Did Senator Ted Cruz single-handedly shut down the federal government this past October? I know the 2013 shutdown is an old topic, but it really serves to illustrate the unfortunate political concept that the truth does not matter, only what people perceive to be the truth. And the shutdown continues to remain relevant today, as people continue to use their perception of what happened in discussing current issues. This week, self-proclaimed “libertarian” Matt Welch, co-host of The Independents show on the Fox Business Network, repeated the “Cruz is to blame” myth:
“After Ted Cruz screwed the pooch in my estimation . . . after Ted Cruz did the government shutdown bungle unforced error . . .”
I did not expect that from an independent journalist because anyone with even a basic understanding of how Congress operates can explain why the “Cruz Shutdown” theory is not accurate. During the shutdown, the voting reality in Congress left Cruz and his Republicans outnumbered in the Senate, and Nancy Pelosi and her Democrats outnumbered in the House, with no real voting power in the battle. They were each reduced to the role of glorified cheerleader. The real cause of the shutdown was the familiar battle between the Democrat majority in the Senate, led by Harry Reid (and backed indirectly by President Barack Obama’s veto power), and the Republican majority in the House, led by Speaker John Boehner. Those are the only two possible groups for assigning shutdown blame. Cruz was not in either group.
Still, some Cruz-conspiracists argue that he met regularly with the House Republicans, convincing them that he could muster enough votes in the Senate. Do they really believe that Boehner and the Republican House members delegated their political strategy, as well as their House votes, to a freshmen Senator? If a sideline cheerleader convinced a football coach to go for it on fourth down, wouldn’t you still blame the football coach if the play he sent in failed? Would you blame the Phillie Phanatic mascot for Joe Carter’s 1993 World Series-ending-walk-off home-run against the Phillies, or one of my eight followers on Twitter for the content of this article? Actually you might, if someone convinced you that they really were to blame, and you failed to notice or remember the truth.
And that is why Reid and Boehner get a free pass as history is rewritten, especially when Cruz and Pelosi were nothing but cheerleaders. The people do not even notice that the elite D.C. ruling class, consisting of members from both parties, retains power by furthering that misconception. If the insiders can blame the problems in D.C. on the guy that is trying hardest to change D.C., then they can stay in power and luxury for a few more years. And if that is the real agenda, it does not matter that the famous 21-hour “filibuster” by Cruz ended five days before the shutdown started. It does not matter that the speech was not even a filibuster, but merely part of the usual debate, with Reid allowing Cruz to speak on the floor for a pre-determined time limit that gave Cruz no hope or power to block any Senate action. Nobody will remember those details because all that matters is perception, not truth.
But in the long run, I believe this strategy will backfire on the D.C. ruling class because the voters are already showing signs that they will recognize and reward the willingness of Cruz and others like him to fight the tough battle against the status quo. Americans love a fighter, not a conformist. And they love a leader, not a follower. Keep fighting and leading Senator Cruz, the more they blame you, the more we appreciate you.
Dave Beltrami is a lawyer and political analyst living in Atlanta, Georgia. He received his Juris Doctor and Master of Laws (Taxation) degrees from the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.