When you dance with the devil, the choreography can get awkward.
Ted Cruz this week made his latest appeal to America’s nativist fringe by naming Rep. Steve King of Iowa as a national co-chairman of his presidential campaign. King, called a “courageous conservative” and “incredible leader” by Cruz, is the anti-immigrant hardliner who spoke of Mexican immigrants having “calves the size of cantaloupes” and who was a prominent birther.
So we’re entitled to savor some schadenfreude now as Cruz himself gets caught in the birther web. Donald Trump’s questioning of Cruz’s status as a natural-born American, and therefore his eligibility to be president, is rough justice. Cruz, like Trump, has stoked the fires of resentment and xenophobia, so it’s entirely fitting that he gets burned.
But however tempting it is, I’m not joining in the Cruz birtherism; it was wrong when done to Obama, and it’s wrong now done to Cruz. Cruz, I am convinced, would make a truly awful president, but he is perfectly eligible to serve.
Like Cruz foe John McCain (the 2008 Republican presidential nominee said Cruz’s eligibility is a “legitimate question”), Democratic leaders have been happy to see Cruz twist in the wind. “I do think there is a distinction between John McCain being born to a family serving our country in Panama and someone born in another country,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday.
But that’s not really so. My friend Neal Katyal, who was Obama’s acting solicitor general, joined Paul Clement, a Bush solicitor general, in a Harvard Law Review piece last year arguing that it’s not even a close call: the constitutional evidence back to the founding makes clear that “an individual born to a U.S. citizen parent — whether in California or Canada or the Canal Zone — is a U.S. citizen from birth and is fully eligible to serve as president.”
An argument to the contrary would rest largely on the dubious premise that a child born overseas to an American mother is not as American as a child born overseas to an American father. Congress long ago eliminated such a discriminatory application of the law.
And that gets to the broader point: Do Democrats and liberals and all those who howled about the injustice and the outrage of Obama’s birtherism really want to join the cause of Cruz birtherism, simply because he’s a Republican, or a conservative? No doubt it would be satisfying to give conservatives a taste of their own medicine, but that would mean embracing the nativism that is turning the Republican Party it into a fraternity of old white men from rural areas. The right is uniquely ill-behaved these days. Why join them?
It wasn’t always this way; in the early days of the Obama presidency I argued that the left was more ill-tempered. But now there’s nothing equivalent to the right’s rage – despite attempts to draw some phony parallels.
When I wrote about the overt racism injected into the campaign by Trump, the 2016 frontrunner, conservative critics countered by citing the history of race-baiting by the Rev. Al Sharpton, a minor Democratic candidate in the 2004 race. When I wrote this week about Republican office holders’ support for the armed men who took over a U.S. government facility in Oregon, conservatives argued that this was no different from Obama’s tolerance of Sanctuary Cities –though sanctuary policies have existed for decades without successful legal challenges.
There is no equivalent on the left these days to such nasty stuff. Democrats should keep it that way.