On Assholes

Senator Ted Cruz, Asshole (part 2, of an n-part series)

After one of Cruz’s recent legislative performances, Diane Feinstein felt moved to tell CNN that Cruz was being “somewhat arrogant.”  Gail Collins, in recounting the details, here, suggests that this is an understatement, because “there apparently is still an unwritten rule against calling someone “a stupendously irritating twit” on national TV.”

“Stupendously irritating twit” could itself be an understatement (which is perhaps explained by the Grey Lady’s timidity about potentially more appropriate language).  Cruz might be better described as an ass, an ass-clown, a pompous ass, or, indeed, an asshole.

Cruz strikes many (Democrats and Republicans alike) as worse than irritating.  He isn’t simply dumb and stubborn in dumbness as a mere “ass” would be.  Nor does he show the humor or vain need to be entertaining of a mere “ass-clown.”  He’s pompous, but more persistent and seemingly incorrigible (Republicans have been telling him to tone it down) than a mere “pompous ass,” who is insensitive in his pomposity but open to correction and feelings of regret.  Cruz, to my eye, seems more motivated by righteous superiority, in an entrenched sense of entitlement that leaves him feeling free to leave the usual norms of decorum and courtesy aside.  He is, that is, an asshole par excellence.

In support of this suggestion, here is some (albeit inconclusive) evidence from Collins’s (admittedly unsympathetic) re-telling of Cruz’s pro-gun argument in his exchange with Feinstein:

Cruz said he had a question for the senator from California. “It seems to me that all of us should begin, as our foundational document, with the Constitution,” he began, in a tone that combined sublime pomposity with a total lack of actual curiosity. “And the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights provides that. …”

He delivered an extensive lecture to the 79-year-old Feinstein [who has decades of experience with gun issues and legislation]. The question buried in the harangue was whether she could imagine listing exceptions to other parts of the Bill of Rights. He could not have asked it in a more patronizing way if he had illustrated his remarks with pictures of large, brightly colored stick figures.

“I’m not a sixth grader,” said Feinstein, before launching into a fiery defense. The bill, she noted, includes a list of 2,271 types of weapons specifically exempted from its scope: “Isn’t that enough for the people in the United States? Do they need a bazooka?”  …

In committee, Cruz sat sullenly while Feinstein gave her response. “I would note that she chose not to answer the question that I asked,” he said when she finished.

Other Democratic senators jumped in and pointed out some of the ways that other parts of the Bill of Rights were, indeed, limited by exceptions. Interestingly, none of the Republicans came to Cruz’s support.  ..

Then Cruz announced he wanted to “make four points briefly. …” It’s highly unlikely that a single person in the room wanted four points. And they were not in the least brief. But they were remarkable for their incessant self-reference.

“My fourth and final point is that the Constitution, in my opinion, should be the touchstone of everything we do. …”

“I would point out that I am not unfamiliar with the Heller case. Indeed, I represented …”

“In my view, the Constitution is particularly important. …”

None of which is actually in dispute, and simply a diversion from the issue that is in dispute, of how the Second Amendment should be interpreted. Cruz did make a substantive point, about whether rights admit of exceptions, but the focus, it seems, is on pomp, procedure, and protracted elaboration of points that are immaterial to the dispute.  Such grandstanding is hardly unusual.  In this case, it seems laced with self-absorption and patronizing tones, and isn’t obviously just an attempt to score points with his conservative constituents (again, he’s being told by Republicans to rein it in).