The articles have already started to appear: “Who’s crazier? Ted Cruz’s Jesus-huffing father vs Rand Paul’s gold-shilling doomsday dad?”
Americans are already familiar with Ron Paul’s wild ideas and chin-stroking over his cost-benefit to Rand has been a staple of punditry since Rand first hinted at interest at his own political career.
But the equally far-from-mainstream opinions of Ted Cruz’s dad, Rafael, are not as familiar to a national audience. But if you haven’t already heard about his Obama conspiracy theories, homophobia or his unusually specific interpretation of Biblical prophecy, don’t fret: Liberal outlets have all put on lobster bibs and staked out space on Rafael’s lawn for what is, in all honesty, probably going to be fantastic television.
You can already anticipate the pushback to such attacks: They are not their father’s keeper. I would advise the candidates’ offices to draft some fill-in-the-blank press releases (all ending with “does not speak for the Senator”) to save time.
This defense is not just predictable; it has the added advantage of being true. Of course no one is responsible for a family member’s opinions. If everyone in every family agreed on every political issue, then how would we bond with our spouse after Thanksgiving?
That the Cruzes and the Pauls admittedly endorse each other’s opinions on most issues doesn’t make it any less of a defense. Sure, according to a college friend, Ted’s ideological inclinations were flash-frozen at 18: “There’s nothing he says today that I didn’t hear in college. It all came from his father and from the Constitutional Corroborators.”
But I’m willing to believe that he doesn’t agree with his dad that Obama should “go back to Kenya” (this is, for some reason, the only charge that Cruz’s office has taken an official stance on). I’m also willing to believe that the “99%” of the things Ron and Rand agree on does not include the presumption that Osama bin Laden got a raw deal, or that heroin should be legal.
But whatever their differences with their sons, none of those defenses or denials mean Ron Paul and Rafael Cruz opinions shouldn’t matter to the average voter.
We should care about what Ron Paul and Rafael Cruz believe because, to be frank, young Rand and Ted were not raised like the average voter. Their childhoods and political educations—guided by two fathers of unusually strong opinions and personalities—are mirror images of the Right’s own fantasy about Obama.
Those paranoid fantasies go something like this: Obama was supposedly indoctrinated into virulent anti-colonialism and/or socialism by his father and/or a series of father figures, from the actual Barack Sr. to Frank Marshall Davis to Bill Ayers to Jeremiah Wright. The myth that Obama has a secret ambition to “fundamentally change” the country into a totalitarian dystopia is anchored in the depiction of these men and their dark, conspiratorial theories about the nature of the American project.
Growing up believing there is pervasive threat laying in wait and a scheme by those in power to keep you down would certainly engender a certain attitude toward government and politics. It’s not the attitude Obama has, however: It’s the one shared by the families Rand and Paul.
There are few visions of America darker than Ron Paul’s, whose squeaky doomsaying is the stuff of Internet memes. Just this January, he warned that “the Republic is no more. We now live in a police state,” and both our social security system and foreign policy are “all based on lies and ignorance.”
Rafael Cruz is marginally cheerier: He believes we live in the end times—but that there will be a great “wealth transfer” in the meantime, brought about by “kings, anointed to take dominion” in various sectors of society. After that, well, Jesus comes back, and that ends badly for a lot of people.
I will stop short of my opposite numbers’ insistence that the politician raised by a father of apocalyptic temperament himself intends to bring his own end to the country.
But if you think it’s even possible that sitting at the knee of Frank Marshall Davis could turn Obama into the Manchurian Candidate, then shouldn’t you care that in the Cruz and Rand households, the ideological indoctrination was intentional, specific, and continued long into adulthood?
Legends about Obama’s father figures’ influence draw equally from daytime talk-show-level psychological assumptions about Obama’s lack of “closure” regarding his father and positively postmodern, obsessive textual analysis.
Others have debunked the specifics of each individual’s overarching influence (see here, here, here); in general, the idea that Obama political ambitions are just a graft from some older generation is hard to believe because Obama has been unprecedentedly transparent about his intellectual development and his search for a father figure. He hasn’t brushed off comparisons and associations, he’s written whole books and given speeches to explain both what he learned from the teachers in his life, and where he split from them.
This just isn’t what we’ve seen from Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Senator Cruz still talks “deep into the night” with his father, and “uses his father for the kind of guidance you’d expect from a consultant.” Senator Paul has been more deliberately distant, in pure physical terms, from his father, but some of Ron Paul’s most disturbing theories peak out from the edges of Rand’s carefully edited image: His invocation of Lysander Spooner, an anti-Lincoln/anti-slavery Civil War-era anarchist, during his 2013 filibuster drew excited attention from Ron Paul diehards. He’s raised the theory that Christianity ought to be enough of a basis for society, without many other laws—“98% percent of us won’t murder people, won’t steal”—a tenet of the same Christian Reconstructionism Rafael Cruz loudly preaches and a long-observed facet of Ron Paul’s worldview.
Again, the concern is not that the younger Rand and Cruz have belief systems that exactly duplicate their fathers’. The issue is that their beliefs so clearly have roots in those dinner table rants.
Turn the radical socialism of Davis/Ayers/Wright on its head and you get the free market fundamentalism and evangelical paranoia of both Rafael Cruz and Ron Paul. Substitute for a call to revolution against colonial powers, one against big government power. Paul’s version of America-at-the-precipice is less explicitly Biblical than Cruz’s belief in Christian dominionism, but the two share a theory of politics that begs for the same kind of transformative, charismatic leader to save the country from itself.
And both fathers think their son is that leader.