There’s a big push on the media Left to paint Senator Ted Cruz of Texas as some sort of loose cannon – “the second coming of Joe McCarthy,” as Dan McLaughlin of RedState puts it. McLaughlin relates a snippet from a Cruz speech in 2010 that has given Jane Mayer of the New Yorker a case of the Red Scare vapors:
He then went on to assert that Obama, who attended Harvard Law School four years ahead of him, “would have made a perfect president of Harvard Law School.” The reason, said Cruz, was that, “There were fewer declared Republicans in the faculty when we were there than Communists! There was one Republican. But there were twelve who would say they were Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government.”
(Emphasis mine.) As McLaughlin goes on to document at length, this was not an outburst of crazy Red-baiting hysteria on Cruz’ part – it’s literally true. And the only real case being made against Cruz is that he might have under-counted the Republicans on the faculty, because a Mayer source claimed there were some “in the closet” Republicans that Cruz didn’t know about.
This is accompanied by some hair-splitting that it’s not fair to count academics as “communists” just because they approvingly cite Karl Marx as a key influence… at least, not if they say they didn’t actively support the overthrow of the U.S. government by communist insurgents. That’s setting the bar for communist ideological association pretty darn high.
Cruz made quite clear who he was talking about and why, and any fair-minded observer can draw their own conclusions – unlike, say, when the Senate Majority Leader last summer claimed an unnamed, anonymous source who told him Mitt Romney hadn’t paid his taxes. Cruz didn’t stretch to connect people via tenuous associations, like those who tried to paint Sarah Palin as a secessionist for a marginal political party her husband briefly joined or Rick Perry as a racist for something written on a rock by a person who sold land to his father. He called a bunch of Marxist professors Marxists, and while he may have thrown in a rather excessive dramatic flourish, his speech drew the obvious conclusion to where Marxism necessarily leads. If Mayer had done her homework, she would have recognized what pitiful support this provides for the talking points she was laboring to shore up.
But for a freshman Senator to draw the kind of fear that generates this type of assault from the New Yorker, he must be doing something right.
And the academics Cruz criticized are still doing the same old things wrong. To the extent that this “Marxists aren’t really Communists” tap-dance is meant in earnest, it’s the same thing we’ve been getting from the far Left for decades. They insist Marxism is fundamentally sound, but it was hijacked and implemented by the wrong people. The right generation of geniuses can make collectivism work at last!
One other relevant bit of recent Marxist confusion McLaughlin might have cited was then-Representative Allen West making some comments about the similarities between the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Communist Party. The Left believes such intemperate remarks sealed West’s doom, and would like to nudge more firebrand Republicans over the same cliff.
It’s unfortunate that the Twentieth Century’s great ideological horrors, fascism and communism, have accumulated so much emotional baggage, because it makes them difficult to discuss rationally. In the case of communism, you’ve got anti-McCarthy hysteria, which frequently assumes dimensions comparable to what the average leftist thinks Joe McCarthy was guilty of. We don’t carefully study how collectivist nightmares get started, and steer our course wide clear of those dark waters. Instead, we patrol against anyone who wants to start an uncomfortable conversation about how far off-course we might be getting, and whether people who still owe intellectual fealty to the old horrors still retain undue influence on American society. There is more concern about the labels used to describe “communists” and “Marxists” than the content of their belief systems, and the extent of their influence. But that’s what happens when the visceral reaction to an ideology makes clinical analysis difficult.