Senate Democrats have taken to the New York Times to express their displeasure with their uppity new colleague Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican whose robust examination of Chuck Hagel’s record they find insufficiently decorous. Warning: The “M-word” is used.
“In this country we had a terrible experience with innuendo and inference when Joe McCarthy hung out in the United States Senate, and I just think we have to be more careful,” Senator Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) told the Times. Barbara Boxer echoed the sentiment. “It was really reminiscent of a different time and place, when you said, ‘I have here in my pocket a speech you made on such and such a date,’ and, of course, nothing was in the pocket. . . . It was reminiscent of some bad times.”
The senators were more circumscribed in their analysis than the Democrats’ living id, Chris Matthews, who put it more directly: “I watched him in those hearings and I saw Joe McCarthy.”
Cruz seems to have drawn the Tailgunner Joe comparisons largely for two statements selectively plucked from what was a sustained and substantive examination before the Senate Armed Services Committee of Hagel’s dubious record in advance of the vote on his nomination. Let’s take them one at a time.
It was “truly extraordinary,” Cruz remarked, that the government of Iran “formally and publicly prais[ed] the nomination of a defense secretary.” He also called it “unprecedented” that a nation like Iran was “publicly celebrating” the prospect of a Hagel-run Pentagon. Cruz may have been referring to the Iranian state-run press, who ran a “news” piece entitled “Obama expected to nominate anti-Israel Hagel as secretary of defense.” Or he may have been referring to a statement made by a spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, who, when asked a question about Hagel’s views on Israel and U.S. sanctions in the context of his confirmation prospects, opaquely replied, “We hope there will be practical changes in American foreign policy and that Washington becomes respectful of the rights of nations.”
Depending on how much one is inclined to read into propagandist rags and the sanitized understatement of diplomatic press flacks, such responses may or may not rise to the level of “celebration.” The Gray Lady herself saw fit to run a Reuters piece on the subject under the headline “Foreign Ministry Voices Optimism in Hagel Nomination in U.S.” And it is certainly reasonable to think that the Iranian regime is quite pleased with the nomination of Hagel, who relative to his predecessors — and the American foreign-policy mainstream — has a far more favorable and permissive disposition toward Tehran and a far more neutral and circumspect disposition toward Jerusalem.
Nor does one have to take Tehran’s word for it. Indeed, Cruz spent most of his allotted time at Hagel’s confirmation hearing establishing this fact by rehearsing for Hagel his own past statements and insinuations to this effect, all on the record, from the floor of the United States Senate to the broadcasts of Al Jazeera. Cruz was not here working on innuendo or guilt by association. He was building a case, in context, and he gave the accused every opportunity to defend himself.
On to the second statement. Hagel was asked by a group of six senators, including Cruz, to disclose all compensation he has received in excess of $5,000 over the last five years, on the grounds that payments from foreign groups or ideological groups were relevant to Hagel’s nomination. Hagel refused. He was then asked in a letter by a group of 25 senators for similar information. Hagel replied that he was not legally obligated to turn over that information and thus would not do so. Cruz pointed out that while only two years of such disclosures were required by Senate rules, there was precedent for nominees’ being asked for, and volunteering, more extensive disclosures. Most recently, then-senator Hillary Clinton voluntarily disclosed every foreign donation to the Clinton Foundation as part of her nomination process for secretary of state.
Lamenting that Hagel’s unwillingness to offer a similar level of cooperation left the Senate in the dark about the sources of Hagel’s compensation, Cruz offered a stylized hypothetical. “He could not even say that the $200,000 he received [for speeches and appearances] did not come directly from a foreign government,” Cruz said. “It is at a minimum relevant to know if that $200,000 deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came directly from North Korea.”
Cruz’s critics paint this as part of the “inference and innuendo,” the “guilt by association” that are the hallmarks of their reductive conception of McCarthyism. But of course it is no such thing. It is ridiculous to think that Cruz was implying any connection between Hagel and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea — or much of anything at all. Cruz’s lament is about what we don’t know as a result of Hagel’s intransigence — namely, whether he’s been by paid by forces antithetic to American interests — not about what we do know. Cruz might have just as representatively said, “It is at a minimum relevant to know if that $200,000 deposited in his bank account came directly from the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants or the Romulan Star Empire.”
On these two thin reeds the Democrats have hung their case for Cruz’s “McCarthyism,” and in doing so sought to not-so-subtly discredit the entire brief against Chuck Hagel. The truth is that Senator Cruz has offended certain of his colleagues’ cherished notions of Senate propriety, and further complicated the confirmation of a man whose checkered record was going to make it an uphill climb in any event.
Senator Cruz has ably and aggressively executed his duty as a United States senator to advise on and consent to a nominee to the momentous post of civilian head of the United States military. He has not, as Senator McCarthy was reputed to have done, slandered an honorable man by cavalierly associating him with an odious and politically radioactive “ism.” But we can think of some Senate Democrats and cable-TV hosts who have.