judged the war in Iraq to be a catastrophe, but placing his confidence in Maliki required no small exertion of faith. Maliki’s past, and his present, often raised doubts about his inclination to reach beyond his own community, the Shiites—the country’s long-suppressed majority—and mend relations with the country’s other main groups, the Sunnis and the Kurds. In early 2009, a group of American diplomats in Iraq warned the White House that it ran the risk of creating a dictator. They were largely ignored, and when Maliki won reëlection a year later Obama gave him his full support. In 2011, after the collapse of halfhearted discussions about keeping some U.S. forces in Iraq, the last American soldiers left the country. Just a few months ago, Maliki was feeling so proudly independent that he wrote in an e-mail, “I am the owner of the idea of withdrawing the U.S. troops.”

Then, in recent days, Sunni militants took over Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and a string of towns along the Tigris River. The Iraqi Army, trained and equipped at enormous American expense, melted before the rebel advance; the Sunni insurgents, led by a vanguard called the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (isis), have moved to within forty miles of the capital, threatening to reignite the sectarian war that inflamed the country during the American occupation. In a strange and unpredictable way, the crisis has brought President Obama and Maliki together again.

As dramatic as the insurgents’ approach has been, it is not terribly surprising. They have fed on the deep discontent that prevails across the Sunni heartland, provoked and sustained by Maliki. Since the last American forces departed, he has embarked on a stridently sectarian project aimed at marginalizing the Sunni minority. He has presided over the arrest of his Sunni political opponents, jailed thousands of Sunni men, and excluded the Sunni population from any meaningful role in government. The Sunni Finance Minister, Rafe al-Essawi, fled the capital; the Sunni Vice-President, Tariq al-Hashemi, fled the country and faces a death sentence if he returns. When the Sunnis rose up in anger, as they did in Falluja and elsewhere, Maliki ordered the Army to shell civilian areas and detain more Sunni men. Ever since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s Sunnis have been faced with the choice of pledging their allegiance to the Shiite-led government in Baghdad or to the armed groups within their own community. Ordinary Sunnis may find the insurgents’ methods barbaric—during the occupation, Sunni leaders helped the Americans crush Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia—but the relentless sectarianism of the government in Baghdad has confirmed for many of them that they have no place in Maliki’s Iraq. The Kurds in the north of Iraq have pulled away from the rest of the country; as the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites becomes an explicit land war, Iraq threatens to break apart.

Last week, responding to pleas from Maliki’s government, President Obama announced that he would deploy as many as three hundred military advisers to Iraq, step up intelligence gathering, and, if he deems it necessary, carry out air strikes on insurgents in both Iraq and Syria. The President intended to boost the Iraqi Army’s morale and, more broadly, to degrade the terrorist threat that is growing in the vast ungoverned area along the border between Syria and Iraq. Some of the measures announced last week were similar, if scaled back, versions of those discussed by Obama and Maliki in 2011; this time, the objections on both sides fell away.

Some leaders in both countries have said that the presence of even a small number of American troops, acting in non-combat roles, would help stabilize not just the military but Iraq as a whole, in part by helping to blunt the country’s sectarian dynamics. Whether or not this proves true, the actions that the President ordered will probably not prove decisive. Administration officials said that they were shocked not by the strength of isis, a group they have been tracking, but by the woeful performance of the Iraqi security forces. For the foreseeable future, the Iraqi Army is unlikely to be capable of retaking many of the areas lost to the militants.

In any case, the real questions are political, and they center on Maliki. Obama suggested that his offer of help would be determined by the progress the Iraqis make in knitting the country back together. The President didn’t say it, but he almost certainly wants Maliki to step down, and American diplomats in Baghdad appear to have begun signalling such a desire to other Iraqi leaders. This will be no easy thing. Maliki, whose self-regard has ballooned during his eight years in office, will very likely try to prevent his Shiite competitors from marshalling the support they need to unseat him. (As long as they can’t, he will remain in the job.) And he has very likely appealed to his backers in Iran, who have assisted him in his sectarian project. Removing Maliki would deal the Iranians a blow as well.

In 2003, when American troops first rolled into Baghdad, they destroyed the Iraqi state and its institutions; for the next eight and a half years they tried to build something to replace it. The truth is that the political system imposed on the Iraqis has never worked very well without substantial U.S. involvement; since the Americans left, it hasn’t worked at all. American diplomats and military advisers can’t save Iraq and they can’t govern it, but the decision by President Obama to return to Iraq amounts to a recognition that there was work left unfinished. It’s likely to be a long and difficult job. Ω

[Dexter Filkins joined The New Yorker in January of 2011; before coming to The New Yorker, Filkins had been with the New York Times since 2000. He has also worked for the Miami Herald and the Los Angeles Times. His 2008 book, The Forever War, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best Nonfiction Book, and was named a best book of the year by the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, and the Boston Globe. Filkins received a BA (political science) from the University of Florida and an MPhil (international relations) from Oxford University.]

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Roll Over, Halford Mackinder — The Revisionist Neocons Have Discovered The Geopolitics Of Stupidity

In his final contribution to The Nation, Greg Mitchell has excerpted a colloquy between Bill Moyers and Professor Andrews Bacevich on "American Exceptionalism." As Iraq turns slowly in the wind, the critique of the "patriots" — The Dickster, Robert Kagan, Paul Wolfowitz, Andrew Perle, et al proves Samuel Johnson correct in defining "patriotism" as the last refuge of a scoundrel. If this is a (fair & balanced) repudiation of war criminals, so be it.

[x The Nation]
Moyers And Bacevich: The Myth And Dangers Of "American Exceptionalism"
By Greg Mitchell

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The new crisis in Iraq has brought out of the woodwork (in some cases, gutter) some of top officials and pundits who helped lead us to war, and long occupation, in the country, but it also has brought back to television some of the top critics and thoughtful analysts of our tragic blunder.

Case in point this past weekend: Jonathan Landay of McClatchy on CNN and Andrew Bacevich for the full half-hour with Bill Moyers (video below). I first met Bacevich, then known mainly as a former military officer and West Point instructor, a decade ago when he wrote an op-ed questioning the war for The Washington Post. Then I covered the death of his son in Iraq, and his many columns that followed.

Now for a few highlights from the transcript of the Moyers show, including key discussion of “American exceptionalism”:

ANDREW BACEVICH [AB]: Well, [Robert Kagan’s] notion of American history, particularly since 1945, is one that we might term an extended liberation narrative where the United States devoted itself, in the wake of World War II, to promoting liberal values, democracy everywhere, fighting against evildoers, and he concludes that this success is being squandered by Barack Obama and those who are unwilling to continue this crusade.

Now, that narrative is only sustainable if you leave a lot of important facts out, or if you distort those facts. So we get no mention of overthrowing Mossadegh in Iran in 1953. We get no mention of the CIA overthrowing the president of Guatemala. We get virtually no mention of the Vietnam War, which he dismisses as sort of an unfortunate incident of no particular significance. And perhaps most egregiously, he utterly ignores the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he served as a cheerleader for. And which to a very large extent, account for the problem that we’re dealing with today in the greater Middle East.

BILL MOYERS [BM]: This week, one of his allies, former Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter Elizabeth wrote a long essay in The Wall Street Journal.

AB: Well, I’d say rarely has a major American newspaper published an op-ed that was so thoroughly shameless. Again, what is the cause? What was the catalyst of the instability that racks Iraq today? The simple answer is the one that Cheney and his daughter don’t want to mention: the unnecessary, misguided, and frankly immoral war launched by the United States in 2003. We destabilized Iraq. In many respects, we destabilized the larger region. And misfortune of Barack Obama is that he inherited this catastrophe, created by the previous administration.

Once you got to Iraq and took it over, and took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place? That’s a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government in Iraq, you can easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off: part of it, the Syrians would like to have to the west, part of eastern Iraq the Iranians would like to claim—fought over for eight years. In the north you’ve got the Kurds, and if the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey. It’s a quagmire….

I think the contrast between what Cheney said in 1994 and what he says 20 years later is actually very illustrative of this point. And that is that what passes for foreign-policy debate today, is just nakedly partisan. Back in 1994, he was in the business of defending George Herbert Walker Bush. Now he’s in the business of defending George W. Bush. But basically attacks Barack Obama, blaming Obama for any difficulties that we’re having. And the point about naked partisanship I think really applies in a somewhat larger stage. When you look at the people who get invited on the Sunday talk shows, or whose op-eds appear in The New York Times or in The Washington Post or other prominent organs of opinion, they are people who are participating in this partisan debate.

There is very little effort to look beyond the Bush versus Obama, Republican versus Democrat, to try to understand the larger forces in play that have brought us to where we are today. And the understanding of which could then make it possible for us to think somewhat more creatively about policy than simply having an argument about whether we should, you know, attack with drones or attack with manned aircraft.

BM: What are those larger forces at work? Because Robert Kagan says, quote, “world order shows signs of cracking, and perhaps even collapsing.” And that these changes signal a transition into a different world order, which the United States should attempt to lead.

AB: When Kagan uses phrases like world order, he’s describing something that never really existed except in his own imagination. But again, the point is worth reflecting on. Kagan believes, many people in Washington believe, perhaps too many people in the hinterland also believe, that the United States shapes the global order. That there is an order for which we alone are responsible.

Where does this kind of thinking come from? I mean, I think in many respects, what we see here is the contemporary expression of the whole notion of American exceptionalism. That we are chosen. We are called upon, called upon by God, called upon by providence, to somehow transform the world and remake it in our own image. Now, Robert Kagan wouldn’t state it as bluntly as I just did. But that is the kind of thinking that I think makes it very difficult for us to have a genuine and serious foreign policy debate.

BM: So the other side would argue, as they are, that well, look at the beheadings and the murders, the brutality and cruelty that the radical Islamists are inflicting upon their adversaries, and the people of Iraq. Isn’t that an evil to which we are the only ones can respond?

AB: Well, first of all, it is an evil to which we contributed by our folly in invading Iraq back in 2003. There was no Al Qaeda in Iraq under the previous order. That’d be the first point. And the second point I think would be: let’s be practical. Let’s be pragmatic. If indeed we are called upon to act, let us frame our actions in ways that actually will yield some positive outcome.

I’m personally not persuaded that further military action in Iraq is actually going to produce an outcome more favorable than the last one. If what we have here on our hands in Iraq, in Syria, elsewhere in the Middle East is a humanitarian catastrophe, then let us become serious about asking ourselves, what is the appropriate response? What can the richest and most powerful country in the world do to alleviate the suffering of innocent people who are caught up in this violence?

And my answer to that question is not air strikes. My answer to that question is, well, if indeed we have a moral responsibility to come to the aid of suffering Iraqis and Syrians, then we better start opening up our wallets to be far more generous and forthcoming in providing assistance that people need.

You know, we live in a country where if you want to go bomb somebody, there’s remarkably little discussion about how much it might cost, even though the costs almost inevitably end up being orders of magnitude larger than anybody projected at the outcome. But when you have a discussion about whether or not we can assist people who are suffering, then suddenly we come very, you know, cost-conscious.

BM: So do we conclude from that that you don’t believe there is anything practical we can do on the ground to separate the warring forces or help the government forces in Iraq prevent this violence? Is the only option murderous genocide and optimum paralysis?

AB: We have been engaged in the Islamic world at least since 1980, in a military project based on the assumption that the adroit use of American hard power can somehow pacify or fix this part of the world. We can now examine more than three decades of this effort.

Let’s look at what US military intervention in Iraq has achieved, in Afghanistan has achieved, in Somalia has achieved, in Lebanon has achieved, in Libya has achieved. I mean, ask ourselves the very simple question: is the region becoming more stable? Is it becoming more democratic? Are we alleviating, reducing the prevalence of anti-Americanism? I mean, if the answer is yes, then let’s keep trying. But if the answer to those questions is no, then maybe it’s time for us to recognize that this larger military project is failing and is not going to succeed simply by trying harder.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, the events that are unfolding in Iraq at this very moment promote a debate within Washington revolving around the question, what should we do about Iraq? But there is a larger and more important question. And the larger and more important question has to do with the region as a whole. And the actual consequences of US military action over the past 30 years.

BM: As you know, Iraq has formally asked the US government to launch air strikes against those Jihadist militants. How do you think that’s going to play out?

AB: Well, I don’t know. My guess would be that this will substantially increase the pressure on the president to do just that. And my question would be if we launch air strikes, and if the air strikes don’t have a decisive effect in turning the tables on the ground, then what? I mean, this is always, I think, a concern when you begin a military operation that you have some reasonable sense of what you’re going to do next if the first gambit doesn’t succeed.

BM: Many people are saying that Barack Obama is feckless, lacks will, or strength, and that he’s enabling the defeat of our interest in the Middle East by pulling the troops back and by being indifferent to what’s happening there now.

AB: Well, he’s not indifferent. I mean, I’m not here to defend the Obama approach to foreign policy, which I think has been mediocre at best. That said, the president has learned some things. I think the most important thing the president learned from his predecessor is that invading and occupying countries in the Islamic world is a pretty dumb idea. It leads to complications and enormous costs. So we see him reticent about putting so-called boots on the ground. That said, the president certainly has not been reluctant to use force in a variety of ways. Usually on small-scale drone strikes, commando raids, and the like.

Where I would fault the president is that he hasn’t been able to go beyond learning the negative lessons of the Bush era to coming up with a positive approach to the Islamic world. Shortly after he was inaugurated he went to Cairo, gave a famous speech... [that] proposed that there was going to be a new beginning, turn the page, a new beginning of US relations with the Islamic world.

Who would not endorse that proposition? I mean, I certainly do. But it has come to nothing. Nobody in the Obama administration, either in the first term or in the present term, as far as I can tell, has been able to figure out how to operationalize this notion of a new relationship between ourselves and the Islamic world. One can give Secretary Kerry credit for trying to restart the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Were we able to broker a peace that created a sovereign, coherent, viable Palestinian state, that actually could be the one thing we could do that would seriously change the tenure of US relations with the people of the Islamic world. But that effort has failed.

BM: What is it, about how we go to war? We poured blood and treasure into Vietnam and Iraq and wound up with exactly the opposite consequences than we wanted. And we keep repeating, hearing the same arguments and claims that we should do it again.

AB: Well, war itself is evil. But war is an evil that should command our respect. War is something that we should not take lightly, that we should not discuss frivolously. And I think that that’s one of the great failings of our foreign policy establishment. That our foreign policy establishment does not take war seriously. It assumes that the creation of precision guided weapons makes war manageable. Removes from war the element of risk and chance that are always inherent in warfare. So these are people who, quite frankly, most of them don’t know much about war and, therefore, who discuss war in frivolous ways.

BM: And yet, there’s this still almost religious belief in force as the savior.

AB: Well, I think your use of religious terms is very appropriate here. Because there is a quasi-theological dimension to their thinking related, again, to this notion that we are called. We are chosen. We are the instrument of providence. Summoned to transform the world. And therefore empowered to use force in ways not permitted to any others. I mean, the ultimate travesty of the immediate period after 9/11 was the Bush administration’s embrace of preventive war that became then the rationale for invading Iraq in 2003. But it was a general claim. A general claim that the United States was empowered to use force preventively. Before the threat emerges. Not simply—

BM: Pre-emptory strikes.

AB: Not simply in self-defense. And we should note that as far as I can tell, President Obama has not repealed that notion. Indeed, has used it himself in order to employ force in lesser ways in various situations.

BM: So is it duplicity or self-delusion?

AB: It depends I think on who we are talking about here. For somebody like Vice President Cheney berating Barack Obama for somehow surrendering American leadership and in the course of doing that simply ignoring the record of the administration in which he served—that’s duplicity. That’s malicious partisanship.


[Greg Mitchell wrote a daily blog for The Nation focusing on media, politics and culture; Mitchell's time with The Nation ended on June 24, 2014. He is the former editor of Editor & Publisher and author of thirteen books. His latest book, on the 2012 Obama-Romney race, is Tricks, Lies, and Videotape (2012).]

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

C. (For Crackpot) Cruz Tickets Right Here!!

Rafael Edward (Ted) Cruz is the pride of Texas Dumbos/Morons, but this blogger wouldn't walk across the street to pi$$ on the Dumbo Darling if his hair was on fire. If this is (fair & balanced) rejection of Dumbo/Moron idiocy, so be it.

[x New Yorker]
The Absolutist
By Jeffrey Toobin

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Ted Cruz, the Republican junior senator from Texas, has heard the line about how the Party needs to become more moderate to win Presidential elections. “It is amazing that the wisdom of the chattering class to the Republicans is always, always, always ‘Surrender your principles and agree with the Democrats,’ ” he told me. “That’s been true for my entire lifetime. The chattering classes have consistently said, ‘You crazy Republicans have to give up on what you believe and become more like Democrats.’ And, I would note, every time Republicans do that we lose.” Cruz then offered a short history of recent Presidential politics. Richard Nixon ran as a conservative, twice a winner; Gerald Ford, moderate, loser; Ronald Reagan, also twice a winner. “President George Herbert Walker Bush ran as a strong conservative, ran to continue the third term of Ronald Reagan, continue the Ronald Reagan revolution,” Cruz went on. “Then he raised taxes and in ’92 ran as an establishment moderate—same candidate, two very different campaigns. First one won, second one lost. In 1996, you got Bob Dole; 2000 and 2004, you have George W. Bush; 2008, John McCain; 2012, Mitt Romney. And what does the entire D.C. Republican consulting class say? ‘In 2016, we need another establishment moderate!’ Hasn’t worked in four decades. ‘But next time will be the time!’ ”

As the midterm elections grow closer, with the Presidential race to follow, the Republican Party is still split roughly along the historical lines that Cruz described. On the issues, the differences between the two wings appear modest, but the temperamental, even geographic, distinctions are profound. Establishment Republicans, based in Washington, remain at some level committed to uphold rudimentary operations of government and at least talk about broadening the Party’s appeal. Ardent conservatives, including those in the Tea Party movement, regard the Capitol as a cesspool of corruption, and they see compromise as betrayal. The outcome of this struggle is uncertain, as illustrated by the varying political fortunes of two leading establishment figures. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, easily survived a primary challenge in Kentucky, but Eric Cantor, the Party’s leader in the House, went down to a humiliating defeat in his primary in Virginia.

Cruz’s ascendancy reflects the dilemma of the modern Republican Party, because his popularity within the Party is based largely on an act that was reviled in the broader national community. Last fall, Cruz’s strident opposition to Obamacare led in a significant way to the shutdown of the federal government. “It was not a productive enterprise,” John McCain told me. “We needed sixty-seven votes in the Senate to stop Obamacare, and we didn’t have it. It was a fool’s errand, and it hurt the Republican Party and it hurt my state. I think Ted has learned his lesson.” But Cruz has learned no such lesson. As he travels the country, he has hardened his positions, delighting the base of his party but moving farther from the positions of most Americans on most issues. He denies the existence of man-made climate change, opposes comprehensive immigration reform, rejects marriage equality, and, of course, demands the repeal of “every blessed word of Obamacare.” (Cruz gets his own health-care coverage from Goldman Sachs, where his wife is a vice-president.) Cruz has not formally entered the 2016 Presidential race, but he is taking all the customary steps for a prospective candidacy. He has set up political-action committees to raise money, travelled to early primary states, like Iowa and New Hampshire, and campaigned for Republican candidates all over the country. His message, in substance, is that on the issues a Cruz Presidency would be roughly identical to a Sarah Palin Presidency.

Cruz and I were talking in a back room at the Fort Worth Convention Center earlier this month, during the Texas Republican Convention. A crowd of more than seven thousand greeted Cruz’s speech there rapturously. They cheered his anti-Washington gibes. “I spent all week in Washington, D.C., and it’s great to be back in America,” he told the delegates. On another occasion at the convention, Cruz noted that some people think the name of the Washington Redskins football team is offensive. “There’s an easy way to fix that,” he said. “You can just drop the word ‘Washington.’ ” (Cruz’s go-to hashtag is #makedclisten.) Cruz’s convention booth, designed to resemble a rustic Texas cabin, with a saddle out front, was the most popular in the hall. Hundreds of people stood in line for hours to have their photograph taken with him.

Still, Cruz’s historical narrative of Presidential politics is both self-serving and questionable on its own terms. Conveniently, he begins his story after the debacle of Barry Goldwater, a conservative purist whom Cruz somewhat resembles. Nixon ran as a healer and governed, by contemporary standards, as a moderate, opening up relations with China, signing into law measures banning sex discrimination, expanding the use of affirmative action, establishing the Environmental Protection Agency, and signing the Clean Air Act. Reagan’s record as governor of California included support for tax increases, gun control, and abortion rights, so he sometimes appeared less conservative than his modern reputation suggests. George W. Bush won (if he won) as a self-advertised “compassionate conservative.” So, at this point, Cruz’s concerted attempt to establish himself as the most extreme conservative in the race for the Republican nomination has not evoked much fear in Democrats. “We all hope he runs,” one Democratic senator told me. “He’s their Mondale.” (Running against Reagan as an unalloyed liberal in 1984, Walter Mondale lost every state but his native Minnesota.) Such skepticism was nowhere in evidence at the convention in Fort Worth, and at the series of talks Cruz gave he was invariably introduced as he was at the Defense of Texas Marriage Amendment rally: “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the next President of the United States!”

Cruz is conservative in appearance as well as ideology. He dresses like an I.B.M. salesman circa 1975, in boxy blue suits, white shirts, and red ties. His black hair is just long enough to be slicked back. When he speaks to an audience, he usually offers a half smile that suggests an unspoken bond with his listeners. He paces the stage, like a motivational speaker, and he extemporizes but doesn’t ramble. It’s easy to follow his speeches, because he sticks to an outline, in keeping with his training as a college debater.

“Marriage is under assault,” Cruz told the crowd. “It is under assault in a way that is pervasive. We’re seeing marriage under assault in the courts, including, sadly, the Supreme Court of the United States. It struck down the California marriage laws. California had a referendum. They asked the voters of California, ‘Do you want marriage to be a traditional marriage between one man and one woman?’ And the voters of California—those crazy right-wing kooks—said, ‘Yes, now that you mention it, we like marriage to be between one man and one woman!’ Went to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the U.S. Supreme Court said, ‘You can’t say that,’ and struck it down. You want to know what judicial activism is? Judicial activism is judges imposing their policy preferences on the words of the Constitution.” (Cruz’s views on marriage equality are widely shared within the Texas Republican Party. The John Birch Society was allowed to have a booth at the convention, but Log Cabin Republicans, a gay-rights group, wasn’t.)

As Cruz built to his peroration, he said, “I’m going to encourage three very simple things. No. 1, I’m going to encourage each and every man and woman here to pray. If ever there was an issue on which we should come to our knees to God about, it is preserving marriage of one man and one woman. And this is an issue on which we need as many praying warriors as possible to turn back the tide.

“A second thing I’ll tell you: when the President tried to impose federal law in Utah, I introduced federal legislation, along with Senator Mike Lee, to prevent the federal government from setting aside the marriage laws of the states across this country. We need to stand and defend marriage, and we need to defend the prerogative of the citizens of Texas to determine what marriage means in the state of Texas.

“And the third thing we need to do is we need to rise up and we need to turn this country around,” Cruz said, to a growing rumble of cheers. “We’ve got an election coming up in 2014, and, let me tell you, it’s going to be phenomenal. We’re going to retake the U.S. Senate! And I’ll tell you this: as good as 2014’s going to be, 2016’s going to be even better!”

Cruz came to the Senate, in 2012, and then to national prominence, through an unusual route. Like many politicians, he is a lawyer, but his legal expertise is of a special kind, which helps explain both his fame and his notoriety. Before he ran for the Senate, Cruz was on his way to becoming one of the most notable appellate advocates in the country. “He was and is the best appellate litigator in the state of Texas,” James Ho, who succeeded Cruz as solicitor general of the state, told me. Trial lawyers, civil or criminal, are often brought into cases when there are compromises to be made; much of their work winds up involving settlements or plea bargains. But appellate litigators, like Cruz, generally appear after the time for truce has passed. Their job is to make their best case and let the chips fall where they may. That is the kind of politician Cruz has become—one who came to Washington not to make a deal but to make a point. Citing Margaret Thatcher, Cruz often puts his approach this way: “First you win the argument, then you win the vote.”

Many senators turn the foyers of their Washington offices into shrines to their states. Al Franken, for instance, covers the walls with pennants from every college in Minnesota. But in Cruz’s foyer, in the Dirksen Building, there are only a couple of framed portraits (of Texans who have served in the Senate) and a Dr Pepper-branded refrigerator. (Dr Pepper is headquartered in Plano.) The room looks as if Cruz had just moved in. Three years ago, he was an obscure long shot making his first run for public office. As he frequently puts it, “I was at two per cent in the polls, and the margin of error was three per cent.” Cruz ranks ninety-fourth in seniority in the Senate. Last fall, though, he nearly single-handedly precipitated the shutdown of the federal government. Today, polls show Cruz in the thick of the crowded race for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, along with Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, and others. Last year, he won the Values Voter Summit’s Presidential straw poll. Last month, he won the straw poll at the Republican Leadership Conference and, not surprisingly, the straw poll at the Texas G.O.P. convention. The speed of Cruz’s rise makes Barack Obama’s ascent seem almost stately.

Cruz’s inner office is dominated by a three-panel painting of Ronald Reagan in Berlin, before the Brandenburg Gate. Reagan is Cruz’s hero, though Cruz, at forty-three, is too young ever to have voted for him. Like Reagan, Cruz believes in limited government, but his basis for that belief differs in a significant way from Reagan’s. Reagan thought limited government was a matter of political choice; Cruz believes it is a constitutional mandate. Cruz comes to that belief from a position of unusual intimacy with the constitutional text.

When Cruz was in his early teens, in Houston, his parents enrolled him in an after-school program run by Rolland Storey, a retired energy executive who wanted to instill the values of the free market in young people. At the Free Enterprise Institute, Storey had his young charges read Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, and other authors revered by conservatives, and then give speeches at Rotary Clubs and similar venues around the state. “They created a spinoff group called the Constitutional Corroborators,” Cruz told me. “And they took five of the students, all of whom had been involved on the free-market side, and we focussed on studying the Constitution. So we’d meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, for a couple of hours each night, and study the Constitution, read the Federalist Papers, read the Anti-Federalist Papers, read the debates on ratification. And we memorized a shortened mnemonic version of the Constitution.”

I asked for an example.

“TCCNCCPCC pawn momma run,” Cruz said. “Taxes, credit, commerce, naturalization, coinage, counterfeiting, post office, copyright, courts, piracy, Army, war, Navy, militia, money for militia, Washington, D.C., rules, and necessary and proper.”

This was more than a parlor trick. During the past several decades, the ideological battles over the Constitution have often come down to the originalists, closely aligned with the textualists, against those who believe that the Constitution also protects some nontextual, or unenumerated, rights. The right to privacy is the paradigmatic unenumerated right, one that is not mentioned in the text of the Constitution but has been recognized by judges to include, for example, a woman’s right to abortion. Cruz’s memorization trick was an early stage in a textualist’s education. To textualists, the meaning of the Constitution is limited to the precise terms of the document, and nothing more.

“Ted was just an amazing speaker at fourteen, by far the most impressive student we ever had,” Winston Elliott III, who became affiliated with Storey’s organization when Cruz was a student and now serves as its president, told me. “Our program is very much committed to private property, free markets, and constitutionally limited government. When it came to the Constitution, Rolland was a great believer in original intent, and so the focus was very much on what the Constitution says. We brought in a memorization expert. We wanted them to focus on the words. Ted was just an ideal student, because he just absorbed everything, and he came from a conservative family in the first place.”

Cruz first achieved national notice last September, when he staged a twenty-one-hour talking marathon on the Senate floor against Obamacare, as part of the political offensive that led to the government shutdown. In the best-known part of the speech, he read Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” as a bedtime story to his two young daughters watching in Houston, who were supposedly tuned in to c-span. (Later, he also read long excerpts from the novels of Ayn Rand, one of his literary heroes.) Several times, he drew an analogy between the “oppression” of Obamacare and the oppression that his father, Rafael, faced as a young man in Cuba. “I view that from a very personal perspective, because fifty-five years ago, when my father came from Cuba, he was eighteen, he was penniless, and he couldn’t speak English,” Cruz said on the Senate floor. “But he was lucky to be able to apply for a student visa, to get to America. He was lucky to be accepted to the University of Texas, to flee the Batista regime, where he had been imprisoned and tortured as a kid.” Later, Cruz said, “Thank the good Lord that when my dad was a teen-age immigrant in Texas fifty-five years ago, how grateful I am that some well-meaning liberal did not come and put his arm around him and say, ‘Let me take care of you. Let me give you a government check. Let me make you dependent on the government. Don’t bother washing dishes. Don’t bother working.’ ”

At the Texas Republican Convention, the line for photographs with Ted Cruz snaked through the exhibition hall. To keep those waiting from getting restless, Rafael Cruz worked the line, shaking hands and posing for photographs. White-haired, vigorous, and charismatic at seventy-five, Rafael is a familiar figure to those who have followed his son’s career. He introduces Ted’s stump speech with the boast “He will not compromise!”

Rafael Cruz fled Batista’s Cuba for Texas in 1957 after aligning himself with the anti-Batista movement. He returned to Cuba for just a month, in 1959, and became convinced that Fidel Castro was even worse than his predecessor, so he settled in the United States for good. He majored in mathematics at the University of Texas at Austin, and met and married Eleanor Darragh, who was born and raised in Delaware. (Rafael had two daughters from a previous marriage.) Rafael and Eleanor started an oil-services company after moving to Calgary, in Alberta, Canada, where Rafael Edward Cruz was born, in 1970. (Ted’s birth in Canada, with dual American and Canadian citizenship, has raised the question of whether he is a “native born” citizen and thus eligible, under the Constitution, to be President. The answer is not completely clear, but it seems likely that the Constitution does not bar a Cruz Presidency. Recently, Ted Cruz formally gave up his Canadian citizenship.)

Rafael and Eleanor split up a few years after Ted was born, and Rafael moved to Houston. Six months later, Eleanor and young Ted also went to Houston. The couple reconciled (though they eventually divorced), and Rafael experienced a religious awakening. He left the oil business and became a charismatic minister. Pastor Cruz, as he is often called, is not currently affiliated with any church or denomination, but he is a sought-after surrogate for his son on the campaign trail. In his speeches and talks, he operates as a kind of political id for Ted, much as Ted operates as the id of the Republican Party. Rafael attacks Obama and the Democrats with a religious intensity. In many of these talks, Rafael draws explicit parallels between Fidel Castro and Barack Obama as twin betrayers of the concepts of “hope and change.”

“It all started for us in 1980, when Ted was nine years old,” Rafael Cruz told me. “I was involved with a group called the Religious Roundtable, which was working with the Moral Majority to help mobilize Christians to elect Ronald Reagan. All during that year, we talked every night about how important it was to get rid of this socialist-leftist President Carter and replace him with a constitutional conservative, Ronald Reagan. I must have told Ted a dozen times, ‘When I was in Cuba and they took away our freedoms, I had a place to go. If we lose our freedoms here, where are we going to go?’ ”

Ted Cruz arrived at Princeton in the fall of 1988, after graduating from Houston’s Second Baptist High School. He quickly became friends with David Panton, a sixteen-year-old freshman from Jamaica. They became debating partners and roommates for the rest of their college years and at Harvard Law. “Ted’s views today politically are almost identical to when I met him,” Panton told me. “There’s nothing he says today that I didn’t hear in college. It all came from his father and from the Constitutional Corroborators.”

There are two main kinds of college debating programs. One focusses on a single topic every year, and the other, Cruz and Panton’s specialty, is known as parliamentary debate. “In parliamentary debate, they don’t give you the subjects in advance. You just have to be fast on your feet and know a lot about a lot of different subjects,” Panton said. “Ted was the best debater in the country, hands down. He was the No. 1 debater our senior year.”

At Princeton, Cruz wrote a senior thesis about a topic that was obscure at the time but later became of wide interest in the conservative legal movement: the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. The Ninth states, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people”; and the Tenth reads, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” Ever since the Bill of Rights was ratified, near the end of the eighteenth century, the meaning of these provisions has proved elusive to scholars and judges. Robert Bork compared the Ninth to an inkblot. Liberal scholars have generally viewed the Ninth Amendment, in particular, as a guarantee that the Constitution represents a floor for, not a ceiling on, the rights of individuals. In his thesis, Cruz wrote that he intended to “elaborate upon a conception of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments which revitalizes the Founders’ commitment to limiting government, to restraining the reach of our none-too-angelic leaders.” The conclusion is debatable, but the level of erudition in the thesis is extraordinary, especially for a twenty-one-year-old who had not yet gone to law school.

The thesis was so good that the professor who supervised Cruz’s work, Robert George, decided to play a joke on him. “When I was grading it, I dog-eared the first page and wrote ‘C-plus’ on it, so it was the first thing he’d see,” George told me. “Then inside I wrote, ‘Just kidding—A.’ I thought it might do Ted some good to wonder for a second whether he really was the smartest guy in the room.” A widely respected conservative legal philosopher, known for his opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion rights, George played godfather to right-leaning students on campus. “It’s an occupational hazard for academics like me to assume that our best students are going to become academics themselves. And so I was sure that Ted was going to become a professor.” But Cruz was already on his way to Harvard Law School.

“He came to class with his right hand in the air and he kept it in the air for the whole semester,” Alan Dershowitz, who taught Cruz’s criminal-law class, told me. Cruz and Panton sat next to each other, and both disagreed with most of what Dershowitz said throughout the semester. “They were pro death penalty, they questioned the exclusionary rule, and they were both completely brilliant.” (Panton became the second black president of the Harvard Law Review, after Barack Obama. He now works in private equity, in Atlanta.) At Harvard, Cruz’s ambitions came into focus. “He was going to clerk for Michael Luttig, on the Fourth Circuit, who was the big feeder for the conservative Justices on the Supreme Court, and then clerk on the Court,” Dershowitz said. “And of course that’s exactly what he did.”

From 1996 to 1997, Cruz clerked for Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, and again he impressed both ideological allies and adversaries with his intelligence and persuasiveness. “We became friends on the first day of our clerkships,” Neal Katyal, who clerked for Stephen Breyer and went on to become Acting Solicitor General in the Obama Administration, said. “We spent the next year arguing about just about everything, especially the death penalty, which Ted definitely supported. He was conservative, of course, but he was not an ideologue. He knew how to make arguments based on the law. He was obviously already a very good lawyer.”

After his clerkships, Cruz faced the first genuine crossroads of his career. Until then, he had followed an élite path from the Ivy League to coveted clerkships. Now he had to decide what kind of lawyer he was going to be. Cruz turned down an offer from a big firm (with a big signing bonus) and joined a boutique firm then known as Cooper & Carvin, in Washington.

“When I was clerking for the Chief, Chuck Cooper and Mike Carvin came and recruited me,” Cruz told me. Cooper was a former Rehnquist clerk. At the time, the firm was nine months old and had only six lawyers. Cruz was the first new associate the partners recruited. Cooper and Carvin had served in senior roles in the Reagan Justice Department, and they created a firm that combined their passion for high-level litigation with conservative politics. Cooper has long been the outside counsel to the National Rifle Association, and, he recalled, “Ted was basically my lieutenant on all N.R.A. matters.” He helped Cooper prepare his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in favor of the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Cruz also worked on Representative John Boehner’s civil lawsuit against Representative Jim McDermott, a Democrat, for illegally leaking the recording of a phone call involving Newt Gingrich. (Boehner won the case, and McDermott was forced to pay damages, including more than a million dollars of Boehner’s legal fees.) Carvin, who has since moved on to another firm, said, “Ted was the best law partner I ever had, but he was a junior associate.” Soon enough, though, it became clear that Cruz’s ambitions extended beyond success as a private lawyer. “Ted had this obvious burning interest in matters of important public policy,” Cooper recalled. “He had the obvious tools to succeed at the highest levels of politics. It was clear to me that it was at least in the back of his mind, and I encouraged it.” (Cooper later became best known for leading the legal defense of California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage, before the law was ultimately overturned.)

And so, in 1999, Cruz went to work as a domestic-policy adviser on the George W. Bush Presidential campaign. “I essentially had responsibility for all the policy that touched on law,” Cruz told me. “So we all divided up the issues, but anything law-related fell under my bailiwick. The campaign was a year and a half of incredibly intense eighteen-to-twenty-hour days. The best part of the campaign was I met my wife. We were one of eight marriages that came out of the campaign, so I tell young people, ‘If you want to meet your spouse, go join a political campaign.’ ” (Heidi Cruz lives in Houston with their daughters.)

When the result of the 2000 campaign devolved into a legal struggle over the vote in Florida, Cruz was well situated to play an important role. By the Thursday after Election Day, he was in Tallahassee. “Through an odd bit of serendipity, it happened that I was the only practicing lawyer, and, in particular, constitutional litigator, who had been on the full-time campaign team,” Cruz told me. “One of the realities of the recount and life is that lawyers and political folks don’t really speak the same language. By the accident of being in that place I found myself, there was sort of a small leadership team that consisted of Jim Baker and Josh Bolten and Ted Olson and George Terwilliger and Ben Ginsberg and me. And I’m twenty-nine years old, this kid, and all of these other folks are Cabinet members and masters of the universe.” Ginsberg, the national counsel to the Bush campaign, and his associates set up seven teams of lawyers to address the sprawling controversies generated by the recount, and Cruz was the only lawyer who served on all seven. His job was to encourage communication and assure consistent positions.

“I’ve been amused at some of the subsequent descriptions of Bush versus Gore, because they sort of described us as this fine-oiled machine with a careful strategy,” Cruz said. “It was one tiny notch slightly below utter chaos.”

Cruz’s initial assignment was to assemble a legal team. His first call was to his former mentor Carvin, who wound up representing Bush before the Florida Supreme Court. Cruz’s second call was to a Washington lawyer named John Roberts. “John had been a friend and a Rehnquist clerk—I’ve known John a long time,” Cruz said. “Everyone we called, without exception, dropped everything and came down. And for a young lawyer, I mean, it was a breathtaking and humbling experience to get the chance to carry the bag and work alongside some of the most talented lawyers in the country.”

Conservatives have long denounced liberal judges and lawyers for judicial activism—that is, for using the courts to overrule the work of the democratically elected branches of government. Roe v. Wade, which invalidated state laws banning abortion around the country, is the consummate act of liberal judicial activism. In the eighties and nineties, however, as Reagan nominees began to dominate the federal judiciary, conservatives began to use the courts for their own political ends as well. Conservatives like Cruz never stopped denouncing liberals for their efforts to use the courts to promote their ideological agenda, even as they began to do much the same thing themselves. The heart of Cruz’s legal career was a sustained and often successful undertaking to use the courts for conservative ends, like promoting the death penalty, lowering the barriers between church and state, and undermining international institutions and agreements.

In the nineteen-nineties, several states created the position of solicitor general, a chief appellate advocate, modelled on the one in the United States Department of Justice, which represents the federal government before the Supreme Court. The Texas job was started in 1999, when John Cornyn was the state attorney general. (Cornyn is now Cruz’s senior colleague in the Senate.) But when Greg Abbott became attorney general of Texas, in 2002, he decided to expand the responsibilities of the solicitor general beyond simply handling appeals in cases involving the state. Abbott had served on the Texas Supreme Court and developed strongly conservative views on legal issues. “I wanted someone who had the capability to handle appellate arguments in court, but I wanted to do so much more,” Abbott told me. “I wanted Texas to be a national leader on the profound legal issues of the day. I wanted us to be able to have a larger footprint, a larger impact.”

Though Cruz was only thirty-two, he persuaded Abbott that he was up to the job. In 2003, he moved to Austin. “We wanted Ted to take a leadership role in the United States in articulating a vision of strict construction. I look for employees with batteries included,” Abbott said. “Ted was supercharged and ready to go.” In effect, he asked Cruz to roam the country in search of cases that might advance the Constitutional agenda that Cruz had first embraced as a teen-ager. Sometimes Texas was an actual party to the cases Cruz argued, and sometimes he simply volunteered to write friend-of-the-court briefs for causes that he and Abbott supported. They intervened in cases supporting gun-owners’ rights, states’ rights, and the right to religious expression in public places. In one high-profile case, Cruz wrote the brief that persuaded the court to approve a monument of the Ten Commandments outside the state capitol, in Austin. (Abbott argued that case.)

In just over six years, Cruz argued nine cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, more than any other Texas lawyer during this period and more than all but a few lawyers in the country. In addition, he filed dozens of briefs in federal and state appeals courts. In his arguments before the high court, Cruz won five cases and lost four, but that understates the magnitude of his success. The cases he lost were rather minor; in one of them he appeared as a friend of the court. The cases he won had more drama and importance. The most notable, from 2008, began, as Cruz recounted to me, when “two teen-age girls who were walking home one night stumbled into a gang initiation and were horribly gang-raped and murdered. One of the most brutal crimes that shocked the conscience of the city of Houston. Ernesto Medellín was one of the leaders of the gang, and he was apprehended several days later, and he confessed to it right away. His confession was one of the most chilling documents I’ve ever read, handwritten, where he describes bragging about raping these little girls. He describes showing off his bloodstained clothes. He describes keeping, as a trophy of the night, one of the little girls’ Mickey Mouse watches. This was an unrepentant murderer. He was convicted, he was sentenced to death, and then the case took a strange turn.”

The World Court, which is the judicial arm of the United Nations, issued a directive to the United States to reopen the cases of Medellín, who was Mexican, and fifty other Mexican nationals who were on death row. After their arrests, none of the defendants had been offered the consular services of the Mexican government, a right that the United States was treaty-bound to honor. In a crucial twist, the Administration of George W. Bush agreed with the World Court judgment. The Justice Department asserted that the cases, including Medellín’s, should be reopened, because the defendants had not been granted their rights under the treaty. As both a legal and a political matter, Texas’s position looked weak. How could Abbott (and Cruz) take on a President of the United States who also happened to be a fellow-Republican and fellow-Texan? And how, in any event, could the state of Texas overrule a judgment of both the United States government and the World Court?

“In both law and politics, I think the essential battle is the meta-battle of framing the narrative,” Cruz told me. “As Sun Tzu said, Every battle is won before it’s fought. It’s won by choosing the terrain on which it will be fought. So in litigation I tried to ask, What’s this case about? When the judge goes home and speaks to his or her grandchild, who’s in kindergarten, and the child says, ‘Paw-Paw, what did you do today?’ And if you own those two sentences that come out of the judge’s mouth, you win the case.

“So let’s take Medellín as an example of that,” Cruz went on. “The other side’s narrative in Medellín was very simple and easy to understand. ‘Can the state of Texas flout U.S. treaty obligations, international law, the President of the United States, and the world? And, by the way, you know how those Texans are about the death penalty anyway!’ That’s their narrative. That’s what the case is about. When Justice Kennedy comes home and he tells his grandson, ‘This case is about whether a state can ignore U.S. treaty obligations,’ we lose.

“So I spent a lot of time thinking about, What’s a different narrative to explain this case? Because, as you know, just about every observer in the media and in the academy thought we didn’t have a prayer. This is a hopeless case.”

Cruz decided to change the narrative into one about the separation of powers. He refashioned the case from a fight between Texas and the United States to one between the executive branch and the legislative branch of the federal government, with Texas advocating for Congress. He argued that the President could not order Texas to reopen the cases without the specific authorization of Congress. Cruz duelled with Stephen Breyer and other skeptical Justices for well over the allotted thirty minutes. Breyer ribbed Cruz: “As I read the Constitution, it says all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States shall be the supreme law of the land, and the judges in every state—I guess it means including Texas”—the audience laughed—“shall be bound thereby.”

“Certainly, Justice Breyer,” Cruz answered. “Texas, of course, does not dispute that the Constitution, laws, and treaties are the supreme law of the land.” But, he went on, the President’s order, in this case, was none of these. The questioning of Cruz became so raucous that, at one point, Justice John Paul Stevens felt compelled to interject, “You said there are six reasons. . . . I really would like to hear what those reasons are without interruption from all of my colleagues.” Cruz won the case, six-to-three, with Stevens joining the Court’s conservatives. In another case, a major challenge to Texas’s 2003 electoral redistricting on the ground that it discriminated against minorities, the number of plaintiffs before the Court was so large that Cruz was allowed to file a hundred-and-twenty-three-page brief in response, well above the usual page limit. He won that case as well.

Cruz became so comfortable before the Justices that he even employed a touch of humor, which is always risky at the Supreme Court. In 2008, the Justices invited Cruz to argue in support of Louisiana’s position that the Constitution permitted the execution of an individual who raped a child. (To be asked to argue a case as a friend of the court is itself a significant honor for a lawyer.) At one point, Justice Stevens asked whether any country had ever made punishments for rape more draconian. “It’s interesting if you look at the history in England,” Cruz said. “Blackstone actually talks about how rape under Saxon law was punishable by death, and then there was a period—1285—where the punishment was ‘relaxed’ to loss of the eyes and testicles. That was William the Conqueror’s kinder, gentler version.” Laughter followed. Still, the court ruled that Louisiana could not execute the defendant.

In 2010, Greg Abbott was planning on running to succeed Rick Perry as governor, and Cruz decided to step out on his own and run for attorney general. By this point, Cruz had reached such a level of prominence as solicitor general that he had basically cleared the field to take over for his boss. But Perry decided to run for reëlection and, as a result, so did Abbott. Cruz stepped down as solicitor general and joined a law firm in Houston. In short order, another opportunity presented itself: Kay Bailey Hutchison was retiring from the U.S. Senate, opening up a seat in the 2012 election.

Cruz flew to Washington for a conference of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies. There he arranged to meet with Mike Lee, a newly elected senator from Utah. The two had much in common. Both were former Supreme Court clerks and both had an intense interest in constitutional law. (The son of Rex Lee, who was Solicitor General in the Reagan Administration, Mike Lee clerked for Samuel Alito during his first year on the Court.) “At that point, I felt like I had already known Ted, because three of my co-clerks were Princeton undergrads, and he was a legendary debater,” Lee recalled. Cruz and Lee hit it off. “He and I see a lot of things the same way, through a similar lens. As someone who has studied the Constitution throughout his entire life, he understands the importance of federalism and separation of powers. As a former Supreme Court clerk and appellate litigator, he is very aware of how the courts look at things. But he also knows that we can’t leave every constitutional question to the courts. The legislative branch has to follow the Constitution, too.” The two men took a long walk around the Capitol grounds. By the end, Lee had agreed to endorse Cruz for the Senate.

David Dewhurst, the lieutenant governor of Texas (an especially powerful position there), was far and away the best-known and best-financed candidate for the Senate seat in 2012. But Cruz, calling himself a “constitutional conservative,” rallied the Tea Party movement to his side and battered Dewhurst as a conciliator and a defender of the status quo. Tea Party favorites like Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, Rand Paul, and Jim DeMint swarmed the state for Cruz, and conservative political-action committees like the Club for Growth bought millions of dollars’ worth of advertisements on his behalf. Dewhurst finished ahead of Cruz in the first round of voting—forty-five per cent to thirty-four per cent—but then Cruz won the runoff, with fifty-seven per cent of the vote. The general election was a formality against Texas’s moribund Democratic Party.

Cruz made his influence felt in the Senate even before he took office. He was invited to join the weekly lunch of the Senate Republican caucus on December 4, 2012, which happened to be the day the full Senate was debating the United Nations treaty on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The treaty seemed fairly uncontroversial, but Cruz, as the tribune of the Tea Party movement, was opposed. “I was a newly elected senator who hadn’t even been sworn in yet, but I did just pass on, having just come from the campaign trail, that issues of U.S. sovereignty resonate powerfully with the American people,” Cruz told me. The issues in the treaty were broadly similar to those in the Medellín case, in that they involved the interplay between American law and international institutions.

Dick Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who is the assistant majority leader, recalled Cruz’s influence on Republicans at that lunch. “These people walked out scared as hell,” he said. “And I thought, This guy is wasting no time to flex his muscles over there.”

As part of the effort to pass the treaty, supporters brought Bob Dole, the widely respected former Republican majority leader, to the Senate floor, in a wheelchair, to lobby for passage. But Dole, and the treaty, failed. John McCain told me, “It was the most embarrassing day in my time in the Senate, to force Bob Dole to watch that.”

Cruz explained, “I personally have been passionate for a long, long time about protecting U.S. sovereignty, that our laws should reflect American values, American mores, and not be governed by the laws or tribunals of foreign nations or foreign institutions. I urged my soon-to-be colleagues to protect U.S. sovereignty, and ultimately they did so.”

On another early trip as a senator-elect, Cruz made a speech to the Federalist Society, to which he has since returned several times. Founded in 1982, the society is a forum for discussion of conservative legal ideas. It takes no formal positions on issues, and members don’t agree with each other on every topic, but it has long operated as the network for potential Republican judicial nominees and executive-branch officials. In practice, the Federalist approach has meant an “originalist” view of the Constitution, which, in turn, reflects the priorities of the modern Republican Party—including an expansive view of an individual’s right to bear arms under the Second Amendment, a rejection of constitutional protections for a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion, a porous barrier between church and state, and a narrow conception of the power of the federal government to intervene in the economy. Dozens of judges have brought a Federalist orientation to the bench in recent years; Cruz is the first politician, and the first prospective President, to put their ideas at the center of national debate. “Like many people in this room, I’ve grown up with the Federalist Society,” he said soon after he arrived in Washington. “This has been my home for my entire adult life, my entire professional life.” It was at a later Federalist Society dinner that Cruz was inspired to write a series of reports on what he found to be abuses of power by the Obama Administration. The idea came from another prominent conservative lawyer, Justice Samuel Alito, who was the speaker that evening.

Cruz’s facility with constitutional argument draws admiration even from those who do not share his views. “Ted is able to use erudite constitutional analysis with politically appealing slogans—that’s a rare talent,” Walter Dellinger, the former acting Solicitor General in the Clinton Administration, who has debated Cruz, told me. “The only problem is that Ted’s view of the Constitution—based on states’ rights and a narrow scope of federal power—was rejected at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, and then was resurrected by John C. Calhoun, and the Confederates during the Civil War, when it failed again. It’s still around now. I think it’s wrong, but Ted does a very sophisticated version of that view.”

Since taking office, Cruz has had little use for the traditional political norms of the Capitol, as he showed when he signed a fund-raising letter for the Senate Conservatives Fund, which aims to defeat incumbent Republican senators whom it deems unduly moderate. Challenged by his colleagues in the Republican caucus, Cruz vowed to refrain from targeting incumbents. But then it happened again, with the Madison Project, which also supports candidates who challenge Republican incumbents. “It’s time to elect some conservatives who won’t run from a fight!” Cruz wrote, according to Politico. (Cruz says the letter went out without his permission.) Just a few months after Cruz had taken office, McCain was referring to him, in public, as a “wacko bird.” (The insult still stings. Introducing her husband to the delegates at the Republican convention in Fort Worth, Heidi Cruz denied that he was a wacko bird.)

By one reckoning, the twenty-one-hour speech Cruz mounted against Obamacare last September was his consummate wacko-bird moment. At that time, the House and the Senate were weighing a continuing resolution, which would keep the federal government funded and open. The Republican House, with Cruz’s encouragement, had passed a budget that denied all funds for the Affordable Care Act. It was clear that this budget would never pass the Democrat-controlled Senate and certainly never be signed by the President. So Cruz’s speech merely delayed the inevitable—the passage of a budget that included money for the bill.

There are generally two kinds of senators: those who legislate and those who run for President. Cruz’s speech, and its aftermath, locked down his status in the second category. John Cornyn, his Texas colleague, opposed Cruz’s efforts on the shutdown. “Ted is very smart and very articulate and he has a huge following, but the question is whether what he’s doing is going to help us be a majority party,” Cornyn told me. “The great thing about the Senate is that you are a free agent; you can follow your conscience. But if you want to be effective you can’t get your way a hundred per cent of the time. We need to think about the eighty-twenty rule. We need to get back to the idea that it doesn’t always have to be a hundred per cent our way.”

Cruz takes a different view of his role in the shutdown. While the government was closed, the Obamacare Web site,, made its disastrous début, and the polls turned against the Democrats. Cruz felt that his political argument, not the failure of the Web site, produced the political turnaround. “Many voices in Washington say the fight that we had last fall was not successful,” Cruz told me. “Like any good litigator, at times you think of a battle as a long-term battle. You don’t always accomplish everything in the first skirmish. As a consequence of millions of people last summer and fall getting engaged in that battle, I believe we dramatically elevated the national debate over the harms of Obamacare. And today Democrats are running scared, and the prevailing wisdom is Republicans are quite likely to win control of the Senate because of Obamacare.”

In any event, Cruz still glories in flouting the conventions of senatorial, even Republican Party, courtesy. Earlier this year, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, made a procedural deal with the Democrats so that fifty votes, not sixty, would be needed to raise the debt ceiling. The lower threshold would allow senators like McConnell, as well as John Cornyn, to vote against raising the debt ceiling, which would help them in their primaries against Tea Party challengers. By objecting, Cruz forced some of his Republican colleagues to make a tough, politically risky vote.

“I have to tell you that there’s nothing that I’ve done in my year and a half that enraged my colleagues more,” Cruz said of his debt-ceiling maneuver. “The Republican leadership asked every Republican senator to affirmatively consent to lowering the threshold to taking up the debt ceiling from sixty votes to fifty votes. And the argument was twofold: No. 1, if we do so, it will pass, and we want it to pass. That is the outcome we want. And, No. 2, if we don’t, the Democrats can pass it on their own. Every one of us can vote no. We can go and tell our constituents we opposed the thing—we just consented to allow it to happen. And my response was simply to say that there is no universe in which I can consent to lowering the threshold and making it easier for Harry Reid to add trillions of debt to our nation.” To Cruz, McConnell’s procedural legerdemain defined what was wrong with Washington. “It’s part of the reason why I’ve said many times that I think the biggest divide we’ve got in this country is not between Republicans and Democrats,” he said. “It’s between entrenched politicians in Washington in both parties and the American people.”

The way Cruz characterizes the divide in American politics—Washington vs. the people—is demonstrably incorrect. Far more significant than the conflict between the capital and the people is the ideological clash between left and right. Cruz’s rhetoric is mostly an exercise, in the manner of Sun Tzu, of framing the narrative in the most advantageous way. “Anti-Washington” is better positioning than “doctrinaire,” but that is what Cruz is, even compared with his likely rivals for the Republican Presidential nomination. Unlike Marco Rubio, Cruz opposes comprehensive immigration reform; unlike Rand Paul, Cruz embraces the confrontational foreign policy associated with the George W. Bush Administration. Cruz speaks of challenging “the corrupt bipartisan cabal in Washington,” but what he’s really proposing is a purification ritual, the fulfillment of a conservative agenda that has moved well to the right of that of his hero Ronald Reagan. The only Republicans he wants to challenge are those who want to coöperate or compromise with Democrats. As he told the delegates in Fort Worth, Cruz wants to “abolish” the Internal Revenue Service, “audit” the Federal Reserve (though it’s not clear what that means), and, of course, repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Cruz’s sincerity in these goals is beyond question. When he was solicitor general of Texas, he had a piece of advice for the lawyers on his staff. “I tried to stress to every lawyer in the office that if any lawyer from the S.G.’s office stands in front of the judge and says, ‘The law is X and the facts are Y,’ then that judge would always, always trust that we are levelling with them and telling the truth.” He’s approached politics the same way. “Since I became a senator, a year and a half ago, I’ve kept two promises to the people of Texas,” he said. “I have endeavored to do what I said I was going to do and I have always told the truth. It says something about Washington that those are perceived as radical acts.” Ω

[Jeffrey Toobin, a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1993, writes about legal affairs. Before joining The New Yorker, Toobin served as an Assistant United States Attorney in Brooklyn, New York. He also served as an associate counsel in the Office of Independent Counsel Lawrence E. Walsh, an experience that provided the basis for his first book, Opening Arguments: A Young Lawyer’s First Case—United States v. Oliver North (1991). Toobin's most recent book is The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court (2007). He graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard College and earned a Truman Scholarship. Thereafter, he graduated from Harvard Law School magna cum laude with J.D., where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review.]

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