As the world has turned its gaze to the U.S. government shutdown -- what the Russian news service RT has called "the harebrained antics of Congress," and Germany's Der Spiegel has attributed to the actions of "Die Kamikaze Partei," the paper's touching moniker for Republicans -- many international news outlets, particularly in Europe, are homing in on the man who linked the debates over funding the government and defunding Obama's new health care law in the first place: Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
The Republican lawmaker captured the U.S. media's attention last week with his 21-hour faux filibuster against Obamacare, but he's clearly made waves overseas as well. Just today, the French weekly Le Point ran a fascinating profile of Cruz under the headline, "Ted Cruz: The Man Who Blocked America."
For the statist French, Cruz, with his relentless calls for limited government, could be a creature from another planet. Noting that Cruz has been compared to Joseph McCarthy ("which is not a compliment"), Le Point's Washington correspondent, Hélène Vissière, writes that unlike the crusading anti-communist senator, Cruz, with his "pomaded hair and youthful appearance," fairs wonderfully on television, which he often "courts." Painting Cruz as arrogant and intransigent, the article claims that Cruz relies on "intimidation" to carry out a strategy of "systematic obstruction with no proposed changes except for the dismantling of government." Cruz, Vissière reports, "plays on the fear of his colleagues, terrorizing them that if they do not support him, they will lose their next elections."
Still, Europa, a newspaper associated with Italy's left-wing Democratic Party, wins for the most byzantine description of Cruz, managing to compare the U.S. politician to pop culture's most menacing clown and a Civil War commander in the same sentence. Cruz, "the General Custer of the Republican Battle of the Little Bighorn, is the equivalent of Heath Ledger who in the role of Joker tells Batman: "Do I seem to you like someone with a plan? I am an agent of chaos, I simply do things," offers Alessandro Carrera, an Italian professor at the University of Houston.
Over at Canada's National Post, Kelly McParland agrees but trots out a different pop culture reference, noting that for Cruz, like for Miley Cyrus, "making noise may be the plan." Fellow columnist Jonathan Kay, meanwhile, finds himself at a loss to describe the Calgary-born Cruz to Canadians.
Government shutdowns, Kay explains, are impossible in Canada in part because crises in its parliamentary system are resolved by confidence votes and elections, and in part because Canadian lawmakers tend to vote with their party leaders. "There is no equivalent in any major Canadian political party to a man such as, say, Republican Senator Ted Cruz, a Tea Party hardliner who answers to no political authority except his own naked ambition, and who is more than willing to use the current crisis as a means to discredit his own party's leadership," he observes.
Mark Mardell, the BBC's North America editor, marvels at Cruz more than he criticizes him. Noting that the GOP legislator has embraced John McCain's dismissal of him as a "wacko bird," Mardell continues, "Reading Dr Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham from the floor of the Senate can only elevate him from Daffy Duck to Roadrunner in the esteem of his public admirers." "Many Americans," he adds, "think their politicians spout childish nonsense, but rarely have they actually revelled in doing so."
So there you have it: Viewed from afar, Ted Cruz is a cross between Joseph McCarthy, General Custer, the Joker, Miley Cyrus, and the Road Runner. Meet the man who blocked America.
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