The national media has been bottom-feeding on the announcement by the junior Senator from Texas that he "imagined" that he'd run for POTUS in 2016. Wowzer! Mimi Swartz also a Houstonian like C. Cruz is whelmed by the latest wunderkind of Lone Star politics. If this is an example of (fair & balanced) self-delusion, so be it.
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Ted Cruz And The New Politics of Texas
By Mimi Swartz
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As soon as Ted Cruz announced that he was running for the presidency, I felt a sort of dread. My reaction didn’t have to do with Mr. Cruz himself — well, not entirely — but with the wackiness that always attends a Texan’s running for higher office.
It happened with Lyndon B. Johnson (that drawl!), with John B. Connally (so tall!) and with George W. Bush (the term “cowboy” became nearly interchangeable with his name during the Iraq debacle, something of an insult to cowboys in this part of the world).
I have already started fielding inquiries from out-of-state friends and colleagues who are eager to fit him into the rich and colorful rites and rituals of Texas politicians.
My advice: Don’t waste your time. Aside from those ubiquitously noted black ostrich-skin cowboy boots, Mr. Cruz is about as traditional a Texas politician as Ralph Nader. Yes, Mr. Cruz gets credit for his colorful language, though his is more in the style of a Southern Baptist preacher than an acerbic West Texas wildcatter. And yes, he self-identifies as an outsider and an individualist.
But there are profound differences between Mr. Cruz and other famous Texas politicians, and those differences say as much about Texas and how the state has changed as they do about Ted Cruz.
For starters, Mr. Cruz did not grow up in the same state as LBJ or even Rick Perry, who stepped down in January after 14 years as governor. Their Texas was predominantly rural — poor, isolated, unique. The landscape and climate shaped not only their language and culture, but also their politics: LBJ saw Hill Country deprivation and wanted to alleviate it; Mr. Perry’s DIY worldview and his passion for economic prosperity (his own, especially) can be traced to his escape from Paint Creek. The anti-intellectualism of Midland shaped George W. Bush far more than his family compound in Kennebunkport, ME, did.
Mr. Cruz was born in 1970 in Calgary, Alberta, to an Irish- and Italian-American mom and a Cuban-exile dad. By the time the family got to Houston, Texas was nearing the end of its transition to an urban state. The population boom that attended the oil boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s turned a conservative Democratic Texas into an even more conservative Republican stronghold.
Mr. Cruz was raised in the churchy suburb of Katy, and attended the private Second Baptist in Houston for high school, a training ground for ambitious, religious and determinedly prosperous community leaders. He wasn’t deprived or isolated; he had TV and afterschool activities. He became a passionate follower of Milton Friedman, which isn’t exactly common in Texas high schools (compared with, say, football). A great many Texans were starting to shove their progeny toward the Ivy League by the ’80s, so no shame was affixed to Mr. Cruz’s schooling at Princeton and Harvard Law School.
When Mr. Cruz came back home, he joined a crucial shift in ideology. For much of the modern age Texans complained vociferously about interference from Washington, but for most of that time folks around here knew that was just rhetorical hypocrisy. In fact, Texas politicians have historically been downright passionate about government (the pork part, at least). How else did we get something like NASA in our own backyard? The oil depletion allowance? Military bases? Remembering who sent them to Washington kept senators like Lloyd Bentsen, Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison in office for decades.
Most Texas politicians also took particular delight in the art of horse trading, in Austin and Washington. This was even true during Mr. Bush’s term as governor, when he had Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock, a Democrat, knocking heads to make everyone work together for the good of the state.
Mr. Cruz, in contrast, takes his anti-government tirades seriously, and he doesn’t care when he alienates and infuriates members of his own party. He still takes full credit for being the last holdout in the government shutdown of 2013. LBJ gave us Medicare; Mr. Cruz wants to obliterate Obamacare. Mr. Cruz says he would never vote against his beliefs — which automatically puts him in conflict with several million people, commonly known as constituents, and may also explain why he’s missed so many votes.
In other words, he’s an avatar of change here. Texas has become one of the reddest states, despite a surging Latino population. The Democrats have just about disappeared; most of those who remain are either pretty spineless or terminally frustrated. Winning office means winning the Republican primary, which means tilting as far right as possible.
In the GOP primary runoff last year, turnout was tiny (about 750,000 people) and the voters were disproportionately older, white, deeply conservative and highly organized. This is the group Ted Cruz targeted early on. In 2012, he calculated that if he made the rounds of Tea Party meetings and evangelical churches he could win a Senate race against a sitting lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, who couldn’t be bothered to campaign, and he was right.
Finally, unlike many Texas pols, Mr. Cruz is just no fun. Ann W. Richards, the governor before Mr. Bush, once dressed as a tampon for a party, and her 1988 joke about George H. W. Bush’s being “born with a silver foot in his mouth” was about as fierce a put-down as Mr. Bentsen’s quip that year to Dan Quayle, “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” John B. Connally and John G. Tower had pretty twinkly eyes for the ladies. The ever-resourceful Mr. Perry took a pistol out of his jogging clothes and shot a coyote to save a puppy near Austin’s Lady Bird Lake.
Ted Cruz, in contrast, has memorized the Constitution. The guy might as well be from Massachusetts. Ω
[Mimi Swartz is an executive editor at Texas Monthly. Swartz graduated from Hampshire College, She is the co-author (with Sherron Watkins) of Power Failure, The Inside Story of the Collapse of Enron (2003).]
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