Is this really the hill you want to die on, senator?
Like Erwin Schrodinger’s eternally tortured cat, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz has somehow managed to straddle two diametrically opposed states of being this week, placing himself in the unenviable position of having to both condemn Nazis — what should, by all rights, be a fairly easy lift for a United States senator — while also twisting himself like a Cirque du Soleil contortionist into wholeheartedly defending people who enthusiastically give the Nazis’ iconic “Sieg Heil” salute.
Let’s go back to the halcyon days of, uh, this past Wednesday, when Cruz forcefully defended the “non-violent” protests (if you want to call them that) over masking mandates at various local school board meetings around the country, during a contentious back and forth with Attorney General Merrick Garland over a Justice Department memo outlining responses to the rising tide of threats against school officials. Among those instances of non-violence, Cruz bloviated, “they involve things like insults, they involve things like a Nazi salute.” (Whether giving a Nazi salute is actually non-violent is, itself, a whoooole other issue.)
“My god, a parent did a Nazi salute at a school board [meeting] because they thought the policies were oppressive,” Cruz exclaimed in mock outrage, before getting Garland to confirm that, yes, giving a Nazi salute in this instance is indeed a protected right under the First Amendment.
To be clear, Cruz and Garland are entirely correct: Giving a Nazi salute under these circumstance is a protected right under the First Amendment. It’s a point Cruz has spent the past two days haranguing his followers about on Twitter, with a barrage of tweets and retweets trumpeting how smart he is, and how dumb the “lefty journos” are, neener neener neener.
Now, personally, I think there are much more important things for high-profile member of the upper chamber of Congress to do with their time than insist on reminding people that they got into an argument about when precisely it’s okay to give a Nazi salute. For instance, Ted could have spent some of his past few hours draining the joy from a beloved television series or making up imaginary constituents to worry about, like his colleagues Mitt Romney and Joe Manchin did this week, respectively. Or, he could have used this little tet-a-tet with Garland as a jumping-off point to call for some civility and dignity at community forums where educators are simply trying to keep themselves and their underage charges alive and healthy.
But no. Instead we get 48 hours and counting of snitty tantrum-throwing in defense of the right to toss a Sieg Heil at policies you don’t like. Which is an incredible hill to choose to die on when you consider that regardless of the legality here, Cruz is still tacitly supporting the comparison of school board officials who institute mask mandates during a public health crisis to the policies of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. He may not be the one giving the Nazi salute, but he sure has found common cause with the people who are.
Like Barbra Streisand’s eponymous “effect” before him, the more Cruz rage-tweets about how right he was to defend the constitutional protections for comparing school board officials to Nazis, the more he simply reminds the world that he has very strong opinions about who should and shouldn’t be equated with the Third Reich, and that those opinions are extremely bad. (Pro tip! If the subject of your Nazi comparison doesn’t actually believe in ethnic superiority or other forms of bigotry and racism, they’re not a Nazi. They’re just someone you’re annoyed with.) In fact, we’ve already been over this with some of Cruz’s fellow Republicans, who simply cannot stop trivializing the Holocaust.
At the end of the day, just because you can legally compare something to a Nazi doesn’t mean you should compare something to a Nazi — a point Ted would be wise to remember each time he reminds the public of his position on the subject.