The Left has become very devoted to the strategy of defining Republicans with early hits. Conventional wisdom holds such tactics were particularly effective against Sarah Palin as the vice-presidential candidate in 2008, and Mitt Romney on the top of the ticket in 2012. That’s why we have overheated and dishonest attempts to portray Senator Rand Paul as a short-tempered misogyinst, and a crusade to discredit Senator Ted Cruz as a spinner of tall tales, disconnected from reality.
The interview between Cruz and CNBC’s John Harwood I mentioned yesterday – in which Harwood asked, “Why shouldn’t somebody listen to you and say, ‘The guy’ll just say anything – doesn’t have to be true?'” – is getting kicked around on the Left quite a bit, even though it was the weakest of challenges, and Cruz handled it adroitly. The folly of making such a big deal about a number Cruz quoted in a single speech, in the midst of a joke, hasn’t slowed down the narrative-builders.
The Huffington Post, for example, reported the incident with the preposterous headline “CNBC Reporter Hammers Ted Cruz: Why Should Anyone Believe What You Say?”
Harwood didn’t “hammer” Cruz; he asked a single question at the end of a generally cordial interview and was given a thoughtful response, on a topic so nitpicky that it made Harwood look ridiculous for harping on it. Word of warning, kids: if Hillary Clinton ever sits for a serious interview, instead of spending the entire campaign in a hermetically sealed bunker, a decent journalist will be able to “hammer” her veracity with issues far more serious than getting the total payroll of a federal agency wrong while telling a joke.
If you know how the liberal hive mind works, however, you know the HuffPo headline will become the story, bandied about by a large number of people who don’t read or watch the interview, much less contemplate the response Cruz gave to Harwood, or the point Cruz was making with the joke in question.
The Huffington Post certainly wasn’t interested in such contemplation. There’s a very brief summary of the exchange between Cruz and Harwood, followed by this little drive-by shooting: “Cruz added at the beginning of the interview that many news outlets portray him as ‘a wild-eyed lunatic,’ but said he doesn’t mind.”
What Cruz actually said was, “I get portrayed, in a lot of outlets, as a wild-eyed lunatic. At the end of the day, that doesn’t bother me. I’ve got real confidence that the American people make their own judgments.” That bit about his confidence that voters can look past biased media seems rather important to the point he was making, doesn’t it?
Just to make sure the Huffington Post audience leaves with the desired impression, this is followed by a highly tendentious second-hand rendition of Mediaite’s report on the CNBC interview, which depends highly on the reader (and possibly the Huffington Post’s writers and editors) not knowing what the word “pedantic” means.
“Cruz may think he was making a joke, but Mediaite’s Tina Nguyen outlined on Thursday why that joke doesn’t exactly excuse his embellishment,” we are told.
In fact, the Mediaite post does dismiss the whole affair with a bit of weary exasperation, and it’s clear that Cruz doesn’t “think” he was making a joke – he actually said so at the time, as if anyone needed a disclaimer that he wasn’t seriously advocating the deployment of IRS agents as border guards. The Mediate writer’s effort to break this down into a flowchart is meant to be self-evidently absurd and tedious, which is why it ends with the line “this is getting pedantic.” That means “an undue emphasis on minute details,” for the benefit of anyone who doesn’t get it.
Point 1: Cruz clearly made a joke, and it was “explicitly tongue in cheek.”
Point 2: The joke, however, was about an over-the-top thing Cruz wanted to do with the IRS.
Point 2(a): The number of IRS agents was not implicated in the joke-making, and thus seemed like a plausible number of agents that could exist.
Point 3: Even if he defined “agents” as “all employees of the IRS,” the number is still off: The IRS had roughly 90,000 employees as of 2013, and is actually facing a staffing shortage.
Point 4: Cruz could have made the joke without sacrificing accuracy — 25,000 agents is still a lot of agents, enough to make a joke argument that one should abolish the IRS. But 110,000 agents is on a completely different magnitude than 25,000; and while it’s not OMG FALSEHOOD level of bad, it’s a worrisome tendency towards embellishment.
Alternative Point 4: Cruz needs new joke writers?
Alternative Point 4(a): This is getting pedantic.
If anyone at the Huffington Post still needs help figuring this out, let me offer a few hints:
Point 2 shouldn’t really contain the word “however,” because it doesn’t change the undisputed fact that Cruz was telling a joke, which makes all the rest of this pedantic, and pathetic. The precise number of agents currently employed by the IRS is not important to either the joke, or serious concerns about the abuse of government power. Because it was told as a joke, Cruz probably didn’t put significant effort to researching the exact number of capital-a Agents working for the IRS at the moment he was speaking, and he wasn’t far off about the total staff of the Internal Revenue Service – which actually demonstrates an impressive memory for details, not “a worrisome tendency toward embellishment.”
How does Cruz stack up against the President who claims he has no idea what the government is doing until he reads about it in the newspaper, every time he gets a tough question? Does “if you like your health care plan, you can keep your plan, period” indicate a worrisome tendency toward embellishment?
Most importantly of all, let us remember the real lesson of this exchange: John Harwood wanted to ambush Ted Cruz with an assault on his credibility, in an interview he had plenty of time to prepare, and the only thing he could come up with was the number of IRS agents Cruz mentioned in a joke. Is that really the ground defenders of the Lyin’ King and Hillary “I didn’t want to carry two cell phones” Clinton want to fight on?