Ted Cruz, on a roll

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) kicked off his week by winning the Republican Leadership Conference straw poll for President in New Orleans, pulling 30 percent in a tight race against Dr. Ben Carson’s 29 percent, with Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) coming in surprisingly distant third with 10 percent.  (Cruz attended the conference, while Carson and Paul did not.)

It’s a very early straw poll at a conference that leaned toward the conservative wing of the Republican Party, sure, but it’s still a nice win, at a moment when Dr. Carson appears to have reached Peak Buzz.  Also significant was the enthusiastic response to Cruz’ speech, which CNN notes was “interrupted several times by cheers and standing ovations.”

Cruz begins with many good things to say about Senator Paul and his drone-strike filibuster.  We should be in for an enlightening debate between friendly rivals as they race for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.  (Or they’ll eviscerate each other with rusty spoons, in the traditional Washington manner.  But if there have ever been a pair of candidates poised to compete on a higher plane, without sacrificing the points of agreement they share with each other and many of their supporters, it’s Cruz and Paul.)

It’s remarkable to watch Cruz work a crowd – zipping around the stage, rattling off statistics and vote totals from memory, instantly acknowledging a shout from an audience member, projecting both good cheer and passionate commitment in equal measure.  I expect all of that will make him a formidable presence on the debate stage, especially if voters exhausted from Obama fatigue are looking for a candidate who seems to know what he’s talking about.

Cruz put in a solid appearance on ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopolous on Sunday, and ended up being way ahead of the curve on the Bergdahl / Taliban swap scandal.  He was, I believe, one of the first political leaders to mention not only the lives of American soldiers lost in the search for Sgt. Bergdahl – who was, it seems increasingly clear, a deserter – but also the casualties incurred capturing the five Taliban bigwigs President Obama traded away.

Although the rapidly-developing Bergdahl scandal will give Republicans plenty to talk about this week, Cruz had already set an important goal: sticking up for the First Amendment, which has become disturbingly… negotiable in the eyes of Democrats.  He published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal blasting the latest effort by the Party of Big Government to control political discourse, beginning with a quick rundown of their previous efforts:

We have seen President Obama publicly rebuke the Supreme Court for protecting free speech in Citizens United v. FEC; the Obama IRS inquire of citizens what books they are reading and what is the content of their prayers; the Federal Communications Commission proposing to put government monitors in newsrooms; and Sen. Harry Reidregularly slandering private citizens on the Senate floor for their political speech.

But just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it does. Senate Democrats have promised a vote this year on a constitutional amendment to expressly repeal the free-speech protections of the First Amendment.

You read that correctly. Forty-one Democrats have signed on to co-sponsor New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall’s proposed amendment to give Congress plenary power to regulate political speech. The text of the amendment says that Congress could regulate “the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents with respect to federal elections.” The amendment places no limitations whatsoever on Congress’s new power.

Two canards are put forth to justify this broad authority. First, “money is not speech.” And second, “corporations have no free speech rights.”

Neither contention bears even minimal scrutiny. Speech is more than just standing on a soap box yelling on a street corner. For centuries the Supreme Court has rightly concluded that free speech includes writing and distributing pamphlets, putting up billboards, displaying yard signs, launching a website, and running radio and television ads. Every one of those activities requires money. Distributing the Federalist Papers or Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” required money. If you can prohibit spending money, you can prohibit virtually any form of effective speech.

Cruz offered a peek at what the Udall Constitutional amendment would authorize:

Congress could prohibit the National Rifle Association from distributing voter guides letting citizens know politicians’ records on the Second Amendment.

Congress could prohibit the Sierra Club from running political ads criticizing politicians for their environmental policies.

Congress could penalize pro-life (or pro-choice) groups for spending money to urge their views of abortion.

Congress could prohibit labor unions from organizing workers (an in-kind expenditure) to go door to door urging voters to turn out.

Congress could criminalize pastors making efforts to get their parishioners to vote.

Congress could punish bloggers expending any resources to criticize the president.

Congress could ban books, movies (watch out Michael Moore ) and radio programs???anything not deemed “the press”???that might influence upcoming elections.

One might argue, “surely bloggers would be protected.” But Senate Democrats expressly excluded bloggers from protection under their proposed media-shield law, because bloggers are not “covered journalists.”

One might argue, “surely movies would be exempt.” But the Citizens United case???expressly maligned by President Obama during his 2010 State of the Union address???concerned the federal government trying to fine a filmmaker for distributing a movie criticizing Hillary Clinton.

One might argue, “surely books would be exempt.” But the Obama administration, in theCitizens United oral argument, explicitly argued that the federal government could ban books that contained political speech.

On Tuesday, Cruz addressed the Senate Judiciary Committee on the importance of free speech.  “As immune as we are to abuse of power from government, citizens are still astonished that members of Congress would support repealing the First Amendment,” he declared.

Cruz also had a few things to say about Monday’s announcement of new EPA regulations on “greenhouse gases,” an act of environmental extremism poised to rob America of billions of dollars, and millions of jobs, in the name of junk science:

The new EPA rules announced by the Obama Administration will cripple the coal industry and deprive Americans from jobs, whether they are employed by coal mines or related power plants, or employed in energy dependent business such as manufacturing or technology businesses.  These rules will not only drive up electric bills, but also threaten the reliability of the nation’s electric grid and make it harder for American manufactures to compete in the world market.

Once again, President Obama is more concerned with the desires of billionaire campaign contributors and placating extremist special interests than helping American workers and families escape the failed Obama economy. The legislation I introduced earlier this year, the American Energy Renaissance Act would specifically halt these job-killing regulations and encourage the creation of good-paying energy jobs.

Among other measures, the American Energy Renaissance Act would “exclude greenhouse gases from regulation by the EPA and other federal agencies,” because “the authority to regulate such gases should only occur with explicit authority from Congress.”  There are defenses against Obama’s War on Coal, too, plus protection from federal meddling in the fracking industry, and instructions to get the Keystone XL pipeline under way.

The tired old dodge trotted out by many Big Government addicts is that critics don’t have any positive ideas to run on.  Ted Cruz has plenty of answers to that charge, and he could probably recite his proposals from memory while crowd-surfing.  That’s good medicine for voters weary of a long sojourn in Obama’s can’t-do America, a weak and frightened nation carried around in a papoose by its titan government.