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Ted Cruz and the End of Deference

Since the government shutdown, much of the analytical focus has come to rest on the leadership -- or lack thereof -- of Representative John Boehner. After reading a great deal about the grandstanding histrionics of Ted Cruz, I think there's a bigger problem: the end, for all practical purposes, of deference.

Deference has never been an American virtue.

In fact, something like the opposite might be true. In his book on American exceptionalism, Seymour Martin Lipset listed a resistance to defer to authority as one principle that characterizes the ideology of “Americanism,” next to the pursuit of liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and a laissez-faire attitude. So self-assertion may be part of our cultural DNA. 

Every historical culture had its particular sanctions against blatant self-promotion. For the ancient Greeks, it was the concept of hubris: strive too hard or too far in the pursuit of excellence in that world, and you were likely to tempt the anger of a god or goddess. The early Christians of course emphasized radical humility, self-effacement even to the point of dying for one’s friends. Classical conservative thought prior to the Thatcher/Reagan realignment acknowledged the gradations of social life and prioritized a strong sense of noblesse oblige; within that framework, the rich and powerful knew that they had duties to society, and that sustaining and preserving the fragile order was to a great extent their responsibility.

One can observe, as Frank Bruni does, that Cruz “has eschewed the slow route to Senate prominence, which would have involved building alliances, for the fast track, which means playing the firebrand, playing to the cheap seats and playing to a news cycle that thrills to conflict." And yet Cruz is a man of the moment. He’s not such an outlier. His actions and words remind us that we are counseled everywhere and at every turn in popular culture to be aggressive, that only winners matter, and that every compromise is a loss. His “fast track” acknowledges no principled deference to the more moderate “squishes” in his own party. He’s emblematic, or perhaps symptomatic, of a party whose vision of the old imagery of a delicate social fabric has completely disappeared. (Or rather, that vision continues to be meaningful only in the limited, weaponized form of attacks on the poor and their alleged abuses of the system of so-called entitlements). Ted Cruz combines in an especially virulent way blatant self-promotion and an apocalyptic ideology. But he's indicative of a larger cultural shift in which older gestures of deference have lost their meaning. 

About the Author

Robert Geroux is a political theorist.



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Thanks for an interesting and thoughtful post.  In addition to the loss of deference, I think Colbert King's column in today's Washington Post hits on another key aspect of what we see in today's Republican party:  the persistence of a neo-Confederate impulse in American society. 

To understand Ted Cruz, one must bear in mind two components of his background:

  • He is the son of a disillusioned supporter of Fidel Castro
  • He is a Southern Baptist

One cannot fault him for having been a son of great advantage who is reflexively opposed to all ideas of the Left because he felt robbed of his birthright.Instead, his story is one of uplift from disadvantage through belief in America, as he learned from his father.

As for deference, it is an idea that, in the realm of politics or general society, no Sothern Baptist would honor.These are the classic Dissenters, owing allegiance to no Prince but Jesus, and committed to inerrant Scriptural faith.

In both regards he is not simply an old-fashioned Conservative, but an active opponent of Modernity.One may not care for, much less share, such attitudes and ideas, but it is no use supposing him to be something that he is not.


Mark L.

As the former mayor of SF, Willie Brown, said in his column in the SF Chronicle today, Cruz is the star of Teahadism.

Interesting analysis.  With Mark L. may I add some other contexts.  Would suggest that Cruz actually follows in the footsteps of other ideologues in US & Texas History e.g. Huey Long; Joseph McCarthy, Charles Coughlin, B. Goldwater.

Think that these types emerge in cycles.  For some context:

In 1963 Dallas; not unlike some counties in Texas today, you had these interesing characters (we tend to forget as time passes)

- Rev. Criswell, 1st Baptist Church of Dallas, confirmed racist and yet ask any Dallas Baptist today and you would think that Criswell was a saint

- John Birch Society was alive and well

- Ted Dealey, publisher of the Dallas Morning News, told JFK that the US needed a real man on horseback and JFK was merely riding Caroline's tricycle

- HL Hunt, founder of Hunt Oil Corporation, a bigamist whose money supported anti-catholicism and anti-integration efforts.

- Finally, Major General Edwin Walker - fired by JFK but then led a resurgent group that thought aliens ran the liberal apparatus in the US and ran for Texas governor (he came in 6th out of six).  BTW, he later was arrested for public lewdness twice (he was gay and cruised).

Again, think we just forget about our history - time does have a way of covering up the most egregious examples of ridiculousness.

I don't know what needs your Texas examples met, but Huey Long, as ruthless a dictator as he was, met some very basic ones -- he fed children lunch in school, paid for all their text books, provided free hospital care for the poor, and built good roads in isolated parts of the state.  

We should be asking:  what real needs is Cruz (and the Tea Partiers generally) claiming to meet?

IMHO, Ann asked a great question.  However, I do believe we need to consider an individual whose effective reach was larger than the statewide reach of Huey Long, perhaps seeing Cruz as the result of the consumation of the "marriage" of Richard Nixon and Joe McCarthy.  The other challenge in answering the well considered question is whether the Tea Party actually stands "for" anything constructive?

@MightBe - Ed Kilgore, a Georgia native and longtime Democratic party operative who now blogs for the Washington Monthly, grew up with the folks who became tea partiers and warns that they're "extremists, not nihilists":’s GOP is in full-fledged revolt against much of the bipartisan policy legacy of the second half of the twentieth century and the small additions made to it since. They have a perennially rich menu of things they want once they have the leverage to secure them, whether it’s by electoral victories or horse-trading or hostage-taking. It’s a mistake to assume that they won’t get a ransom note together that they will stand by.

Robert Geroux, 

Not one blogger agreed with you even if they criticized Cruz. Your assertion that Cruz represents the American way is so far fetched. Cruz is really an extension of Russ limbaugh. Most Americans would cringe to be in that company. One large influence we might pay attention to is the amount of money the Koch brothers are spending on the Tea Party. If you take that money away I wonder how fast it would dissolve. There is a lot of money in Tea Party country.


Ted Cruz certainly has generated a lot of commentary.  Here are his own words.




Luke - I certainly have no reason to doubt the opinion expressed by Kilgore.  Thanks for the reminder.  As you have noticed I struggle to express myself well.

My hope, like those I believe of many others, is we could find common ground with the Tea Party and move forward.  However, I am convinced beyond debate those driving the Tea Party, e.g., Jim Demint, Roger Ailes, Rush Limbaugh, Ted Cruz, etc., are so irrevocably tied to their corporate patrons and have so completely sold our government to those patrons they have neither the feel, need or head for the compromise at the core of politics.  As I understand it Huey Long moved state government out into the public square and made it useful.  When he rose to power he was not set on selling it to the highest bidder.  How altruistic were his motives and goals?  That's likely another matter.

Ted Cruz is one man. He is part of a minority caucus within a minority party in one branch of government. He, postionally, does not exercise, nor does he have any institutional power whatsoever.

Now John Boehner has by way of position and institution real power. So does Harry Reid and so does President Obama. They, really, are the only ones who can exercise power to resolve this issue.

Any power Cruz may have lies in his message. If that message resonates with (or reflects) broader segments of the public, it will become institutionalized. It has within the house.


Who is paying for the tea party? Why do House Republicans who know (and whisper to friendly reporters) that the sideshow is bad for the party fear being "primaried" by a tea party candidate more than they fear shutdown and default? Who will pay for the primarying? Hint: It won't be Ted Cruz. Nor Louie Gohmert. As Deep Throat said, follow the money.

Ann - my insertion of Huey P. Long was in terms of his running for president (which was his intention before his assassination).  He may have helped the disadvantaged in Louisiana as a political tool and weapon but it was not because of his ingrained economic policies, desire to assist the poor, etc.  Most experts on Huey Long feel that, if he had run for president, that the US would have been subjected to a version of what Germany saw with the rise of the Nazi Party (it also appealed to the disadvantaged).

There are folks in Texas who feel that Cruz does provide them with the things they need.  But, that type of local, provincial, and partisan leadership is what Mr. Geroux is talking about, IMO.  Taken to an extreme (such as Cruz), then it becomes a backroom knife fight.

Deference - wonder if this isn't a term or concept that implies actual, broad political leadership that seeks the universal common good vs. local, provincial politics (in Texas, good ole boyism)

Deference comes in different flavors, some of which we can support and others which we ought not support.   The phony, ”My good friend, the gentleman form Tennessee” rhetorical trope  is obviously phony on its face, but is based on a pseudo-deference to the so-called traditions of the Senate or House.  This should be scorned.   But in a representative democracy, a Republic, one may defer to the Constitution, or to the People, or to one’s deep beliefs.  These are styles and foci of deference that we may honor.

The problem raised by Cruz and his presentations is whether we are to accept his terms of reference.  It’s hard to imagine a less likely thing, but were he to read these comments, would he not say exactly that he defers to the Constitution and to the people, when he calls for the destruction of ACA?   We (or at least I) disbelieve him when he says this, seeing him as a naked opportunist and a radical.   But that’s a tricky slope, surely, to deny a person’s beliefs as being frankly stated by himself.  As active participants in our political life, we are called upon to make judgments all the time.   As Christian’s we are implored to judge not. 

Mark L.

" ...  perhaps seeing Cruz as the result of the consumation of the "marriage" of Richard Nixon and Joe McCarthy."

That's not quite what those of us supporting same-gender marriage had in mind!

Cruz as a So. Baptist will be saddled with no evolution, , no global warming, no dinosours, and Canadian citizenship and Harvard. . He'll be lucky to find a good campaign director even with Koch Bro. money.

Bill deH. --

I don't doubt that Cruz has a Texas following.  But the Tea Parties are in other parts of the country.  My question was *why* does he appeal to so many people?  How are those Tea Partiers like the Texan ones?  What sort of needs to they have that are similar to the Texans?  

I've read that at least one study shows that  the Tea Partiers typically are not poor.  I suspect that they're mostly self-made people who resent bitterly the government's taking any of their hard-earned money away.  I suspect they're mostly people who have come from poor, very uneducated backgrounds, though I don't know if any studies have been done on their backgroupds. This is somewhat different from old-fashioned populism, such aa Long presented himself -- all that "Every Man A King" stuff.  And I think it should be looked into.

I happened to be looking through Robert Putnam's "Bowling Alone" earlier today.  While the book is not new, a lot of the research and conclusions still seem pretty pertinent.  The basic trend that he documents at exhaustive length is receding civic engagement.  One aspect is that each successive generation is less civically engaged than the preceding one - thus Boomers, contrary to their '60's image of social activism, are less engaged than their parents, and Generation X is even less engaged than the Boomers.  (The book was written before the emergence of Millenials into adulthood).  

My thought is that, as time marches on, our nation has an ever-diminishing sense of civic solidarity, and that this in turn allows demagogues like Cruz to thrive in a way that wouldn't have been possible a generation or two ago.  We may be a divided country, but we have our government in common.  One wonders what binds us these days.

Senator Cruz following in the footsteps of Senator Obama

Ann - good question.  Let me respond with one example - the family farmer in West Texas.   Interestingly, his parents and grandparents would have been lifelong Democrats.  that all changed in the 1990s.  You touch on some consistent patterns - they see themselves as self-reliant; independent.  Flowing from that is a basic impulse that suspects government - whether state, county, federal.  They see themselves as building their own communities and thus buy into the mantra that the US is filled with welfare queens, etc.

Now, if you were to fact check this group:

- some have college educations and the current generation in their 20s/30s is changing this 

- they live in insular and provincial communities  (many of these folks have not traveled much; do not read much; watch FOX news, etc. They have a deep dislike for large urban cities; their religious affiliations are very conservative.  Thus, they take positions that see immigration as bad; they see the federal financial issues the same way the see their own farm budgets (despite the fact that they are nothing alike); they are not comfortable with diversity - racial, religious, ethnic, cultural.

- welfare....actually, most of these farmers do receive federal assistance in many forms (but they, of course, don't see it as welfare.....most have received large annual payments vie the Farm Bill but they see that as their right and, of course, in no way is this welfare.  Their school systems are local, they heavily impact/decide how education happens; and the state may support that local school significantly (yet, they think we are wasting state education dollars when the same system is used to support poor neighborhood schools in the cities); they are anti-Obamacare (mainly because they have had to buy their own insurance for years so why can't others?); etc.

There is a foundational pattern of fear, anxiety marked by a need to protect themselves in small like communities that provide security, acceptance, and things just stay the same.

It is this pattern that Tea Party folks share even if their immediate county/state needs are different.

Senator Cruz following in the footsteps of Senator Obama

There is more than a bit of truth in that.

Hmm, "President Cruz".  It's got a mellifluous sound - one rolls it about the tongue like a  smooth and sassy Cuban Merlot.  The nation's first Hispanic president, too.  (Well, except for Bill Clinton, of course.)  What a milestone that will be - the sort of cultural achievement that can really draw our country together.  Princeton, Harvard Law, professor of constitutional law - stop me if you've heard this sort of thing before.   Granted, when he could have been out organizing communities, he was slacking his way through significant federal and state government appointments and elective offices (including clerking for Chief Justice Rehnquist), so he's got some gaps to account for on his resume.  


Jim Pauwels; Yes, but don't forget his party's primaries. Is Cruz up to battling his way through Herman Cain, Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum (the nominal front runner under the principle of last time's loser is this time's winner, cf Mitt Romney) and whoever else the talking class awards a chance to?

Tom - exactly.  It could turn out to be Rand Paul, Chris Christie and Rick Santorum once again.  A Libertarian, an Establishment guy and a Religious Rightie.  Cruz gets the Tea Party slot.  Guess we better throw a Neocon in there, too, for maximum lack of unity.

Cruz graduated cum laude from Princeton, and magna cum laude from Harvard law school (thus saith Wikipedia). What happened to all that dangerously leftist Ivy League education?

PS Could Cruz really run for president? He was born in Calgary after all, and somewhere in the archives of Alberta there must be his birth certificate.

What is lost in all this is the money being made in health care by the device makers whose equipment has also failed without them being accountable for it. That the Republicans want to eliminate the taxes on medical devices is telling. So many abusers in medical care opposed Medicare until they saw what a bonanza it was to the medical business. Such hypocrisy going on. If the governement should not spend why are those excessive business lobbies being paid so much to lobby the government for its contracts?

PS Could Cruz really run for president? He was born in Calgary after all, and somewhere in the archives of Alberta there must be his birth certificate.

I saw that, too, and was wondering the same thing.  FWIW, the Wikipedia article on that particular clause of the US Constitution notes:

The Constitution does not define the phrase natural-born citizen, and various opinions have been offered over time regarding its precise meaning. A 2011Congressional Research Service report stated that

"The weight of legal and historical authority indicates that the term "natural born" citizen would mean a person who is entitled to U.S. citizenship "by birth" or "at birth", either by being born "in" the United States and under its jurisdiction, even those born to alien parents; by being born abroad to U.S. citizen-parents; or by being born in other situations meeting legal requirements for U.S. citizenship "at birth". Such term, however, would not include a person who was not a U.S. citizen by birth or at birth, and who was thus born an "alien" required to go through the legal process of "naturalization" to become a U.S. citizen."

Which category Cruz's situation would be, is not entirely clear to me.  Cruz's mom apparently is (or was; not sure if she is still alive) a US citizen, from Delaware.  His dad is a Cuban immigrant who came to the US in 1957 to go to school, but was running a business in Alberta at the time of Cruz's birth.  He became a US citizen in 2005, and so was not a citizen at the time of Cruz's birth.


Cruz gets the Republican Privilege. It's like the Pauline Privilege except Republicans get to deny it to Democrats born in Hawaii. Ted Cruz, of Princeton and Harvard, has said he doesn't know if he has dual citizenship but he will give up his Canadian citizenship if he has it. Donald Trump has not let his decision on the subject be known.

Deference must be to principles, not authorities.  The Tea Party-Cruz lack of respect for democracy and the Constitutional guarantees of equality is appalling.  These principles are in fact their targets.  Nothing less than the wholesale destruction of our government will satisfy.  It is not a thoughtless byproduct of their actions - it is the GOAL.


Because of his father's naturalized status, his mother's lack of residency requirments in Canada, he cannot renounce his Canadian citizenship as easily as he pretends - he has to prove first he IS Canadian then renounce it.  His U.S. citizenship is also challenged by the non-residency of his American mother for several years at the time of his birth.  It's too complicated to understand easily, but he may not be so clearly "American" after all.

Donald Trump will make the final decision on that.

Perhaps Sen. Cruz should hang on to his Canadian citizenship; it just might be his best bargain for health care. Does Canada cover health expenses racked up abroad, e.g. in the US? Does it cover health expenses for those who oppose national health care, even under a flag of convenience?

Bill deH --

Thanks for the profile of the Tea Partiers.  Very, very interesting.  I wonder what sort of appeal could be made to such closed minds to change them.  I fear only hard experience might do the job.


P. S.  Your point about those grants to the farmers as being a kind of welfare is well taken.  They sound like a close-knit tribe.

Ann and Bill - this NY Time article gives a profile of Tea Party backers, based on survey data.  Even though it is from 2010, I think most of the characteristics described here still ring true.  


Thanks, Jim P.  Yes, interesting.  I wonder how many Tea Partiers have changed their minds with this new, scary crisis.

But they don't seem afraid.  They're supposed to have some education.  I wonder how many had economics. 


My experience of many self-made people (farmers, for example .. I’m from rural Wisconsin) is that they tend to forget the advantages they have in accelerated equipment depreciation, certain crop subsidies, being paid to NOT grow certain crops, the REA, and other financial incentives … all of which were lobbied for them by vested interested such as theirs.

Similar comparisons can be made for other small and medium-sized businesses.  (Just ask Walmart what it extracts from communities seemingly desperate for their presence.  If anyone is lurking here from Dodgeville, WI, you’ll know what I mean)

Self-made?  Self-reliant? Up by their bootstraps? It all depends on how you define those terms.

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