Criminalizing jester hijacks narrative


The highly controversial loose canon of the Republican party, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), recently raised the ire of his fellow Republicans with a renewed effort to unseat those members of Congress who aren’t sufficiently ultra-conservative for him. As all things do in today’s political world, Cruz’s push comes in the form of fundraising.

According to a report by CNN.com, several Republican senators said Cruz’s efforts appeared to violate his own pledge to no longer target sitting Republican senators in favor of tea party-backed candidates as the Republican party attempts to win back control of the Senate.

Typical of the push-back is the Maine Republican, Sen. Susan Collins: “I am stunned that Senator Cruz is involved in this fundraising effort for a group that has targeted his colleagues in the Republican caucus. I’m particularly surprised because I thought he had agreed to no longer engage in that kind of activity of supporting groups that were targeting people he serves with every day in the Republican caucus.”

Given Cruz’s well-established record of hyperbolic grandstanding and outlandish rhetoric, we’re surprised that anyone would be surprised at the current turn. Stunts like this are how Cruz rose to the attention of the national media in the first place. On some level he must know that the only way he can appear relevant is to continually push the envelope.

There’s an interesting parallel between Cruz’s standard approach and the role crime plays in society. Without implying that Cruz is in any way a criminal, an apt analogy presents itself.

The late 19th century sociologist, Emile Durkheim, wrote extensively about the social function of crime in society. Durkheim posited that crime — while destructive, often violent and morally abhorrent — serves a paradoxically positive purpose.

Crime, according to Durkheim, serves to clarify social norms and moral boundaries. When criminals exceed society’s normative tolerances, they in essence clarify where the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior lies.

The public sees some bad actor push the limits and instantly recognizes that the limits are important. The criminal, through his deviance, reasserts the validity of the social norm against criminal behavior.

On a very basic level, that’s exactly what the antics of Cruz and his ideological kin do. They take extreme positions that the vast majority of Americans cannot abide. This then helps the more mainstream members of the Republican party assert the merit of their (by comparison) moderate stance.

There is, however, a danger in letting people like Cruz have too much air time. By giving him too large a stage, the Republican party permits Cruz to hijack the dominant narrative. His bluster takes the place of the true Republican center. The tail starts to wag the dog.

If the Republican party wants to take back control of anything, it needs to find a way to turn down the volume of outliers like Cruz. Instead of furthering real Republican goals, they will instead be driven to a place where the only check is a position of lunacy.

Unfortunately, far too many people can’t tell the difference. They have mistakenly put the crown on the jester. When the jester takes his inevitable and hard pratfall, they won’t understand what went wrong.

If the Republican party intends to remain relevant for modern politics, it needs to take back its crown