Recently the state of Alabama shut down 31 offices that provide driver’s licenses— documents required in order to cast a vote. When Hillary Clinton criticized this move as an attempt to restrict access to the voting booth, Senator Ted Cruz blasted back at her:
It’s not surprising to see a Democrat like Hillary Clinton coming in and attacking states, particularly Southern states. Frankly, it’s a bigotry from the Democrats. They look down on the Southern states like we’re a bunch of hicks. Look, I’m from Texas and Hillary Clinton is not a big fan of my state either. We don’t need more politicians from Washington looking down on us like a fly-over company. We’ve had seven years of a president who looks down on the American people. Hillary Clinton thinks we’re just a bunch of ignorant rubes, and we need to be governed by what she deems as moral and philosophical betters. I think that’s complete nonsense. I believe in the American people.
Cruz’s complaint echoes one of his criticisms of President Obama’s speech on terrorism a couple of weeks earlier: “We saw the president lecture the American people like some condescending schoolmarm about the need to avoid Islamophobia.” In neither case did Cruz address the substance of the remarks he was criticizing: Is the Alabama decision inconsequential for voting participation? Is Islamaphobia not a problem in the United States? Instead, he assumed, or pretended to assume, that the two Democratic leaders were simply reflecting a reflexive presumption of superiority to ordinary citizens.
You can expect more of this kind of thing from Cruz, who is the second most skillful demagogue currently running for president. The essence of demagoguery is the exploitation of people’s ignorance-based prejudices, so it’s natural for the demagogue to reassure his audience that they are neither ignorant nor prejudiced, and to do what he can to reinforce their ignorance and validate their prejudices. A bonus for the demagogue is the opportunity to stoke resentment of any political opponent who might dare suggest that the popular prejudices are misguided.
Cruz’s ploy is hardly new: if you are not a consumer of right-wing media you might not know that liberals and progressives are regularly pummeled for being “condescending,” “patronizing,” and/or “elitist.” Never mind that Cruz and his fellow pseudo-conservatives advocate an economic policy program designed to serve the interests of a narrow, affluent slice of the population. By some curious inversion of language, rich people aren’t an elite; the elitists are those who might seek to mitigate the upward redistribution of income and wealth that is the hallmark of our age.
Cruz’s indignation at Democratic elitism is especially amusing considering his Ivy League pedigree. A Princeton undergraduate who then attended Harvard Law School, he famously sought to limit his law school study group to graduates of Harvard, Yale or Princeton. Alumni of “lesser ivies” like Penn or Brown were especially unwelcome. And Cruz knows a thing or two about condescension. During a Judiciary Committee debate on gun control, Cruz saw fit to lecture Senator Diane Feinstein on the Bill of Rights, explaining the Second Amendment in a tone that suggested that the lady from California might sorely lack an understanding of such things. Feinstein was moved to thank Cruz for the lecture while assuring him that she was “reasonably well-educated”:
…I’m not a sixth grader, Senator, I’ve been on this committee for twenty years…. And so you know, it’s fine you want to lecture me on the Constitution. I appreciate it. Just know I’ve been here for a long time.
Cruz the condescending elitist has no trouble denouncing liberals for condescending elitism. A skillful demagogue is never troubled by self-contradiction.