Displays of intellectual dishonesty are hardly rare among politicians seeking high office, but in an interview with CNN on Monday Texas senator and GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz taught a master class in using fallacious reasoning to score political points.
In the wake of the terror attacks in Paris on Friday, which left more than 130 dead and hundreds more wounded, there has been a push, largely driven by Republicans, to block immigrants from Syria from entering the United States.
Syria is in the midst of a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and is also the location of the headquarters of the terror group ISIS, which appears to have been responsible for the attacks in Paris. Initial reports suggest that at least one of the attackers may have entered the European Union by posing as a refugee from the Syrian conflict.
Those reports spurred calls from governors of at least 16 U.S. states to declare that they would not cooperate with an Obama administration plan to resettle 10,000 refugees from the conflict in the U.S. between now and the end of 2016. It also pushed several Republican presidential candidates to take a stand against accepting Syrian refugees at all.
Cruz and his fellow candidate, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, distinguished themselves by declaring that the U.S. should accept refugees from Syria – but only if they are Christian. (Neither offered a plan for determining how a refugee’s claim that he or she is a Christian could possibly be verified.)
President Obama, in remarks at the G-20 summit in Turkey Monday morning, took a barely disguised shot at Cruz – whose father came to the U.S. from Cuba fleeing the repressive Castro regime – when he criticized Republicans who want to block Syrian refugees from coming to the U.S.
Obama said, “When I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims, when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who's fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that's shameful. That's not American, it's not who we are.”
Cruz fired back in an interview with CNN on Monday afternoon. He began by incorrectly characterizing the administration’s plan as offering relocation to “tens of thousands” of refugees, rather than the 10,000 the administration has committed to. He also called it “lunacy” to admit Muslim refugees.
"It's not surprising that Obama is attacking me personally," he said in an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash. “I'll tell you what's shameful is that the President after seven years still refuses to utter the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ and claims that somehow it's a religious test. It's not that at all. It is understanding the nature of the evil we face.”
Bash then asked Cruz to respond to Obama’s criticism that Cruz’s own father had been granted refuge in the U.S. despite the fact that he had come from Cuba. That country was not only ruled by a Communist dictatorship at the time, but Cruz’s father has bragged of fighting beside key figures in the revolution that brought Castro to power.
Bash asked, “What would have happened if your father was trying to get from Cuba to the United States and the political leaders here said, ‘Nope, we don’t think so, because who knows? Maybe you could be somebody who is going to commit crimes against Americans.’”
“Well, see that’s why it’s important to define what it is we’re fighting,” Cruz replied. “If my father were part of a theocratic and political movement like radical Islamism that promotes murdering anyone who doesn't share your extreme faith or forcibly converting them, then it would make perfect sense.”
Of course, there’s a massive logical hole in his argument. Cruz isn’t proposing that the U.S. keep out only radicals likely to commit acts of terror. His argument is that all Muslims from Syria ought to be kept out because they might be terrorists – exactly the proposition Bash had put to him regarding the treatment of his own father.
Cruz, widely recognized as a master debater, knew exactly what he was doing – indulging in the kind of faulty reasoning that he would have gleefully skewered had he heard it coming form a debate opponent
Unfortunately – at least in the clips released by CNN – Bash didn’t call him on it.