Cruz’ Convenient Ignorance of History

Ted Cruz spoke at CPAC last week and delivered the standard line we hear from the right these days, who have suddenly discovered the limits on executive power after cheering on George W. Bush for 8 years while shredded the separation of powers and vastly expanded his own power.

“This president of the United States is the first president we’ve ever had who thinks he can choose which laws to enforce and which laws to ignore.”

Really, Ted? The very first one? Let’s take a stroll through history, shall we? The Republican party likes to call itself the “party of Lincoln.” Few presidents have violated the constitution and ignored the law quite as flagrantly as Lincoln did when he suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. The Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional and Lincoln ignored that ruling and ordered the Army to ignore it as well, which they did. It’s hard to imagine a more flagrant example of a president picking and choosing which laws to enforce and which to ignore than that.

And how about Cruz’ hero, Ronald Reagan? A law passed in 1983 prohibited the federal government from sending aid to the Nicaraguan Contras. So what did St. Ronald the Magnificent (PBUH) do? Secretly funded them by diverting funds from the also-illegal sale of weapons to Iran, which was supporting terrorists in Lebanon at the time. Their excuse: Reagan was too incompetent and out of touch with his own administration to know what was going on.

And remember George W. Bush and his infamous signing statements that said right up front while signing a bill that he would ignore certain provisions in them? He issued 161 such statements containing more than 1000 instances of him saying he would refuse to enforce one or more sections of the bill he was signing. This amounted to a line-item veto, something that is unconstitutional.

Yes, Obama has continued to expand executive power in ways that I’ve been writing about for years and that is a very, very bad thing. But I can credibly say that because I was criticizing Bush for the same thing. I don’t conveniently discover civil liberties and limits on executive power only when one party is in office. And I certainly don’t make stupid statements like the one Cruz made.

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  • I’d like to address the comment on Lincoln. Yes he suspended habeus corpus but the Constitution specifically gives the President permission to do so under the circumstances of foreign invasion or rebellion. Which I think you can justify was the case.

    And yes, the Supreme Court ruled against him. But this was essentially the same Supreme Court that ruled the Dred Scott decision.

    In agrarian societies such as in the south at the time, rich people would bequeath their property to just one son in order to not split up the farms. Thus what does the 2nd or 3rd son do? Historically those sons entered the ministry, became lawyers, entered politics or entered the military.

    Well because of that phenomenon, at the time of the Civil War, most bureaucrats in Washington, most of the Supreme Court members, and also most of our army officers and West Point students were southerners. And the state of Maryland was a slave state that almost went with the Confederacy, which would have surrounded Washington DC. Thus to contend that Lincoln was not surrounded by enemies is an understatement. That he was surrounded by members of his own administration, that wanted the south to win is also an understatement. Plus, there were a lot of northern industrialists who liked the way slavery helped keep wages down. Indeed, when all the abolitionists in the Democratic party left that party to vote for Lincoln and became Republicans, this left the Democratic party even MORE pro slavery then it was prior to the war.

    Thus many historians feel that the Supreme Court decision at the time was purely political and that Lincoln had a right to suspend Habeus Corpus. Now I don’t think this changes the point of your post at all but I just wanted to make some things clear on Lincoln. Lincoln started this notion that non rich Americans also had rights. This is anathema to the rich and thus Lincoln has long been a target of their ire and hence lots of revisionism on his role in American society.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    markmckee @ # 1: Lincoln started this notion that non rich Americans also had rights.

    His predecessors from Jefferson to Jackson (racist hypocrites though they were) have all surpassed 5,400 rpm at this statement. (The bulk of the rest of your comment holds together pretty well, but that one goof pops rivets all over the place.)

  • noastronomer

    Is this the start of a new series, Cruz’ Convenient Ignorance of … ? Can we expect future titles like:

    Cruz’ Convenient Ignorance of : Human Rights

    Cruz’ Convenient Ignorance of : Biology

    Cruz’ Convenient Ignorance of : The Law

    Cruz’ Convenient Ignorance of : Economics

    etc, etc, etc …


  • colnago80

    Re markmckee @ #1

    An excellent discussion. To put it shorter, the Constitution is not a suicide pact and for Lincoln to have behaved as his predecessor, James Buchanan did, would have been suicide.

  • arakasi

    markmckee @1

    I see where you are coming from, but I’m not convinced that Ex parte Merryman was wrongly issued, even with Roger Taney’s animosity towards Lincoln. The core of the ruling was that the suspension of habeus corpus is allowed for in the Constitution, but as a power reserved for Congress, not the President. I see little difference between Lincoln overreaching his authority to protect against Copperheads and our latest couple of presidents doing the same to protect against terrorists.


    Although, I did a little reading to remind myself of the facts of the case. I didn’t realize that the ruling was issued by Taney in his role as a federal circuit court judge, not in his role as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. As far as I can tell, the Supreme Court never addressed the issue while Lincoln was alive.

  • John Pieret

    Cruz’ Convenient Ignorance of History

    That might better read “The Wingnuts’ Ignorance of History That Is Convenient to Cruz.”

  • Larry

    “This president of the United States is the first president we’ve ever had who thinks he can choose which laws to enforce and which laws to ignore.”

    the first black president is what Teddy meant to say.

  • sigurd jorsalfar

    This president of the United States is the first president we’ve ever had I didn’t vote for who thinks he can choose which laws to enforce and which laws to ignore.

    There. Fixed it for you, Ted.

  • Sorry Piece at #2, I think I was a bit too obtuse.

    Prior to the USA, people got their political power essentially based upon who their parents were. But we changed that to people were to get their political power from property ownership. Thus, you needed to own property to vote and thus have political power. This was a profound improvement over how things were prior in the rest of the world, but hardly the democracy we now see it to be. Lincoln was the one who started the evolvement to the America we came to be.

    The greatness of the Gettysburg address is not because it was short and sweet. That speech truly did change America into a nation where it truly was governed by the people. Common men soon could vote and have political power. It started to become a truly democratic nation and not just for those with wealth.

    Now don’t get me wrong, the rich have always had an outsized control over American destiny but this control became less absolute. (And FDR actually accelerated the democratization of power. And since Reagan and Bush, we’ve pretty much gone back to the 1890s in terms of our democratization of power)

    And people like Justice Scalia would like to take it back even farther to the days of the founders. This is really what he means by being an “originalist”. Hence how we got Citizens United)