Something About Ted Cruz
The Young, Conservative Cuban American Senator From Texas Maintains It’s The Gop That Offers True Economic Opportunity
By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Evan Vucci / AP |
Vice President Joe Biden administers the Senate Oath to Sen. Ted Cruz during a mock swearing in ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday Jan. 3, 2013 as the 113th Congress officially began
Cruz also wants to preach about what he calls the economic opportunity message of conservatism—a message that, he admits, too few of his fellow Republicans are spreading. While the GOP has a reputation for only caring about the wealthy, Cruz wants it to be seen as the party that creates wealth. “The central message of the Obama campaign is that Republicans are the party of the rich and that Democrats are the party of everyone else,” he says. “I think that message is categorically false. But a great many people, including a great many Republicans, believe it. The reason I think it is categorically false is because conservative policies consistently benefit those climbing the economic ladder, seeking opportunity. And liberal policies consistently harm them. In fact, the conventional wisdom of politics—that Republicans are the party of the rich, and Democrats are the party of the poor—I think, is precisely backwards. It’s entirely wrong.”
Listening, I could tell that Cruz is just getting warmed up. “Democratic policies are harmful because they hurt the little guy starting out and starting a business, and climbing the economic ladder,” he says. “And the reason that this is so important is that, at the end of the day, our economy is not driven by giant corporations. It’s driven by mom and pop stores. It’s driven by entrepreneurs who open up a small business. When the government takes over the economy, it freezes everyone in place. What has made the United States a beacon of hope to the world is that there is no other nation on Earth that presents the economic opportunity we have here, the ability for so many people to start with nothing and achieve anything.”
PLEASING THOSE BACK HOME
To achieve things in Washington, Cruz will need to stay popular at home in Texas. Yet, one obstacle that he’s going to face, in this regard, has to do with the “Cuban-Mexican thing.” There is friction between these two tribes. Cuban-Americans represent about 3 percent of the nation’s 52 million Latinos; miniscule compared to the 70 percent made up of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. Yet, Cuban-Americans are generally more educated, wealthier and have more power. They also have a reputation for looking down their noses at their often less-successful distant relatives. Still, Cuban-Americans get a head start because of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy of the Cuban Adjustment Act, which makes it all but impossible to deport Cuban refugees once they reach dry land and puts them on the road to citizenship.
Into this telenovela walks Ted Cruz, a Cuban-American who has been elected to represent a state that is a whopping 38 percent Hispanic but where most of that population traces it roots to Mexico. That’s a pressure point.
“There are undoubtedly differences in the Hispanic community between people of different national backgrounds,” he says. “There are differences between Cuban-Americans, and Mexican-Americans, and Puerto Ricans, and Central Americans, in cultural background and history. But in my experience, the similarities vastly outweigh the differences. It’s the shared immigrant experience of coming here with nothing, not speaking the language, risking everything for the American Dream. That is a shared experience that resonates throughout the Hispanic community. And it’s been mostly Democratic partisans that have tried to inflame those differences and tried to make the argument to Mexican-Americans, ‘Well you can’t possibly vote for that Cuban guy.’ Beyond the partisans who are simply doing their job of fighting for their partisan outcomes, on the ground, our experiences are very much the same.”
He’s right about the similarities. But my friend missed one thing. Because of the head start afforded Cuban refugees under the Cuban Adjustment Act, Mexican-Americans are always going to distrust and resent Cuban-American elected officials who—when debating immigration policy, for instance—propose either easy-fix-it or get tough solutions because they think to themselves, “Well, that’s easy for you to say.”
And speaking of immigration, that is one issue that Cruz would, as a Hispanic senator from Texas, seem to have no choice but to take on. He sounds ready.
“Immigration is an issue that neither party is serious about addressing,” Cruz says. “Both parties demagogue the issue and look to inflame passions and emotions rather than adopt sensible policy. In my view, there is widespread agreement on a number of core principles on immigration, both in the Hispanic community and with Americans generally. No. 1: We need to get serious about securing the border, about stopping illegal immigration, particularly in a post 9/11 world. It doesn’t make any sense that we don’t know who is coming into this country and we don’t know their history, and their background. But No. 2, we also need to remain a nation that doesn’t just welcome but that celebrates legal immigrants who come here seeking to pursue the American Dream.”
Like so many issues that Cruz will confront in Congress, and the country’s fundamental values of freedom and liberty, immigration is an issue that the junior senator from Texas takes personally. Blame the bloodline.
THE AMERICAN STORY
As we reached the end of the interview, my friend shared with me a very personal reflection. “Yesterday, I was sworn in, at 12:10 p.m., and as I was standing on the Senate floor, I couldn’t help but think back to 1957, to my dad as an 18-year-old kid, $100 in his underwear, not speaking English, washing dishes, making 50 cents an hour. And if someone had come up to that teenage immigrant and suggested that 55 years hence, his son might be sworn into office as a United States senator representing the great state of Texas, that would have been unimaginable to him, that would have been something that he could not even conceive. And yet, yesterday, as I stood on the floor of the Senate, with my hand on the family bible, my father was sitting in the gallery looking down, as I took the oath to become a United States senator.”
At this point, I’m choking up. And I can’t help but blurt out. “Only in America, pal. Only in America.” “That’s exactly right,” he says. “It’s one small illustration of the incredible opportunity, the power of the American Dream that is present in no other nation on Earth the way it is in the United States. And my commitment in the U.S. Senate is to spend every day fighting to preserve the American Dream and that opportunity and freedom for generations to come, just like you and I have been blessed to enjoy that opportunity and freedom.”
Have at it, Mr. Cruz. Have at it.
Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group, a CNN contributor, a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors, and the author of A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano.