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Country Music, Tea Party 'Populism,' and Ted Cruz

A Commentary By Joe Conason

Monday, March 30, 2015

Nobody who knows Ted Cruz -- the Texas freshman Senator who became the first official contestant for the Republican Party's presidential nomination this week -- doubts that he is very, very smart. That includes Cruz himself, whose emphatic confidence in his own superior intelligence has not always endeared him to colleagues and acquaintances (whose opinions of his personality are often profanely negative).   

Yet while Cruz cleverly seeks to highlight the tea party persona that appeals to many Republican primary voters, he exposes the fraudulence of his ultra-right brand of "populism."  

Cruz announced his candidacy at Liberty University, a religious-right institution founded by the late Jerry Falwell. No doubt he chose the misnamed Liberty to underscore his commitment to the political attitudes -- "anti-elitist" and often opposed to scientific and intellectual inquiry -- that the late reverend represented. To Falwell, secular education and the Enlightenment tradition of free thought always seemed suspiciously irreligious; at Liberty, creationism is a required course, the Young Democrats are outlawed, and both students and faculty are rigorously censored.   

What could someone like Ted Cruz, a vocal advocate of First Amendment rights, honestly think about a place like Liberty? Falwell's school languishes far below the standards of educational achievement -- including an undergraduate degree from Princeton and a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School -- that have always filled Cruz with pride. Sometimes with excessive pride, like when he reportedly told Harvard Law School classmates that he intended to form a study group including only those who had attended Harvard, Yale or Princeton as undergrads.   

Josh Marshall, a journalist who attended college with Cruz, noted in Talking Points Memo that this bit of academic snobbery marked the future senator as a "pompous a--hole" at Harvard Law, "an amazing accomplishment since the competition there for that description is intense [his emphasis]."   

In a further attempt to portray himself as a right-wing populist, Cruz now claims to be a country music fan -- having changed preferences after 9/11, when he abandoned "classic rock" for country, which he suggested is more patriotic: 

"My music tastes changed on 9/11. I actually intellectually find this very curious, but on 9/11, I didn't like how rock music responded. And country music -- collectively -- the way they responded, it resonated with me. And I have to say just at a gut level, I had an emotional reaction that says, 'These are my people.' And ever since 2001, I listen to country music," he told CBS News -- without naming a single country artist or band.   

Now every presidential candidate carefully cultivates a public personality by promoting and even adopting tastes that might resonate with desired constituencies. But there are few politicians whose image conflicts so sharply with his actual personality and real base of support.  

Analyzing the Texan's financial base as he entered the presidential arena, Bloomberg News revealed "surprising weakness when it comes to small donors." Only 16 percent of Cruz donors gave less than $200, compared with 43 percent of the donors to his fellow tea party favorite Rand Paul. The funding that propelled him into the Senate came from groups like the billionaire-backed Club for Growth and the Washington-based tea party organizations underwritten by the Koch brothers with their oil billions. Having attended the same elite schools, the people writing those big checks must feel quite comfortable with Cruz.   

Need anyone be reminded of the policies favored by such interests? They oppose raising the minimum wage, or even the existence of a minimum wage. They would gut Medicare, Social Security and unemployment benefits, along with every other government program that supports the middle class. They would reduce their own taxes even more, while raising taxes on working families -- all retrogressive ideas that even the average Republican rejects.   

If that's populism, Ted Cruz is truly a man of the people.   

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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