Cruz's Castro Complex
October 17, 2013
Oct 17, 2013
4 Min read time
Cubans who happened to catch Ted Cruz’s fantasy filibuster last month (not that they had any way to do so, mind you) would have instantly recognized the long-winded, histrionic junior senator from Texas as one of their own. After five decades marinating in Fidel Castro’s day-long polemical speeches, televised in total and reprinted verbatim by fawning state-run media, Cubans accept that political leaders traffic in prolix demagoguery and that only loyal sycophants take their rambling ranting seriously.
So describe Ted Cruz to a Cuban, and you might provoke a sly smile of familiarity. You see, Cruz suffers from a peculiarly Cuban-American disorder: the Castro Complex. It is the disorder in which a professed hatred of Castro belies a perversely flattering fixation on Castro’s political genius, and in Cruz’s case, a notable imitation of Castro’s flamboyant governance gimmicks.
Of course, the official version of Cruz’s oft-repeated biography presents him as the anti-Castro: born of a Cuban father who fled the Cuban Revolution, disgusted by Fidel Castro’s communism, Cruz grew up in a staunchly conservative, prayer-filled Texas home. Except that, it turns out, before Cruz’s father was against Castro, he was for him (kind of like the way before Republicans were against a private, individual health insurance mandate, they were for it). Never mind the 180-degree shift on the Cuban Revolution; it does not trouble the Cruz family.
In fact, that course correction gave them X-ray vision to see the shadow of Castro all over President Obama’s past and present. (There were twelve communists on Harvard’s law faculty during Obama’s student years there. Who knew?) Pity Chuck Hegel, who, thanks to joining Obama’s cabinet, had to suffer Cruz’s McCarthy-ist inquisition, in which Cruz all but accused the former Senator of Communist Party membership.
But Cruz doth protest too much. In reality, Ted Cruz is less a self-proclaimed anti-Castro than he is a loud, expensive copy of the original he has styled himself against.
Consider this: if you strip away any reference to Castro, Cuba, or communism from the content of the Cruz padre and hijo speeches and public statements, you are left with rhetoric that still resonates with Castro, Cuba, and communism. Ignore where they position themselves politically (somewhere in Boston Harbor, circa 1773) and pay attention to how they deliver their message: by using specious claims, whipped up to hyperbolic frenzy in gleeful corruption of widely accepted facts, and by demonizing their opponents as traitors to the American Revolution. In so doing they construct an enemy (an artificial one to be sure) whose continued invocation galvanizes their followers and solidifies their identity. It’s nearly an exact copy of Fidel’s best work.
This, then, is the Castro Complex: while plenty of politicians invoke a generic communist plot at the heart of the Affordable Care Act, gun control, Michele Obama’s kitchen garden, and the even Obama family dogs, the Cruzes are the only Tea Partiers who make Cuba, Castro, and communism the foil for robust patriotism.
Rand Paul, for example, draws from a broader historical pallet to paint Obama as a communist, invoking Stalin and the Soviet Union and Putin to shore up his accusations. Mychal Massie calls Obama a “neo-Leninist communist” (a weirdly intellectual charge that suggests the author reads extensively in Soviet political tracts, purely for academic reasons I’m sure). These figures are important enough to U.S. history to warrant comparison to the stature of the White House and its current occupant. Much more so than the bearded dictator of an island nation, who for anyone other than Cubans themselves was mainly a Cold War sideshow.
Cruz’s Castro Complex goes beyond gas-baggy harangues: Castro and Cruz have both authored showy insurgent stunts. Castro gave birth to himself as a rebel when he led an assault on the Moncada Barracks, in July 1953. Castro’s forces took advantage of the relaxed guard of the soldiers after a month-long street party. Even so, Castro’s crew of 135 fumbled from the beginning (losing each other, losing their armaments, and not realizing they had breached the walls until they found themselves face-to-face with startled soldiers). They sent dozens of rebels to their deaths in the attack and its reprisal, and all but six of the survivors received lengthy prison sentences. Castro penned his famous “History Will Absolve Me” speech while serving his time.
Listen carefully and you can hear echoes of Moncada in the noisy mob that Cruz led Sunday, October 13, nearly two weeks into the government shutdown and just days before the possible default. A crowd of Tea Party sympathizers, thankfully much smaller than its vision of itself (as the Million Veteran March) stormed the World War II Memorial, while Cruz, joined by Sarah Palin and Rep. Mike Lee, egged on their protest of the shutdown that Cruz had helped to engineer (you know: he was for it before he was against it). And then in an act of government property destruction spurred by elected officials, which really has no parallels in modern American history, Cruz’s mob, waving Confederate flags, tore down the barricades, and paraded them like trophies to the White House for Capitol Police to clean up.
Cruz has staked his political ambitions on unraveling the Affordable Care Act, calling it the most Castro-like of any of Obama’s achievements to date. His approach to doing so should prompt even Castro’s admiration. After all, Castro, in his half century in power, never more than lightly dimpled the surface of global capitalism. Cruz came close to toppling it completely this fall. Let’s hope that history does not absolve him of that.Photograph: flickr/Gage Skidmore
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October 17, 2013
4 Min read time